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Jellie's avatar

What is your best party planning tip?

Asked by Jellie (6489points) June 25th, 2011

I just had some 17 guests over for dinner and although I’ve done this quiet a few times it was pretty hectic. Days of planning and something or the other does go amiss. I, personally, always try to be a good hostess. I think even if everything doesn’t go according to plan, if you spoke to everyone, made everyone feel special and comfortable, people will have a good time.

What is your best party planning tip? What do you ensure? Whether big party or small gathering.

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6 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Try to serve things that allow you to be a guest at your own party.

Cruiser's avatar

Good food, good music and good beer/beverages is all a party needs to make your guest feel special and just jump in and mingle for an evening of fun. I try and present unusual offerings with some standard fare as a backup especially the music. Old delta blues mixed with Zappa will keeps my guests toes a tappin!

InTheZone's avatar

I try to ensure that I have enough help so that it’s not a burden on anyone, including me. I serve simple and beautiful dishes, with as many fresh and whole foods as possible. I try to be sure that various food needs or preferences are met, and that there is plenty of food. It’s better to have too much (and leftovers for the next couple of days while I recover) than to be sweating running out.

Good music is important, as well as perhaps some fun activities if appropriate… such as games, water activities or sports. If I’m having fun, I’m pretty sure my guests are as well.

Kardamom's avatar

I’m going to try to follow my own advice and not sweat the small stuff. I just spent the last hour composing a Guide to Entertaining, only to have my computer shut down all by itself. Nice.

Plan Ahead Make sure you know what you want to do and get all of your resources together ahead of time.

Use Lists Have a list for your menu, for your itinerary, the guest list (with everyone’s phone number and e-mail addresses in case you need to cancel), all items you will need, time-table lists for how and when all of the tasks need to be done and by whom, seating chart if needed and table/chair and food table placement diagrams, grocery list (with possible alternatives).

Use Gatekeepers Gatekeepers are friends, relatives or hired help that you should use to help you throw your party, so that you aren’t rushed, or inconvenienced or made to solve problems while you are trying to cook. You should plan on having at least one gatekeeper, with one backup, but having 3 is more ideal. One to help you set up your tables, chairs, decorations and food stations and this same person will help to keep visitors and “helpers” out of your kitchen while you are cooking. This same person will make sure that drinks and simple appetizers are out before the guests arrive and then she will be the one to bring out dishes as they become ready. She will also be the one who gets the guests to start eating, because some people simply won’t start until they’ve been told to do so. She will say something like, “Ok everybody, go ahead and start on the salads and appetizers which are over here. Plates, napkins and silverware are down at this end, and you can line up right here. Go ahead George, you start. @sarahhhhh said not to wait for her and she’ll be out shortly, so you guys go ahead and start eating.” This person will bring out new items as they become available and she will let everyone know that this is happening. She will also be in charge of removing finished/dirty plates and glasses and replenishing the food dishes as needed as well as making sure that spills are cleaned up and that trash is removed promptly. Another gatekeeper will be for your exclusive use in the kitchen. She will keep visitors and helpers out of the kitchen and will signal the other person that more dishes are ready to be transported out to the party area. She will be there for you to help you prep and cook and clean up spills and get items for you out of the fridge or pantry and to move stuff out of your way. She is not to leave your side, until everything is out on the tables and you are ready to eat too. The other gatekeeper is the before and after guy (usually your husband) who will help to procure extra tables, chairs, dishware, tablecloths, trash cans, recycling bins etc. well ahead of your party (usually the week before, not the day before or you’ll be sorry) He will help set up the tables and chairs and stations, and drive all over town to get these items ahead of time. He will then help you to clean up the mess after the party and make sure any borrowed items (on his list that you will make for him) get returned promptly (the next day is best).

Extra Extra Read all About It Make sure that you have extras of just about everything. You will be surprised to find out that most people will use more than one plate, glass or set of silverware (because they set them down someplace and forget about it) So make sure you have extra plates, cups and silverware (even if you have to borrow some, or use mismatched sets, or even get plastic cups). And make sure you have enough serving utensils for your food. Have tons of extra napkins (and paper towels in your kitchen) Have extra tables and chairs on hand just in case you need more seating or stations (you can keep them hidden away in the closet or garage or next door neighbor’s house until you actually need them). Always plan to have about 10% more food than you think you will need (even if you end up having leftovers or have to seend some of it home with your guests, or feed it to your neighbors after the fact). Some people are big eaters and sometimes unexpected/uninvited guests show up.

Food Safety Even though there will be food coming and going out of the kitchen for most of the party, make sure that one of your gatekeepers is in charge of making sure to keep the hot foods hot and the cold foods cold. After everyone has sucessfully eaten and had seconds, the gatekeeper should start putting the food in the fridge, in tupperware or Gladware containers that can ultimately be sent home with guests or made into your own leftovers. Don’t leave meat or dips or salads out for more than about 2 hours, before you start putting them into the fridge. Let everyone know that if they want any more, you’ll help them find it in the fridge. You don’t want anyone to get food poisoining or to let your good food go to waste. Make sure you have plenty of Gladware and Ziplock bags and these nifty foil containers with lids to put the leftovers away and to send home with your guests (if you want to).

A Little Information Goes A Long Way Find out ahead of time if any of your guests have special needs. Are there any vegetarians/vegans? Does anyone have diabetes? Are there any alcoholics or teetotalers? Does anyone have any food allergies or allergies to your pets? Do any of your guests have any problems walking or getting to your party or need to be driven home afterwards (elderly folks or folks with disabilites might need extra help). Is there enough room to accomodate a wheelchair if someone uses one? Is anyone afraid of your pets and do you need to keep them in another room, board them or take them to a friend’s house during the party?

Make it Easy On Yourself and Your Guests If you have any vegetarians coming to your party, it is really nice if you can put out a paper sign in front of the items that they can eat. It’s less awkward for them and will be so appreciated. Also, you should have more than one single food station. If you put all of the food on one table, you will create long hungry lines of people. It’s better to have 2 or 3 stations, with different items (but with each having a set of plates, napkins and cutlery) It’s best to have your drinks station separate from the food station, that way, if there is a spill it won’t go all over or into the food, plus people can get their food and set it down, then come back for their drinks instead of having to try to juggle it all at once. Make sure that one of your gatekeepers makes sure that there is enough seating for everyone and gets more chairs if you need them. Put out plenty of coasters if you plan to let people put drinks on your wooden tables. Have a gatekeeper periodically ask if anyone needs more napkins. Make sure that you have plenty of trash cans strategically and discreetly placed thoughout you house and outdoor party areas. One of your gatekeepers should make sure that these trash cans are kept emptied, and new bags put into them. Have a big recycling bin on hand for cans and bottles. If you are serving kid-friendly/specific items, put them on their own station (to avoid the yuck factor and comments).

Sh*t Happens Make sure that your bathroom is cleaned from top to bottom before your party. Then make sure that you have lots of extra toilet paper out in plain sight for people to use (so they don’t have to yell to you through the door to bring more). Avoid using cloth hand towels (some people, myself included, are horrified to have to use a wet, used hand towel that other people have touched) Instead, invest in some of those new paper single-use hand towels. For the same reason, don’t use bar soap. Get a nice new bottle of pump-style hand soap and another bottle of hand sanitizer. Keep a plunger discreetly tucked away (maybe covered) behind the toilet just in case someone needs to use it (again, not something you want to yell through the door). And keep a small trash can next to the toilet to collect sanitary supplies and for people who need to blow their noses. Make sure that one of your gatekeepers periodically checks to make sure that the bathroom is clean and dry. If you have a door that locks, try to keep a key on the outside, so when someone’s little nephew locks themself inside (actually it was my nephew).

Have a Plan B and a Plan C Even the best laid plans can go awry. If it rains, you need to know where you are going to move your party (garage, inside the house, next door, the pool house up the street, throw up a tarp, etc) If they don’t have the proper ingredients for the dish that you wanted to make, then know ahead of time what you are going to make (or buy) ahead of time. If your guest of honor gets sick and can’t come at the last minute, decide whether to contact all of the guests (who’s contact info you will have on one of your lists) or go ahead and have the party anyway, if it’s too late to contact everyone, or cancel and divvy up all the extra food to your neighbors. Make sure you plan to have at least 10% more food than you think you will need. Your guests may bring other people, other folks may show up un-announced (like friends from out of town that didn’t know you were having a party) or neighbors who you didn’t even think about, but are standing in your front yard talking to your guests. You should always have the attitude of “Come on In Folks, we’ve got plenty!” You can stew about extra, un-invited guests later. Have lots of cleaning supplies, trashbags, rags, paper towels and soda water on hand for spills. If your caterer doesn’t show up, either decide to cancel the party or take everyone out for pizza or send someone to the local Mexcian takeout place. Just don’t panic. If one of your dishes doesn’t cook correctly or look right, or it burns, just don’t serve it and let everyone know in a light hearted way (don’t start crying or yelling) that it didn’t quite work out and you will see what else you can whip up, then either make something else with what you have on hand or send one of your Gatekeeprs to a restaurant to get something lickety split. Don’t panic, it happens.

Safety First Make sure that you have “911 for Emergencies” taped to your phone before a party. In panic situations, people tend to forget that number (or even be able to remember their own mother’s birthdate). It’s a good idea to have the Poison Control phone number right next to it. If you have a pool, make sure that there are plenty of designated “pool watchers” and that the pool and any children are never left un-attended. Have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen and near your barbecue. Have a first aid kit on hand (including a ice pack in your freezer). Make sure to situate your furniture ahead of time so that your guests don’t bump into your glass table or trip over wires that are running across the floor, and that your throw rugs are removed or secured so that they can’t slip out from under somebody. Make sure your lamps are situated so that no one will knock them over. Remove any valuables or breakables ahead of time. If you have moved your dining room table out from under your hanging chandelier, hang some baloons or something on the chandelier to make it stand out, so that people don’t run into it when they are walking across the room.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (or the big stuff) All sorts of things can and do go wrong, but it’s your sense of being able to “handle it” and “handle it with light humor” and having some pre-planned “contingency plans” that will make all the difference in whether your party is sucessful, enjoyable and ultimately OK. Most people have no idea how much work goes into planning a party, and most of them don’t care as long as they get enough to eat, aren’t embarrassed or put on the spot, and have some nice people to converse with. They’ll have a good time at your party, even if not every thing is perfect. If something gets broken, clean it up calmly and then deal with it (angrily if you need to ) later, after everyone has gone home. If one of your dishes gets burned, just casually say to your guests, “Well at least we didn’t burn down the house, now who wants KFC?” If somebody spills something on your rug, get your gatekeepers to clean it up, while you politely and sweetly console the spiller and make up some silly story about how you accidentally knocked over a punch bowl at someone’s house (make your fake story sound much worse than your guest’s current predicament). Then get mad later, after everyone has gone home and call a carpet cleaning company in the morning. If un-invited guests show up, cordially invite them in. If someone shows up at your “theme party” with food items that weren’t asked for, just put them on the table anyway and thank the person for bringing it. No one but you will probably notice or care that deviled eggs have nothing to do with your Japanese theme. If someone else gets upset that they didn’t get to bring anything just discreetly let them know that you didn’t expect anyone to bring anything, but Rex just has this thing about his deviled eggs and you just couldn’t stop him. Then just laugh and carry on. This is a party after all.

YARNLADY's avatar

Or in other words, keep a sense of humor at all times.

jca's avatar

lower the temperature on your refrigerator. Since you will have it packed with food, and since you will be opening the door constantly through out the day, the refrigerator temperature will be a little warmer than usual, so you want to lower the temperature just for the day, to ensure that everything is properly cold.

Everyone loves a good salad. I read in one of the Moosewood cookbooks the key to a good salad. Make sure the salad is cold and sprinkle salt on it. It also suggested garlic, but I am not particularly a garlic fan and so did not do that one. However, I always make sure my salad is cold and I sprinkle salt on it, and everyone says “this is good salad!”

Also, when I do a barbecue I serve, as an appetizer, kielbasa with several types of mustard (3 different types – like a hot one, a sweet one and a regular one) and I pass around the little chunks with the mustards and everyone loves it.

Once at a summer party I decided instead of doing the grill for meat and having to have someone tend to it, I did a big rib eye roast (from Costco) in the oven and it was excellent and saved me a lot of slaving over a barbecue grill. We were outside so the kitchen being hot did not matter. We probably used the grill for appetizers but the big meat was from the oven.

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