10 Rules for Planning Successful Parties

6. Make as much as you can as far ahead as you can

Waiting until the last few days before your party to cook everything just doesn't make sense – especially when, if you examine your menu, you'll see that much of it can be prepared ahead, frozen and reheated. Just pin up a reminder to yourself so you don't forget to defrost in time.

Don't rule out convenience foods: as far as I'm concerned, the bakery does a much better job of baking bread than I do. And why spend time washing and peeling baby carrots when they come packaged that way at the supermarket?

For those things that demand last-minute attention, don't be proud, be smart: have meats and cheeses sliced at the grocery store. Buy packaged ice. The idea is to minimise your efforts so you haven't exhausted yourself before the party even begins.

7. Don't drive yourself crazy cleaning

Our advice: don't attempt a top-to-bottom house-cleaning before your party. Confine your efforts to the rooms your guests will see and use. And close the doors to the others.

But there is one place you should spend some time scrubbing: the bathroom. It's the one room by which your guests will judge the cleanliness of the whole house. Make sure it's spotless, and enhance the overall impression of clean by removing all the clutter – toiletries, bathrobes, rubber duckies.

Clutter removal is key to the rest of your house-cleaning too. Here's my technique: after you've done the bathroom, start cleaning where the guests will enter. Get rid of mail on the hall table. Stash the coats, the toys and the dog's leash. Cleaning as you go, proceed to your party rooms and remove newspapers and magazines. It's a great idea to clear off tables and countertops, too, because you'll need the space for food and drinks. Polish all wooden and glass surfaces, but do not bother cleaning the windows. Once your rooms are filled with people, no one will be looking out them anyway.

8. Keep serving simple

The elaborate passing of food, called French service, should be left to the French. Unless you have an army of waiters at your beck and call, self-service rules. For a small number of guests, a good arrangement is to place all the food, buffet-style, on one main table, and designate another table for the bar. However, the bigger the party, the more you ought to consider setting up several food areas so that everyone doesn't end up crowded in one spot. For example, use your coffee table for the hors d'oeuvres, your buffet top for the cheese platter, and a card table for coffee and sweets.

One place you should avoid using for food service is your kitchen. During the party, it will be far too busy a place to have your guests gathering (and getting in the way). During your party, check often to see how everything looks, rearranging and replacing food as necessary. As food is finished, remove empty dishes, making sure everything looks as fresh for the last guest as it did for the first.

9. Ask for help

One word separates the confident host from the person who swears she'll never entertain again as long as she lives: help. And the larger your party, the more help you'll need.

But if you really want to save money, the number one source of your household help should be...your household. As long as they've reached coat-carrying age, your children can - and should - pitch in. In fact, most kids love being more than just decorative accessories at their parents' parties. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover how good your children feel about helping to clear away glasses, passing hors d'oeuvres and, yes, getting people's coats for them.

In addition, don't hesitate to look beyond your doors to relatives, close friends and co-workers. As long as you're gracious about it and ask in advance, most people are only too delighted to help out at parties. It's an opportunity for them to show off their talents and resourcefulness, and you can couple your request with a promise to reciprocate at their next big event.

10. It's a party: enjoy yourself

The final commandment is both the hardest and the most important thing for a party giver to do. You've worked extra hard, you want everything to be perfect and you worry that your guests won't enjoy themselves if it isn't. But the truth is that most people are delighted to have someone go to all the trouble it takes to entertain.

Your guests will never know that you forgot the cucumbers for the salad or that the dessert was store-bought - and if they do figure it out, chances are they won't care. When they arrive, they'll be in a party mood and pleased just to have been invited. So take a deep breath before you open the door to your first guest and relax. This is going to be fun.

 

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