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I love parties. I like to go to them, and I like to have my friends over to my house. Even still, sometimes, just when everyone starts to arrive, I’m exhausted and wearing workout clothes covered with sauce from when I dropped a dish on the floor. It’s terrible to be tired and sweaty just when the fun times begin. Fortunately, there is a solution. Plan ahead and simplify. Here are some ideas to make your next party fun for your guests, and more you:
I’m not talking about spreadsheets and 6 months of daily task lists (Although that would be fine if you want to go this route–no judgements). I mean thinking first about some basic ideas, then setting them into motion as you have time. Once you have that done, simplify a little bit more.
First, simplify with a few decisions:
What kind of party will it be?
- Open house with flexible arrivals and departures
- Hosted dinner at a restaurant or club
- No holds barred event with dancing and kid’s activities, entertainment and scavenger hunt (You know who you are)
- Buffet meal in one room and guests hanging out all over the house
- Sit down dinner (adults only? kid’s table? assigned seating?)
- Pool party and BBQ
- Costume party with strolling musicians and catered food
- Fully-staged civil war re-enactment with historically correct rabbit stew cooked over a campfire
- Sedate get-together for colleagues and customers
- If you are really energized, think about a theme party. You can find ideas here, here and here.
OK, some people thrive on all-out galas that take months to plan. It’s always great to have friends like this, and once in a while it’s fun to do it yourself. But it is not necessary to do this in the middle of the holidays, and it’s not necessary go all-out to throw a great party. Buffets, and cocktail parties are easier to plan than seated dinners. Having set hours and a limit on guests, drink choices and dishes can make things simpler and more enjoyable.
Who will be invited?
Think about the location and limits you have to make. Sometimes this is a simple question of how many will comfortably fit around your dining table. Sometimes, it requires some strategy. For example, if you invite all of your neighbors, you might avoid a midnight visit from a grumpy pajama-wearing neighbor. When I moved into my house, I told my neighbors who asked about enforcing the noise rules of the homeowner’s association that if I can hear their party, I consider it an open invitation. This is a rule I live by for my own parties. If you can hear it with your windows closed, come on over.
Simplify by putting some thought into who will be invited. Going to a party where you don’t know many people can be stressful. If you are not going to greet each guest and introduce them to at least one person who they will connect with and enjoy a conversation, make sure there are a few that will make friends with everyone.
What will you be doing?
- If the party is organized around a meal, this can be simple.
- If you are planning a cocktail party, having a seat for each guest is not necessary, since people will not stay as long, and you will serve simple and light food.
- If there will be children there, think about having them in a separate room with activities and snacks separate from the adults, or have activities that everyone can participate in without getting bored.
- Plan music that doesn’t compete with conversation, speeches (if you must) or games. If you are not sure of your music, invite someone who loves to make playlists. You can do this weeks in advance, and get playlists from more than one person. It’s nice to have something lively for when people are arriving or dancing, and quieter music during meals and when you want people to go home. Or, you can try Pandora or Spotify (both are free!) to play a mix of music to your tastes.
How long will it last?
If you don’t tell people, they will decide for themselves. If you have an open house, you will have people coming and going, and there will be crowded and quieter times. If there will be a sit-down meal or activities at a specific time, make sure to put this on the invitation, so your guests won’t miss out on the fun. This time of year, people often have more than one event, so they will be dropping in late or leaving early.
Directions and Parking
Send a map. Yes, most people have smartphones, but for the sake of those that don’t and those with chronically dead batteries, include a map and directions in the invitation, whether you send a written or email version. If you live in a city, parking is not trivial. If your guests need instructions for where to park, you can include this information on the map, and any advice for finding parking spots in crowded neighborhoods. Even better, include directions for public transit, if possible.
Food and drinks
This is where you can go crazy, or simplify to make your party easier to plan and execute. I love to cook, but you don’t have to heat one pan to have a successful meal. You can choose a caterer (I did this once for a work party I hosted, and I was happily shocked to find that they did the dishes!), or order a stack of pizzas. If you do cook, simplify things: don’t try a seven-course gourmet meal of dishes you have never tried. This is the perfect time to show off your go-to recipes. You will have an easier time shopping and cooking. The other thing to consider is any dietary restrictions for you guests. It is simpler to provide delicious foods that don’t need a lot of complicated preparation, or any that need to be kept warm in the oven or cold in the refrigerator, and replenished constantly.
How to simplify the food at your next party
One way to simplify is to have a limited selection of drinks. Serve just sort drinks and wine, or beer. Have a signature cocktail. You can show a few people how to make it, then let everyone mix their own, or make a pitcher full, and walk away to enjoy your guests.
Resources for great wines at reasonable prices.
Resources for choosing beer
Resources for cocktails
Resources for calculating how much to buy for your party
A few other party planning resources
Have a great Holiday season, and many happy parties!
Don’t forget my invitation.
For a lot of people, today is for action. To me, the day after Thanksgiving is a bonus day. The holiday is over, and if you are lucky, there is plenty of leftovers to eat, so cooking is not on the schedule. We spent the day yesterday in gratitude, and we still have the weekend ahead to do all the errands and chores.
Today can be a day to pause, even if it is for a few minutes between shops, to be still and reflect.