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Be the hostess with the mostest

GettyImages 97233035Ensure your shindig is one to remember for all the right reasons with these 10 party planning pointers…

Parties are a great idea in theory. We’d all love to imagine ourselves as queen bee, mingling with guests and topping up glasses of Champagne as we sashay around with canapé trays. Yet, in reality, parties require a lot more work than you might think. As the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Whether it’s a business soirée, birthday or just any old excuse for a knees-up, make sure your gathering is the event of the season with our party guide.

1. Plan ahead
When organising a party, lists will be your best friend. Create a checklist for your guests, menu ingredients, drinks, seating (if required), things you need to buy and when to make dishes. Make a list for anything you feel anxious about. Ticking things off
your ‘to dos’ will make you feel
more confident and in control.

2. Guest list
Selecting the guests for your event requires careful consideration. Awkward situations must be avoided at all costs, so don’t invite two cousins with a long-standing grudge. Likewise, inviting select work colleagues won’t make you employee of the month. Either ask all of them or none of them. Send invitations, and call anyone who hasn’t sent an RSVP a week before the event. That way, you know how many you’re catering for, while eliminating any hurt feelings caused by invitations that have gone astray.

3. Allergy aware
Checking the dietary requirements of your guests is paramount. No one wants their party remembered for the classic shellfish allergy scenario, where guests are sent home in an ambulance rather than a taxi. If one guest  is allergic to nuts, steer clear of using them in any of your dishes. Having a variety of vegetarian and meat dishes available creates a happy medium among guests.

4. Manage your menu
Don’t take on more than you can handle. Many supermarkets do great canapé and party selections – both chilled and frozen, so buy them in advance. Brands are now branching out with a variety of cuisines from around the world, so you can give your guests a global taste sensation. With fresh Mexican dips, Thai bites and top tapas, your guests never need to know what’s come from the supermarket. Serve your treats in your own bowls for an instant homemade feel.

5. Prep, prep, prep
If you’re trying out some new foodie tricks, it’s best to practise them the week before. There’s no point buying enough ingredients for 50 people if the first batch of soufflés
are a flop. Be realistic with your planning, and do as much of the prep as you can the day before. That way, you can spend the day of the party focusing on finishing the final touches and getting yourself ready.

6. Set the mood
Whether you choose candles or dimmed lighting, set a relaxed tone for the evening. Scented candles should be used with caution to avoid overpowering the food. Make sure you clear surfaces for drinks to avoid spillages on precious ornaments. Placing nibbles around the room is also a good strategic trick so people can munch wherever they are. No one wants to feel self-conscious constantly stretching for the buffet table.

7. Tasteful tunes
Music should be subtle – loud enough to complement the mood but not blaring so conversations are drowned out. Suit the tunes to your guests, as your favourite band might not be quite as pleasing to the ear of older party guests. Start off with something to set the tone of the evening, and have the classics
to hand in case the party gets a little more lively towards the end of the night.

8. Feel the heat
Don’t ruin all your hard work by letting food go cold on the buffet table. Hostess trolleys are a great way of keeping food hot and are easy to move around the room. Hot plates are also becoming more commonplace, so you don’t have to leave the table when serving at a dinner party. Simple touches like this never fail to impress guests, so make heat one of your top priorities. Similarly, white wine can lose the impact of its flavour if left out to go warm. Invest in a wine cooler and you’ll look like a professional hostess.

9. Never leave a glass empty
No matter if your guests are drinking alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks, make sure their glasses are always topped up so they never have to ask for a refill. Having a drink in hand makes guests feel at ease. A wide selection of soft and hot drinks, as well as alcoholic, keeps everyone happy. Enquire as to who is driving at the beginning of the night, so you don’t tempt them with one vino too many.

10. Circulate
Quick introductions between guests act as an ice-breaker and take the pressure off you to speak to everyone at the same time. Inviting guests of similar interests does most of the work for you, as guests will be happy to chat about common interests. Suss out the mood of your guests in terms of party games. Charades might be a winner among some friends, while others prefer to mingle and converse.

This article was first published in at home with Marco Pierre White in October 2011. [Read the digital edition here]

 Image: Getty

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