Holiday Entertaining

A Hosting Trick to Make Your Guests Feel Extra (Extra) Special

Step 1: Get yourself some decanters.

November 23, 2021
Photo by Ty Mecham

Like a James Bond villain or a Mad Men character, I love a good decanter. When people come over, they often remark on the little collection I have going on the top of my bar cart, each one filled with a different liquor and marked by a vintage pewter tag that a dear friend found at a flea market and gave me as a housewarming gift (find a more modern interpretation here. There’s something particularly pleasing about serving someone a finger of Scotch or a tequila soda using a hefty glass bottle made for just such a thing.

But here’s my secret: I always put my least expensive liquor in my fanciest decanter.

By inexpensive, I'm not talking about rotgut college-era stuff. My fiancé and I settled on having house liquors, much like when you order a well drink at a bar (but better). The crystal decanter marked “Rye” usually holds Old Overholt, and the bourbon is usually Wild Turkey. I have a green glass tequila decanter that I stock with Teremana Reposada, a very good tequila that is also very reasonably priced. All of the spirits are ones that I enjoy drinking—you can find really good stuff lurking on the low-to-mid-priced shelves of the liquor store. Putting them in decanters means that people drink it before they judge it by the label—they just assume that whatever is hiding in such elegant trappings must be fancier than it actually does.

I learned this trick from my friend Rachel, one of the most accomplished home cooks I know, and an excellent host, to boot. One night I was over for dinner, and I noticed a gorgeous, cut-glass decanter on her bar—one that she and her husband had gotten for her wedding. I assumed whatever was in there was precious stuff, so when she made us old-fashioneds using the contents of the decanter, I felt particularly special. It was only later that she told me her house bourbon was Jim Beam—a solid bourbon, no doubt, but not one that guests usually ooh and aah over.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“There are lead risks on vintage decanters that aren’t even mentioned in this story! Beware the advice of using something you find at a flea market without knowing!”
— CindySalvatino

It’s a great hosting trick for a couple reasons—having good but reasonably priced spirits on display means you don’t worry about a rowdy guest getting into your rare and expensive bourbon that you got on your honeymoon. A little decanter collection is easy to get going, too. I usually browse estate sales, thrift stores, and places like Ebay and Etsy for beautiful pieces, but my first one was something I got on a whim from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. They look great on your bar cart, and you never have to worry that you’re secretly replenishing the party fuel from a handle you got at Costco.

November and December are peak house-party season, which means that my bar cart will be particularly active for the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to swanning over to the decanters and mixing people their favorite drinks.

What's your secret entertaining trick? Tell us in the comments below.

Food52's Automagic Holiday Menu Maker
View Maker
Food52's Automagic Holiday Menu Maker

Choose your holiday adventure! Our Automagic Menu Maker is here to help.

View Maker

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lindy
  • viviancooks
  • Rhonda35
  • M
  • CindySalvatino
Margaret Eby

Written by: Margaret Eby

Editorial Lead of Food, Food52


Lindy January 2, 2022
I agree, I have not used my Waterford collection in 25+ years in deference to the possible lead leaching. Sad that all they are is something to dust when on display.
Rhonda35 January 2, 2022
I still use my Waterford glassware…my guests don’t let their wine stay in the glasses long enough to worry about lead poisoning! 😉
viviancooks December 31, 2021
Ditto the lead warning. I stopped using decanters years ago because of it. It leaches into the liquor.
Rhonda35 December 30, 2021
Decanters also can be used to store mouthwash on a guest bath counter and for drinking water on a bedside table. Be sure your decanters are lead-free!
M November 23, 2021
By all means, make your bar beautiful, but don't ever mask the contents or brands. All rail essentials -- gin, vodka, whisky, and rum -- have brands that use nuts while distilling, which should be safe in theory, but many avoid them to be safe. If you have Tanqueray one party, and then switch to Bombay Sapphire, you've introduced almond to the mix. And of course, a lot of people have that liquor or brand they avoid because of bad experiences or bad reactions. Be straightforward. And if you really want to make your affordable selection seem fancier than it is, infuse it with something seasonal.
CindySalvatino November 23, 2021
There are lead risks on vintage decanters that aren’t even mentioned in this story! Beware the advice of using something you find at a flea market without knowing!