Hosting the Perfect Party, part I

Artie and I really like entertaining. Growing up under the tutelege of my parents and the Burkes, Wales, and Thorntons, I definitely learned how to host a great party. Artie and I love having friends over. It is a great way to connect and, as an added bonus, having company over regularly forces us to keep our house clean.

In the seven years of our marriage, particularly since we bought our house, we have hosted baby showers, holiday celebrations, engagement parties, dinner parties, a Harry Potter movie premiere party, and parties to celebrate Le Tour de France. We are by no means experts, but over the years, we’ve learned a few tips that facilitate seamless party preparation.

I actually started this as one post, but it got too long so I turned it into two. The first post deals with the logistics of a party, the second with menus. Hopefully these tips and the menu ideas and suggestions in the next post will give you some good ideas for hosting your own gatherings in the future.

Without further ado, here are our tips for planning for and preparing for a great gathering:

Choose foods that are easy to prepare in advance. This prevents the last minute craziness of preparing lots of food and lets you focus on finishing touches and having fun at your party. Below is a picture of all the ingredients for a pasta salad and a green salad, prepped the night before and ready to be tossed together right before the start of the party.

Cooking food for a crowd can be expensive. Ask friends if they would bring a dish or be prepared with things you need when guests offer to bring something. Capitalize on your friends strengths, whether that is a signature salad or dessert.

If you buy a main dish for convenience, add special touches to other dishes, like homemade salad dressing. We usually buy pizzas for our Tour de France party because it makes feeding a crowd easier. With the time we save on the main dish, we have time to do things like make homemade salad dressing.

Don’t experiment with a new frosting recipe (or any new recipe, really) on the day of a party, a mistake I made at our last Tour de France party. The frosting tasted good but was a little bit runny and started to drip off the cupcakes. I wish I had tried it out before the day of the party so I had time to made adjustments.

Set out your dishes in advance so you make sure you have space for all your food (and you don’t forget to take anything out of the refrigerator!).

Have a separate table for drinks. This makes the food table less crowded.

If you host a lot of gatherings and have the space, consider buying a beverage fridge. It was a great investment for us when our refrigerator broke a few years ago and has continued to be valuable for parties – no messing with a cooler or ice. We always have beer, sodas, and sparkling water ready to go. [As a side note, since I started drafting this post, the beverage fridge broke. Two months after it went out of warranty. Wah wah. We will definitely be getting another one.]

Invest in a good wine opener (ours broke in the bottle at a recent gathering – fail).

There is nothing worse than having a sink full of dishes dirty from party preparation and then adding dishes from a party. This goes hand-in-hand with preparing food in advance. Having as much food as possible prepped in advance allows us to have the dishes done so our sink can be empty. Don’t worry – I put the clean dishes away before company arrives.

Along those same lines, make sure the dishwasher has been run and emptied so you can quickly and easily load dishes from the party and run the dishwasher before you go to bed that night. This makes the morning after the party clean-up that much more bearable.

For more than 8 people, use paper plates. It’s just easier.

Empty the trash so you have a receptacle for garbage.

Set out a box or bag for recycling. We almost always have beer or wine bottles and try to make it easy for guests so they don’t throw them in the trash.

Don’t forget to take a few pictures. Like the one below of a cute baby in a bicycle onesie (love!). I always forget to do this!

Finally, if you make too much food and you don’t want to eat it for the rest of the week, send leftovers home with guests. I’ve never had anyone refuse delicious leftovers.

So there you have it – Artie and Jill’s practical tips for hosting a party. Next week, I’ll post a follow up with thoughts on how to make a menu for a successful gathering.