Haven't sorted Christmas? Not to worry, hire it in
Even as the Big Day approaches, it’s still not too late to order everything to make Christmas go off with a bang
Caterhire’s gold-rimmed classic dinnerware range, including glasses, costs €65 for a party of 10.
Years ago, the very idea of buying in your Christmas dinner was anathema to tradition. It was also unaffordable. Now, all the big food emporiums offer a full service – from cocktail nibbles to roasted bronze turkey and all the trimmings. This option really cuts down on the rows and tears that an under-basted bird or cremated carrots can cause and is ideal when you don’t have a lot of oven space or time to prep all the detail.
Food emporiums like Fallon & Byrne, Avoca and Donnybrook Fair all have ready-to-heat options on everything from sublime smoked salmon to honey-glazed, baked ham, roast turkey with chestnut stuffing and spiced beef with all the trimmings. The supermarkets too want to woo you with their tempting festive fare – but the thinking has expanded beyond mere food preparation to cover every aspect of the big day. You can now order in even on December 25th.
The biggest problem most hosts have is how they’re going to accommodate all their guests, says Gavin Divilly, managing director of Caterhire, which has operated in south Co Dublin for more than 30 years. Queues of cars snaking their way to the warehouse on Christmas week have increased to such a point that the firm has to put staff on traffic-management duty and now encourages early pick-ups to ease this problem.
“Christmas week is one of two unique periods when we do a huge amount of private-hire business. Private customers amount to 35 to 40 per cent of our business. From Monday,we have hundreds and hundreds of small orders – specifically for Christmas Day and most of what they’re renting will fit into a family car.”
Caterhire offers tables, chairs, glasses, dinnerware, cutlery, tablecloths and anything else you might think of and has redesigned its entire image on this home-market basis, pricing several of its Christmas packages to include VAT.
You can choose from Jasper Conran designs for Wedgewood to classic gold-rimmed dinnerware. If you’re having the family over and don’t have enough room to seat everyone or want uniformity to the table, you can order Caterhire’s gold-rimmed classic dinnerware range – cutlery for three courses plus wine and water glasses, all for €65 for a party of 10. “This price even includes the washing-up – all we ask is that you scrape the plates of food before stacking them. Tables and table linen to seat the same number will cost an additional €25.”
“It suits us if you come early, say on the 22nd or 23rd,” Divilly says. What you do with it between then and the 28th when the company re-open is up to you, meaning you get to re-use the hired furniture and tableware on Stephen’s Day and even on the 27th to do all the family feasting you want.
The candle conundrum
A candle-lit table for an evening meal looks wonderful and you can go to town hiring candelabras. Hanley Events does great five-arm ones from €35 each. You may be tempted to buy cheap and chic-looking candles but Philip Hanley, sales director at Hanley Events, cautions against this cost-cutting exercise. “These drip in a way proper dinner party tapers do not. The wax ends up all over the candelabras and the linen and is difficult to remove.”
Lalor, the church side of Rathborne’s candle business, does great classic burning beeswax candles – a 6in-style costs €47.50 for a pack of 72. Longer 12-inch designs cost €136 for a pack of 144 – far, far more cost-effective as a gift than a scented candle. A festive red set, the traditional style used for generations in Irish windows on Christmas Eve, costs €19 for a pack of 50.
Shop for props
Some of the big catering firms have fantastic props that are sitting idle over the festive period and will add drama to your decor. Hanley Events has a customer picking up two 6½ft-high Nutcracker-style toy soldiers to stand sentinel on December 25th. But you will need a big house to entertain this idea. The soldiers cost €145 each, ex VAT. The company also rents deep burgundy velvet linen that can look lovely in a period house.
The wait staff (who will also wash-up)
If you have a gang coming for dinner, you can hire in wait staff to help serve so that half of those gathered don’t spent their time in the kitchen serving. Wait staff for private events is big business in London but less so here. Ciaran Melody of Mint Events says this is changing, with requests for staff to serve at family dinners in the run-up to December 25th increasing. He can source staff for Dublin, even on December 25th. “You can expect to pay between €20 and €30 per hour for wait staff and you need to negotiate in advance what jobs you expect them to do. If agreeable, they’ll also do the washing up but probably don’t want to be there when you open your presents so we can arrange to come before or after that.”
The Co Clare native says everyone should work in hospitality for a day, if only to realise just how much work is required in delivering Christmas dinner to the table. “The best present you can give your mum this Christmas is to offer to get up, help out, peel and chop what needs doing.”
Ronan Rogerson runs event bar company All Bar None and Drury Buildings restaurant and rooms. He started out tending bar at the age of eight for the 60th birthday party of his great, grand-uncle, Lorcan Heron. The man is now 95 and Rogerson can manage every issue Christmas throws up. For drinks, he suggests serving a bowl of punch, either rum or gin, served chilled using bags of supermarket ice. If you need bartending help, he suggests asking your local bar or nightclub tender to do a nixer for you for a couple of hours.
The other option is to share the load. He has 25 coming to his home for Christmas and everyone has a job to do to help pull the meal together. One brings desert; another the cheese board; another the turkey; another the ham; another the vegetables.
The secret to hosting is not to get stressed, says Tara Fay of event company Xena Productions. “If the host is stressed it won’t be enjoyable for anyone, so what’s the point? Don’t overthink it, plan whose job it is to do what and keep it simple – lots of fresh foliage and candlelight – you can use water glasses filled with tea-lights to create a welcoming atmosphere – just make sure any foraged foliage is bug-free so you don’t discover any surprise guests.”
And finally the tree
It can take two evenings to ready the Christmas tree and that doesn’t include finding one and chasing its delivery. Anna Finlay of the Blooming Amazing Flower Company has built a niche business readying homes for Yuletide. She does a mood board, selects colours, lights and tree shape, preferring artificial to real. If you put a real tree up on December 1st it will be crispy by December 31st. Artificial trees outweigh the real thing by a ratio of two to one, she estimates, buying hers 12 months in advance in January. Her artificial tree dressing service starts from €350 but most of her clients spend between €2,500 and €3,000 on trees, garlands and mantles.
At this point in December, if you haven’t had the time to decorate, the smartest thing to do is to ask a local florist to make you a garland for the stairs and another for the mantle and take a hit on the tree – maybe asking the kids to decorate it.