10 Rules for Planning Successful Parties

Your Food and Drink List

Whether you're planning a brunch or buffet, a cocktail party or an after-carolling get-together, food and drink are your party's most important ingredients. The first item to determine is the main dish. Jot down a list of recipes you're confident that you can cook well and that are proven crowd pleasers. Remember, to you it may be the same old lasagne, but to your guests it could be a new taste treat. If you do want to serve a dish you've never cooked before, be sure to test the recipe at least once (twice is even safer) before the party.

After you've figured out the main course, build the rest of the menu around it, following that same ‘I feel confident I can make this’ rule. And don't make things too hard on yourself. If you'll be cooking a complicated main dish, go for simple appetisers and side dishes that can be easily prepared in advance. Next, take a careful look at the yields of the recipes you'll be using to be sure they will make enough to feed your crowd. If your favorite wild rice recipe serves four but you're inviting eight, be sure it can be easily doubled before you put it on the menu.

Finally, don't forget to add beverages to your list. Plan to have a variety of non-alcoholic drinks on hand. It's best to buy more than you think you'll need. And buy lots of ice on the day of the party. That way, you won't have to waste precious fridge space to chill the drinks. When it comes to alcohol, don't feel obligated to set up a full bar. Unless you're having a cocktail party, it's fine to limit your selections to wine and beer, and perhaps a special holiday punch. Whatever you serve, encourage moderation – the last thing you want people to remember about your party is a hangover.

Your Party Shopping List

Look over each item on your menu and list everything you'll need to make it happen. Note each ingredient (including garnishes), then check your pantry and your spice rack. Nothing's more annoying than thinking ‘I'm sure I have that’ only to find out that you don't when it's time to add it to the recipe.

Now is also the time to be sure that you have the equipment all the dishes on your menu call for – whether it's a food processor or a particular size roasting pan. Whatever you don't have, borrow from friends or buy cheaply at a local restaurant-supply store. If you entertain often, the right equipment is worth the investment. Keep in mind that it takes twice as long to make Christmas cookies if you have only one baking tray instead of the two required, and ten times as long to chop some ingredients by hand than by food processor.

In addition, count up the plates and platters, serving utensils, glasses, cutlery and dinner napkins and even tablecloths you'll need. Don't forget serving trays, punch bowls, coffee urns and folding chairs. If you're short, call your local party-rental place and reserve what you need now. The holiday season is one of the biggest times of the year for party rentals and you don't want to be scrambling to find essentials at the last moment. Many people would rather borrow from friends and family than rent. But why risk Mother's fine china, when most party rentals have a breakage allowance built into the cost?

2. Appeal to the eye as well as the tastebuds

I have a friend who swears that if there's any other food available, no one will touch the large platters of raw vegetables and dip he bothers to prepare. But this particular host never fails to make such crudités the centerpiece of his buffet. Why? Because with their wonderful colours and textures, they look gorgeous, whether they get eaten or not! In planning your menu, take time to make sure you have as many colours and textures as possible. Think red capsicums, tangerines, pumpkin and green beans to brighten up all-brown, or otherwise bland-looking, dishes.

Garnishes are another great way to add colour. As professional chefs know, most garnishes only look difficult to create, yet they have the power to make even a simple dish look special. And if radish roses and cucumber fans seem too fancy, you can get that restaurant look with a few well-placed sprigs of fresh herbs.

 

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