This year, we celebrated 37 years of marriage, and one of the things that hasn’t changed over the years is the enjoyment we both get from entertaining friends. What can we say? We love a good party.
Whether it’s celebrating a holiday, a special remembrance, a thematic event, or just gathering to enjoy the company of good people, we’ve always had fun throwing a shindig, and we’ve learned a few things over the years about what can make or break a good party. One thing we’ve come to know is, like many of life’s pleasures, the planning, and anticipation can be as fun as the event itself.
At home, we divide up the responsibilities — not in a formal way, but rather based upon who wants to do what. I love to cook while Janet loves creating invitations and decorating. So, in this issue’s installment, we’re taking a tag-team approach to sharing The Good Life as the host of your own soirée.
To Theme or Not to Theme
One of the first things to determine is why you’re throwing this party. While it’s true there doesn’t have to be a reason to entertain, it can help direct your planning efforts if there’s some focus on a theme. Themes guide your vision on everything from invitations and decorations to food and dress. Some themes are easy, like holidays and special events, but they can also revolve around specific activities like wine tastings or summer cookouts. Get creative!
I have come to appreciate online invitations for the great features they offer. Most provide templates, so there’s not a lot of planning needed. They automatically populate on attendees’ calendars and send reminders, provide an up-to-date RSVP list, and are inexpensive. (Many are even free.)
Even with these benefits, I still adore a printed invitation. Who doesn’t like getting a special envelope in the mail? However, you lose the benefits of an online invitation, and RSVPs are especially unreliable when they’re coming through the mail.
Sometimes I use a template for printed invitations, but my preference is having a graphic artist create a personal look. Of course, you have to plan ahead! Custom invitations take extra time to design, print, address, and mail. It’s also an added expense to your party budget, but for special events, I love sending custom invitations.
My love of food — both cooking and eating — means I enjoy executing the menu. Depending on your theme, menus options are wide open, but here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Eating space:
Will guests be standing or sitting when trying to eat? This makes a difference when selecting foods, which may require cutting or have special plating requirements. Are there ample places to set beverages while people are eating? Nothing’s more precarious than balancing a plate and glass while trying to eat. Think about open surface areas to rest a drink while eating.
- Tools of the trade:
Will menu items require utensils, or will you only offer finger foods? Also, take into consideration how messy a dish might be. Chicken wings and ribs are popular finger foods but also demand a lot of napkins and a place to discard bones. Unless it’s a formal dinner party, I prefer small bites easily eaten by hand, fork, or decorative pick.
- The look:
How will the food be presented? I like a buffet, but rather than one large food table, try setting up multiple spots where guests can mingle as they graze. Grouping similar dishes at these smaller food stations also helps guests learn where to find their favorites, like vegetarian or gluten-free options, meats, and cheeses, or desserts.
Decorating might incorporate elaborate themes or simple family treasures. I love using my mom’s crystal bowls, getting out pretty serving utensils given to me by friends, going through tubs of decorations, or arranging fresh flowers.
I guess I have a thing for cocktail napkins. When I’m shopping and see funny, cute, pretty, or unusual napkins, I buy them. As we packed for the move into our new home two years ago, we discovered so many party napkins that we determined we’d never need to buy them again.
That’s a wrap
The best thing about hosting a party is mixing with your favorite people — from work, church, the community, and family — in one special event. It can be as elaborate or simple as you like. It’s all about the experience and joy of hosting others, partying with those that make you smile. Now that’s the good life.
Make time to enjoy your own party
1. Hire your favorite bartender or local food server for big events. Don’t spend the whole party working in the kitchen. Outside help is an added expense, but it can be well worth it.
2. Use themed wine charms to help guests keep track of their drinks and add to the festive atmosphere.
3. Prepare as much ahead of time as possible. Last-minute prep, cooking, and plating will leave you stressed and exhausted.
4. Make place cards to label buffet dishes — especially to identify specialty items like gluten-free snacks.
5. Limit beverage choices for large groups. Unless you want to play bartender, pre-select drink options and make them easily accessible.