Didn’t I warn you- it’s November, so I’m bringing the holidays full force! Since baby is due around Christmas this year, everything I’d typically plan to do in December is getting moved to November and this holiday cocoa party is no different. Did I mentioned we had our first snow yesterday? Last week I hosted some girls for holiday crafting and set up this fun cocoa and treats bar to make it a bit more special. I love being able to make small occasions like a craft night into a party with some treats and a few decorations.
Today I want to share not just the fun photos from the party (hello- so fun!), but some tips on styling a party table easily. I know this can be stressful and thought some tips might be helpful leading up to the holidays! Speaking of less stress… today I’m over at Creative Live sharing a free printable party planner (see photo below) for any party year round and some of my favourite tips to avoid stress when I’m planning.
Before I chat about styling… can I tell you how simple this party is? There’s next to no food prep (my kind of cooking!) and everything can be set out ahead of time with food wrap. I actually photographed this last weekend, then wrapped everything up and stored it until I threw it on the table Wednesday for our craft night. Sneaky? Yep! Stress free? Yep! When the whole point of getting together is an activity, you don’t need a huge buffet of hot foods that will either take away from your activity time or get cold while you focus on the activity and go to waste.
Ready for the tips? Thought so!
ONE: Pick a theme. I know, people have something against themes! And why? I love a good theme party as much as the next, but by this I don’t mean ‘ugly christmas sweaters’ or ‘under the sea’. This could be a full blown theme or it could be a colour scheme you want to stick. Maybe it’s classic Christmas red and green, glitzy new years party with black and gold details, garden party with tangerine and mint accents, or maybe it’s a birthday party that is going to be all yellow (the birthday girl’s favourite colour). It doesn’t matter if it’s not a true theme, but picking a feel that you want for your party will help you make decisions about decor, activities, food- really, everything, easily. My theme was a cocoa party but I also chose to use the Christmas on Market Street (Everything Kit by My Mind’s Eye) for crafting decor. This made it easy to coordinate decor- did it match the garlands? Yep? It made the cut! Nope? Sorry plaid!
TWO: Add height. When I was serving at banquets in highschool, one thing I was taught about setting buffet tables is that they look better with height. We’d use crates draped in linen to raise some dishes and avoid a flat table with plates piled on. Although I haven’t used a crate draped in linen since then, I think this tip is gold. Weather you choose a tiered serving tray, tall floral arrangement, taper candlesticks, or footed serving dishes- varying the height will make your table instantly more interesting. This time around, I used a basket to display mugs for cocoa and raised one of the cookie plates by turning a bowl on edge for a stand. Another bonus by adding height? More table space! Adding different height platters (like those cookies) allows them to be pushed closer together without looking crowded. That basket for mugs? Can hold more mugs in less space than If I were to lay them out ordinarily.
THREE: Choose a focus. This really goes for a whole party- not just for a party table. You don’t need to decorate every inch of space in your home for a party. Pick one or two areas that you will focus on. Usually, that’s a food table. On the food table, it could be an impressive backdrop. I love to use the wall behind my table for a fun decorative display. This time around, I chose garlands (one of my favourite things!) purchased and crafted (Wood and Stag Circle banners purchased, other two crafted from Christmas on Market Street Everything Kit), paired with my simple wreath and some gold lettering (also from the Christmas on Market Street Everything Kit). Since this was the focus, I didn’t need to add a lot of decor to the table. A couple small arrangements and confetti were pretty much it!
FOUR: Get creative with your serveware. Weather or not you want to use a basket on your table, try getting creative with your serving dishes. You don’t need to have 50 matching white serving trays (although I might). Not only is that a cupboard killer (trust me!), but it makes for a pretty boring table. Mix it up with decorative trays (like this wood one from Target) or maybe cutting boards (like I did at this baby shower). The unexpected elements add texture and interest to the table before you even start decorating. I also use mason jars all the time- they work so well to corral straws, sprinkles, or candy canes.
FIVE: Bring in some life. Oh, I’m talking greeeeenery here. For this party, I kept it simple with the greenery in my wreath and some fresh greenery in tealight holders on the table. But you could go crazy with fresh florals if you wanted to! My kids’ neon dino party is the only party table that I’ve set in the past year without some form of living plant (from trailing plants to leafy garland to wild florals). There’s something about an organic element that can bring a party table to life. I know a lot of people shy away from florals because they imagine a big price tag, but there’s no reason it has to be. The arrangements I made for this party are clippings from my yard. Last year, my friendsgiving centrepieces were borrowed from my dad’s garden. If you don’t have a garden- the farmers market is a goldmine for florals or you can make a grocery store bouquet look stunning with a bit of rearranging.
SIX: Say NO to the ugly. Seriously- I know this sounds like a ‘duh’ but it can seem really rude! For this party, I wrapped the whip cream, cocoa powder, and sauces in scrapbook paper to match the decor. I’m hiding the things that I think aren’t pretty enough to make the table… but that I want to have on the table for ease. That’s simple enough. But when guests bring food to serve… from the grocery store… on those plastic deli trays? You know that moment. Just have some serving trays ready and offer it up cheerfully. I’ve even been known to set the table with a couple empty serving platters if I know there’s some things coming (like a veggie tray). I totally goofed and photographed this party with an empty bowl that was waiting for some homemade guacamole!
SEVEN: Label that food. Having three types of cupcakes? Help guests out and tell them which is which. For this party, I labeled all the toppings. Food labels are great because they make dishing up easier for guests but they also can be pretty. I used gift tags for this, but tent cards from scrapbook paper, little chalkboard tags, picks… the options are endless.
EIGHT: Make it practical. Okay, so this might not sound very pretty but hear me out. Have you ever been to a party and the whole table is SO crazy beautiful but the plates and napkins are shoved off to the side, or the coffee stir sticks and cream are on the counter over by the fridge because they just weren’t pretty enough to make the table? I totally get it. You want the table to be pretty… but make it functional too! One of the things we studied in Event Management (did I ever tell you that I’m technically a professional? ;) So you can trust me) is ‘flow’. Think traffic flow. If you have guests going back and forth for different things they need, there’s going to be a traffic jam, or something will just get skipped over. So get napkins that you don’t mind displaying on your party table, choose to display cutlery in a creative way that looks like it’s part of the decor instead of just thrown on. Whatever it is that you’re thinking you want to hide- find a way to make it pretty, guests will thank you for not making them hunt.
So there’s my tips for you! They’re really good for any party ever. I mentioned in my post over at Creative Live today (y’know, the one where you can snag an awesome free party planner) that I find holiday parties just the littlest bit more stressful because of the time of the year. So if you’re anything like me, you need tips now more than you do for a spring baby shower. Am I the only one that lets the business of the season get to me?
Hi Colleen, I just stumbled across your blog today–LOVE IT! And, I love this idea for a cocoa and crafts party!!! I was wondering if you actually make crafts during the party and if so what sorts of crafts you made? I am thinking of borrowing this idea for a little get together with friends and was curious about the “craft” component.
Aw, thank you SO much Jen! We did do crafts, but they weren’t planned for the party specifically if that makes sense? The girls and I all brought the things we wanted to work on making for Christmas gifts and worked on our own projects. I was working on personalizing some door mats if that’s helpful! In past years, I’ve personalized mugs or made bracelets.
I love this!! This post comes at the perfect time! I’m in crazy planning mode for my little girl’s first birthday party next week. I’m doing a hot chocolate bar and my theme is purple/silver/winter. People are like “that’s not a theme!” Well, I’m glad you agree! Now I don’t feel so crazy. Thanks for the tips!! :)
Oh hurray! I love when the timing works out. What is it with the need for a THEME for kids parties? Or any party!? Lol, can’t wait to see your whole party Amanda.
Great tips Colleen! I followed over from Instagram. The decor is perfect :) Greenery is something I always forget in my decor. Thanks :)
Aw, thanks so much Lindi! My husband rolls his eyes at how often I’m out cutting things from our yard to bring inside.
Maria @ Pastels & Macarons
Oh I LOVE this Colleen!! Stunning! Thanks for the free printable. Will be printing it out to help me organise my up coming Christmas party for my play group! I’ll be featuring this fabulous post at next weeks Turn It Up Tuesday! Thank you so much for sharing. Will also get back to your email asap. I apologise, my mum has been visiting and She’s leaving soon so we have been out frantically shopping for last minute things she wants to take back home (to Australia) and yeah… busy times! :) x
I’m so glad you enjoyed it Maria! (got your email), I wish I had a playgroup to have a party for… that’s one thing I never got involved with my little ones!
Hi Collen, Such a great party set up. Love it. Pinned & shared.
Thanks so much Theresa, I appreciate it!