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Holiday Party Ideas - Stealing Secrets from Hollywood's Top Caterers

December 19, 2010 - Linda Grasso

IMG_0734 I've been to some really smashing holiday parties this year, with eats and decor from some of Hollywood's swankiest caterers. I love to stop and take it all in.  For me, these parties are like inside scoop tutorials - learning experiences to drink in.

It usually happens like this.  Something catches my eye and I either stop to try and figure it out on the spot or, I find the caterer and simply ask about it.  Most are more than happy to share!  

So, here are a couple of unbelievably, easy ideas I discovered this season - all ways to put some glamour into your holiday soiree - whether it's a Christmas buffet or a rockin' New Years bash.  



A Dramatic Buffet 

I was at a holiday open house thrown by a hot LA TV producer and although there were a healthy does of stars, they weren't what got my attention. I couldn't take my eyes off the buffet table. It was so colorful and almost like a movie set! One of the things that made it "pop" was the fact that the dishes were all at varying heights. Some of the platters were raised and others were low - laying flat on the table.'d they do that? I took a peek underneath the long white runner and saw a pretty simple get-up.  The raised platters were simply atop boxes, concealed by the runner.  


So, while hosting a party myself, I did the very same thing. I got some old UPS boxes out of a closet and put three along the length of the table.  Then I ran a long white table cloth - bunched up so it was more narrow like a runner - down the center.  Atop one "platform" I put a shrimp platter - the flowers went on the middle platform - and down at the other end of the table I placed some baked cheese sticks.  If your table looks too bare, toss on some pine cones from the yard or whatever you've got outside. As you can see from the photo at top, I spied a potted cactus by the pool and put it by the center piece to play off the cranberries. It worked!


 The Cranberry Trick

Speaking of the flowers, I'll share another thing I learned at a holiday party this year. This one was catered by a company that often does a lot of chi chi movie premieres.  Before you put the water or flowers in the vase, fill it with cranberries. I put two bags from Trader Joe's in the bottom of the vase (see top photo) and voila!  The arrangement suddenly goes from ordinary to extraordinary.  This works very well with white and rose colored flowers - and of course - my personal fav in any arrangement - celedon green.

My ham platter would have bombed had it not been for the pomegranate and fresh rosemary

Dress Up Your Platters

At another party, I was impressed with the fresh produce and spices that adorned the platters - from desserts to dips.  Well, that little trick came into mind recently when I went to slice up a ham and half of it was fat!  I was so mad that I'd picked a "lemon."   Now, what to do? My guests were arriving within the hour.  No time to dash to the store.  I certainly had enough other food on hand, but my ham platter looked dingy - as it was half empty.  I took quick stock of my fruit bowl and noticed a pretty fat pomegranate. I quickly sliced it up - what a gorgeous fruit - and tossed on some rosemary snipped from my hillside. Garnish galore and problem solved!

A cookie platter gets its ante upped  with a candy layer bed underneath

Make a Candy Carpet

To set up your cookie platter - put some candy in the base - underneath the cookies. The one I saw at a very fancy holiday dinner party actually had crushed up Peppermint Bark - which was really stunning. And, although I had some Bark on hand, I didn't have it  in me to crush it up for the platter. It felt too wasteful.  Again, no time to run to the drug store to see if they had any cheapie red and white candy. Instead, I made one row of red licorice stolen from my kids, another of marshmallows and a third of red cranberry raisins or Craisins - all items I had on hand. Check out your pantry - you might be surprised at what you can do!  And, don't get stuck on using candy. In looking at these photos, I wish I'd made a row of shelled pistachios. I have these really bright ones from the Santa Barbara Pistachio company that I could've used. Next time!

Candles and Soft Lighting

Put tons of candles out - on the buffet and everywhere.  All ivory or all white, and in varying heights.  And, take a moment and assess your lighting situation. My husband always laughs at me because when the lights are too bright I always blurt out, "What is this? Is someone getting an exam in here? Kill these ob-gyn lights!!!"  So ask yourself, does it feel like someone is about to get some sort of  medical exam in your kitchen or living room?  If so, dim the lights!

IMG_0738 Toast Yourself

Finally, grab a great glass of wine before the party kicks off.  Have a quiet moment and revel in it.  That shift will take you from chef to hostess mode. Oh, and one last thing. Toast yourself.  Anybody who hosts a party deserves it!


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This is a really good piece. It actually inspired me. Thank you!

That table is gorgeous Linda! You are such pro!

i have a question: don't the cranberries make the flowers die? or die sooner?

Hi Anne - I woudn't say that the cranberries make the flowers die - but they do probably shorten their life span by a few days . Flowers in general don't like anything in the water in terms of produce or even foliage.

Hi Linda! Great ideas...I'm always looking for fresh ideas and I love these. I've used the cranberries in a vase, but not with water. It looks great. I also love the tiered buffet table. Thanks! I'm all over it! Merry Christmas. XO, Susan

I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

Also, we can consider the setting as well as the props used. Carpets and table napkins do make a difference.

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