Camille Simmons, of the popular lifestyle blog Planning Pretty, has quickly proven herself as an entertaining expert. (Who could forget this fabulous brunch?!) When she mentioned she’d be hosting a luxe holiday soiree, we knew we had to score an invite. While winter whites and airy tablescapes are all over Pinterest, Camille wanted something with a little more contrast. “I’ve always wanted to style a holiday table against a dark background. Everywhere you look is bright white holiday decor, but I think the contrast brings out a more luxe and decadent feel. To me, a dark table shouts ‘prepare a feast!’ The food and drink are able to pop against the surface.” With magnolia leaves as the base, Camille added colorful ornaments and gold branches for opulence. As for the rest of the table? Drinks, desserts and cheeses fall around the bold centerpiece, enticing guests to indulge. We asked Camille to share her tried & true tips for hosting a great party – and even got her to spill the details on her playlist. Follow her lead for the perfect holiday soiree, and happy entertaining:

-“First and foremost, remember that this is a time to celebrate and have fun. Holiday entertaining can be a bit hectic and keeping a cool head is essential. When hosting,  always keep the guest count and party budget in mind. If you can’t foot the entire grocery bill, invite guests to bring their favorite holiday dish for a potluck dinner. If you are feeling extra generous this year, prepare a menu that will wow their taste buds.”

-“Prepare as much as you can in the days before. Bake cakes in advance and store in the refrigerator. Marinate meats or vegetables a day or two ahead. Prepare sauces, dressings, and anything else that can sit in the fridge for a couple days. Arrange place settings on the table and make sure all glassware, flatware, and linens are clean and ready to go. This will prevent a huge headache and save lots of time!”

-“The day of the party, cook and bake anything that couldn’t be prepared early. Start in the morning as early as possible, and allow buffer time for unexpected mishaps. They always happen, but don’t worry, everything always comes together on time.”

-“Just before guests arrive, set out a course of cheeses and antipasti like olives, salami, almonds, and honey. Having the snacks allows buffer time to finish cooking or plating the dinner.”

-“A pre made cocktail, wine, or home-brewed beer is essential to giving yourself extra time to finish up once guests arrive. Guests won’t mind waiting if they have a cocktail in hand!”

-“Now the main entree and sides should already be cooked, but begin re-warming in the oven. Try not to serve the dishes in baking containers or pans, re-plate onto beautiful  platters and bowls with proper serving utensils. Presentation is just as important as the taste. Place platters on the dining table or buffet, guests will know to sit down and that the meal is about to begin.”

-“Officially start the meal with a toast, formally welcoming your guests. You can also reveal the full menu or decide to keep your guests surprised. Cheers!”

-“After each course or towards the end of the meal, remove guests’ plates and prepare for dessert, tea and coffee. Give guests time to relax, keep conversation going, and enjoy the company. After the meal, games, music, dancing or a good movie can extend the party and add an element of entertainment. When you’re ready for everyone to go, gently signal by cleaning up the party. It’s subtle, but most guests will understand it’s time to go home! Thank everyone for coming and wish them a wonderful holiday.”

“A vintage holiday playlist is timeless and wonderful to play in the background!”

Vince Grabaldi Trio, Christmas Time is Here
She & Him, Little Saint Nick
Frank Sinatra, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Nat King Cole, The Christmas Song
Andy Williams, Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Photography & Styling: Camille Simmons of Planning Pretty
Stationery: Tiny Prints
Ornaments: Moskatels in Los Angeles, CA (a wholesale branch of Michaels Arts & Crafts)
Plants & Flowers: Oakland Flower Market
Gold trim plates: Target, no longer available
Flatware: West Elm
Barware: Umami Mart
Garland: Oh Joy for Target