Today I had my neighborhood breakfast party, and it was so much fun! My camera died just a few pictures into the event, so unfortunately I won’t be able to show you all of the yummy food that was prepared and completely consumed. (Man, did I ever cut it close on this one. I usually end up with tons of food leftover….which I hate. This time there was only some minor crumbs leftover.)
Some of you seasoned entertainers don’t need my advice on throwing a good party. But I thought some of you might find these tips helpful, so here they are!
1. Set the tone of your party with a cute invitation and a theme. By theme, I don’t necessarily mean a subject matter. For this party the theme was Christmas, comfort food, cozy-warm-and-toasty-by-the-fireplace, and red, white, and green. How is that for a theme :)? I hope my S’mores invite conveyed all of that anyhow. I’m going to sneak in a tip on RSVP’ing here too. I have found that keeping RSVP’s flexible increases party attendance and reduces personal stress. It’s beyond frustrating to plan an event with no idea of who will be attending; however, I have found that people in the age bracket of 30-40 are horrible with RSVP’ing. I think we’re a fickle generation. The best I usually get is “maybe”. Therefore, I have found it easier to just guesstimate and take the attitude of when the food and drink are gone…they’re gone.
2. Don’t be scared to use paper products for large, casual events. They can look adorable and make life so much easier. I am a BIG fan of paper plates and plastic silverware for parties. If you are super thrifty and/or environmentally conscious feel free to wash and reuse your silverware…or just stop reading and skip down to number 3. I had all of these products in my pantry leftover from previous parties, so I didn’t need to buy a thing! The paper plates were found on clearance at Tuesday Morning (also a fantastic place for cheap napkins). I love how they mirror the red and white in the invites. The Santa napkins were $.50 a pack at an after-Christmas Target sale last year. (Shhhh, don’t tell. They are actually paper bathroom towels.) And the silverware was bought in a huge box from Big Lots and cutely displayed in an old dollar store tin bucket that I have had forever. Another quick tip, ribbon dresses up everything and can really make the ordinary look extraordinary.
3. Use unconventional items from around your home to arrange party food. Here I’ve arranged cereals for the kids in a picnic basket. This looks so much more attractive than just lining them up on the counter. Think outside the box when it comes to food display.
4. Take a “mind’s eye walk” through your party. When setting up the room, food and drink, it is important to walk yourself through your party in your mind. Pretend you are a guest trying to maneuver around your set-up. Consider the number of guests you are likely to have and factor in “body space” in your party. Does it make sense to have all of your drinks in the kitchen and the food in the dining room? Will everyone easily be able to access their food and drink? Would it be better to set-up a drink station on your sideboard? Move the food to the kitchen? Do you have enough seating? If you have any sort of program to your party, have you considered how you will transition people from one event to the next? Ooooo, this is IMPORTANT and may seem obvious, but I’ll say it anyhow. In fact, it’s so important it deserves it’s own step.
5. This is your party. Take charge. Even if you don’t have a “program” per se, it is very important that you greet each guest as they arrive, take their coat or tell them where to place their belongings, and then immediately orient them to the party. Take them over to the food and drink, tell them to help themselves, and perhaps even introduce them to someone new and start a conversation. With large gatherings this may be difficult to do as a hostess, but as someone who is shy and introverted in large unknown groups, I sooooo appreciate this step. Your guests will too! I have been to numerous parties where the hosts were so preoccupied, or disorganized that I felt a bit lost. Where do I put my coat? Is it okay if we start eating now? Where are the drinks? When are they ever going to open gifts? If your party has transitions involved, plan ahead as to when you are going to do ________ (cut the cake, play a game, take a house tour, etc.) and be bold and brave in interrupting chatter to let people know it’s time to do ______. Learning how to manage your crowd will make everyone’s time more enjoyable.
6. Do as much prep work and “plating” the day before. I actually used to do much more entertaining when I worked full time. (We had more money and fewer children then.) Preparing days and sometimes weeks in advance was key to not stressing myself out. For this party, I made a cheddar broccoli quiche, sausage egg casserole, and eggnog bread ALL the day before. The casserole was something I could just toss in the oven an hour before the party, but everything else was cooked/baked yesterday. Tip: Quiche reheats perfectly when placed in a 350* oven for 15-20 mins. No one will ever know that it was premade!
Plating everything and having all the appropriate serving spoons available takes much more time than one would think. Have all your serving trays placed out the night before to save yourself time the day of your party.
7. Label your food with cute signs. I have been using this tip for a decade now, and I am not sure I’ll ever give it up. For my food signs, I used the same scrapblog.com sticker that I had previously purchased to make the invites. I think people like to know what they are eating/drinking and it saves you as a hostess from answering questions like, “Is this milk or is it half & half? Is this regular or decaf?” Labeling cutely also goes far in carrying out your theme and inexpensively adding to your decor.
8. Don’t be scared to supplement with some store bought items. You don’t have to stress yourself out trying to make everything from scratch. Supplementing with a few store bought goodies won’t even be noticed by most of your guests. In fact, these cheap donut hole snowmen below that I threw together this morning were the hit of the party. Only two sad little snowpeople were decorated, and I thought they were extremely lame, but people loved them and gobbled them up.
9. Create ambiance. Good lighting, nice music, candles and a clean house go far in setting the mood. My house typically looks “show perfect” for parties. This doesn’t mean everything is perfect. Far from it. Counter clutter is usually stuffed in cupboards, drawers, closets, etc. and I’m okay with this. I find that most people that state they want people to feel comfortable in their “lived-in” house are just making excuses for messy clutter. Clutter at your party doesn’t add to the ambiance and won’t make most people comfortable. Just stash it out of sight for the party.
10. Order up good mood-setting weather. If you’re having an outdoor party, praying for sun is a must. If you’re having a Christmas party, well place an order with the Big Guy for some of this!!! We had a ton of snow today and with mostly everyone within walking distance, it really made for a fun, snowy Christmas breakfast! (Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I have no idea why the chairs from my bistro set are staring at the fence. I guess they got tired of looking at each other. 😉
How about you? Have any party planning tips to share? What do you think goes into making a great party? Talk to me.