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    1 Key To-Do for Great Gatherings: Welcome Trays

    When’s the last time you had friends over? Strong friendships and laughter are both things that gets connected to over and over in regards to happiness and life satisfaction.

    Over the years, I’ve found that nurturing connections with even the simplest of gatherings is a great way to foster them. And it’s the little details and thoughtful preparations that often matter most.

    And what’s my #1 tip for having people over? Regardless of the time of day or occasion, create a Welcome Tray!

    What, pray tell, is a Welcome Tray? And why do I need to do it? 

    What: It’s just a simple snack or two and 2–3 ready-to-serve beverage options. So, this means you set out glasses to suit your offered drinks, cocktail napkins, anything else needed (like serving spoons for snacks) so that guests won’t need a thing to enjoy your offering. This should all be self-serve, although it’s ideal if you can be there to encourage folks to dig in and serve them their first drink. It’s just a nice hospitable way to get the party started.

    Why: Having basic needs met will result in relaxed, happy guests right out of the gate. Something about having a drink in your hand (non-alcoholic or a cocktail) creates a sense of ease for people when they enter a party. It helps bridge that momentary awkward feeling you have when you are arriving and either entering a gathering that’s already underway or being the first to arrive. This is true even among people you know well by the way, but especially so when guests don’t know each other well. After they get their drink, you can introduce them to other folks and then keep greeting people as they arrive.

    Major Bonus: Because you won’t have to hustle about in the early stages of a gathering, you can be your best, relaxed self and this really sets the tone for a fantastic gathering. It takes the pressure and stress off you! If you have anything last minute to chop or pop in the oven, there’s no concern because the guests have their needs met! It basically buys you lots of time at the start of a gathering.

    How: My go-to welcome tray is a pitcher of lemonade, a bottle of prosecco opened (but with a stopper in it) in an ice filled bucket and a liquor or two to “dress up” the prosecco. I favor St. Germaine and gin (or vodka) as extras for the bubbly. People can do a simple French 75 by adding gin or vodka and a splash of lemonade. Or if they prefer something a bit sweet, a splash of the St. Germaine is a perfect add to the prosecco.  Food favs are marcona almonds, olives, and a salty snack like Chex Mix or Trader Joe’s Classic Potato Chips. This entire set up takes a matter of minutes to put together. In a moment, I’ll detail out a few other easy, yet tasty ideas.

    Tips and Variations:

    • Remember to put out utensils for guests to serve what ever snack you offer. A little fork for the olives and a spoon or tongs for the other things is all that’s needed.
    • I’ve taken to putting out the food around 30-60 mins before the party starts and just lightly wrapping food with plastic wrap. At party’s start, just lift off the wrap and you’re ready to go.
    • Keep your inner Martha Stewart in check here! No need for a huge, stunning (and expensive) charcuterie platter. Just a few simple options is all you need. If you want to have a heavy app, opt to do this after all guests have arrived.
    • I usually tag team the greeting and guiding to the Welcome Tray moments with my husband or a designated friend. One of us will take coats and bags and the other will get guests settled in with a beverage.
    • Red and white wine instead of the prosecco or champagne is a good option too.
    • Many people say that champagne (and its cousins like prosecco and sparkling wines) give them headaches, but in my experience that tends to happen with uber cheap varieties more than moderate and nicer vintages. I think folks remember the last wedding they were at that offered Andre and when they imbibed a bit too much haha! I’ve found a few go to moderate options for Welcome Trays and if you asked the folks at your grocery store or liquor store, I’m sure they’d be happy to guide you to good options as well.  If you’re serving just champagne with out any liquor “dress up” options, do opt for a more expensive and predictably good option like Veuve Clicquot or be sure to do a taste test on more moderate options ahead of time.
    • If your friends like cocktails more than wine or champagne, choose a batch friendly cocktail and offer it along with a bottle of wine perhaps (in case someone doesn’t do hard alcohol) and omit the proscecco/extra liquor mentioned above.
    • Don’t forget bar tools like an ice bucket and tongs/scoop, a cocktail shaker and long drink stir spoon if needed as well as a wine opener.
    • Depending on your full menu, you can also opt for themed drink and snack offerings. For instance, an Italian-themed variation would be Negroni cocktails or Aperol Spritzers with a simple antipasto platter of salami, crackers, chunk of hard cheese like Pecorino Romano or Parmesan and a softer cheese like Gorgonzola or Burrata or fresh Ricotta, and last add a bit of store bought tapenade or tomato relish or olives. Mediterranean snacks are also an easy, popular option:  hummus, marinated feta from your deli, pita, and olives.

    Keep in mind that people tend to remember the beginning and the ending of an event so staring things off well is a big key to happy guests. I’ll talk about ending the evening in one of my next articles by the way. But for now, give the Welcome Tray a try at your next gathering—it really does help you and make your guests happy!

    All photos by Angela Carlyle

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