How to Throw a Party without Breaking a Sweat

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
12/20/2012 6:00 AM   :  10 comments   :  15,440 Views

As a chef, I love to entertain in our home--especially around the holidays when the house is decorated and we want to spend time with our family and friends. 
As part of my schooling, we were taught how to entertain as part of our hospitality training. We learned to plan and pull off magnificent events without a drop of sweat.

You don't need to go to culinary school to learn the same skills. Go ahead and set the date--you'll be prepared! Just follow my tips below for a well-planned event, and you'll still be smiling at the end of the night while saying (and believing), "Well, that was fun.  Let's do it again next year."
 
Make a party plan!
Decide what kind of party you want to host. 
  • Brunch:  Brunch recipes are generally easy and the parties last 2-3 hours. From a budget standpoint, this is the best choice. (If you are not a morning person, don't select this one!)  Have some fun with the invitation by suggesting to your guests to wear pajamas to the party.
     
  • Open House: Finger foods and small plates are the norm, with the event lasting 3-5 hours. These types of parties are nice for the guests because they feel that quick visit is OK. It's not as nice for the host, who has to keep the food hot and ready for longer. Generally when having an open house people tend to invite large numbers of guests and do not request an R.S.V.P.
     
  • Cocktail Party: What fun! Except when you have those guests who won't leave at the very end of the night. All my friends know my signal for when I'm ready for the night to be over--I put on my pajamas!  I really do that, but you don't have to.

    Write the end time on the invitation so guests have an idea of how long you expect them to stay. These types of parties can actually be the most expensive since small bites of food are served. Don't be afraid to ask guests to BYOB, but provide plenty of low-calorie, non-alcoholic options. (Try these 10 cocktails under 150 calories.)
     
  • Sit Down Dinner: This is actually my favorite.  Invite only the amount of people you can comfortably sit at your table.  What you end up with is a great mix of your favorite friends or family and a chance to really catch up.
Whether you mail or email an invitation is up to you, but be sure to share the following information:
  • The occasion for the party
     
  • Day and date
     
  • Start and end time (if you prefer the latter). Don't forget to specify A.M. if you're having a brunch
     
  • Location, with directions for parking
     
  • Attire, especially if the event will be outside
 
Menu
Choose a low-maintenance menu.  This is so important, especially if you are new to cooking.
  • Look for items at your market that can help you along the way.  Rotisserie chicken is a perfect example.  Shred it for small appetizers or use as the center of the plate for a sit-down dinner.
     
  • Create a theme for your menu.  Food choices are endless but by narrowing it down with a theme you will get organized much faster.
     
  • Purchase prepared back-up food that can be utilized as a meal for your family the day after the party if there's any left over.  Veggie trays, hummus or dips, bagels with assorted vegetable spreads, or premade salads are perfect examples.
     
  • Allow 4-6 small-bite servings of food per person as appetizers if serving a meal.
     
  • Allow 7-8 small-bite servings of food per person if not serving a meal.
     
  • Allow 2-3 beverages per person.  Make sure you have plenty of flavored and plain water available.  Create low calorie seltzer beverages with sliced fruit, berries, or pomegranate arils.
Set a stress-free party mood by creating a flow with the food.
  • Don't put all the food in one room or at one table.  Create movement with the food.  Utilize end tables, coffee tables, and bar area. 
     
  • Don't feel like you have to put all the same kinds of food in the same room.  Spread around the sweets and make sure whenever you have a sweet dish something healthy is close by for those guests trying to stay on track.
 
Create a traffic flow with your guests.
  • Make sure someone is assigned to greet guests as they arrive.  Give hugs, take coats, and offer a beverage. Inform guests where you are putting their coats just in case they need to leave in hurry and you are tied up helping other guests. Introduce them to someone, then excuse yourself to take care of final preparations, if need be. They will feel welcomed from the moment they step in the door.
     
  • Don't put bar stools or chairs in front of food areas.  Guests will cop a spot and never mingle. It won't help anyone stay on track!
 
Get Friends and Family Involved
The VonTrapp family showed us years ago that entertainment is key to a successful party as the children performed for the guests.  My three boys lined up on the staircase singing would bring an early end to any party.  But you might want to display some of your kids art work or enlist your kids to pass small trays of food or handle the coat check.
 
Make a "can I help basket" of to-do items for close friends or family.  Everyone wants to help but sometimes trying to figure out a simple task in the height of the party is stressful.  Make a list of helpful ideas and print them off into small strips of paper.  Some of the jobs:
  • Make one pass around the food tables and report back on any needed refills
     
  • Make one pass around the food tables with a small serving tray and pick up any used glasses or plates
     
  • Refill ice bucket if needed
     
  • Make a quick pass at the bar for and used bottles that can be placed in the recycle area
     
  • Help refill any cut citrus needed for the bar
     
  • Make one pass around the party with a small tray of flavored water
 
Enjoy these helpful hints and remember your friends and family want to come to your party to spend time with you and enjoy your friendship.

What kind of parties do you prefer to host?

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Comments

  • 10
    We called our favorite "Bring Your Own Bowl" and I made 4 or 5 huge kettles of different soups. People helped themselves to whatever soups they wanted and the counter was lined with big loaves of various unsliced bread (with bread knife beside), crackers, cheese balls, big blocks of many kinds of cheese, coffee was on, and dessert consisted of homemade cookies and candies. People stood, sat where possible and we had wall-to-wall diners.
    Oh, what fun! We did this at Christmas time when kids came home from college and they could see all the neighbors and friends. I called people about one day ahead and said, "Just stop your decorating and come as you are".
    Everyone loved it! Usually served 65 to 75 guests and those 12 - 16 qt. soup kettles were about empty! - 1/1/2013   9:13:22 PM
  • 9
    Our parties tend to be pitch-in. Everyone brings in something to eat and scouts out something to do. If we are sitting down to eat, the youngest boys are supposed to set the table after the older males make sure there are enough tables and chairs. Friends are so comfortable in our house, I had to ask a teenage girl where to find the plastic utensils. - 12/23/2012   5:31:12 PM
  • ELLDOCKE
    8
    I love sit-down dinners, but my family never arrives on-time. They trickle in throughout the party time. So now, I serve healthy bites, invite them to bring their favorites to share,have coffee, tea, juice and water available. I invite the sister who knows how to pick wines to bring a bottle and make sure the wine glasses are clean. I find I have more time to visit. I absolutely love the idea of a basket with helpful ideas in it. I can never think of anything to assign when I am keeping everything straight in my head. Loved this! - 12/22/2012   10:09:00 AM
  • RUNESHADOW
    7
    P.S. In spite of my being such a terrible role model, my daughter throws lovely parties (or so I've heard)... she loves all of it, hosted Halloween, birthday, and holiday gatherings, takes in strays for Thanksgiving so friends who can't be with family aren't alone on the holiday. I'm so proud she blossomed despite my pitiful example. - 12/21/2012   12:35:32 PM
  • RUNESHADOW
    6
    What about neither?? I don't like being a guest at parties and have never thrown one. My sister drove 150 miles to host my daughter's birthday party when she was little. I hid in the house and the party was in the big back yard. I helped one of my daughter's friends host a baby shower for my daughter, and the only way I could handle even being there was staying behind the camera through much of it, then taking notes on which gifts came from whom. I am not a party animal. I just barely survive events at my daughter's when she has other guests. These seem like wonderful tips for those who host parties. Thank you. - 12/21/2012   12:31:20 PM
  • 5
    When I logged in to vote, it did not let me vote. It refused to allow the little dot to be placed. I would have voted for just being a guest. - 12/21/2012   10:52:41 AM
  • TURNERBOY01
    4
    I LOVE TO HAVE ALL THE FAMILY OVER ESPECIALLY ON THE WEEKEND - 12/21/2012   10:45:53 AM
  • 3
    I've hosted sit-down family gatherings for a number of years and it's evolved as I've become more comfortable. For these I rarely cook everything, but encourage everyone to bring something that they like. But, I find the key to enjoying the event is planning ahead and then going with the flow. I always invite people into the kitchen and it's as much a hub as the fancy decorated dining room tables. We chat; we hug; we cook. One year, my brother wanted something and I got the ingredients and he got the ingredients - we laughed together as we prepped and cooked it together with lots of other people milling around. - 12/21/2012   7:11:26 AM
  • 2
    I've had annual Chanukah parties for years - brunch (11-ish) with latkes, bagels with trimmings, noodle kugel, coffee cake, fruit, coffee, tea, all that. Then almost all the leftovers go home with our friends, so that we aren't stuck with tons of food and everyone ELSE can enjoy the goodies for a few more days! - 12/20/2012   5:49:14 PM
  • 1
    Some great tips - I still have the challenge for a sit-down dinner, for a large group, of having all the food ready at the same time - also, time to visit with friends. - 12/20/2012   12:00:54 PM

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