Party Basics

Food will probably be the largest, most important variable at any party you host. Although I will go into much greater detail about food later in this book, you should know a few basics about what kinds of food go with what kinds of parties.
  • Standing parties (cocktail, casual gatherings) call for nibblets and finger foods, and at least six different kinds of appetizers, including dips and sweets.
  • At buffet parties, plan for one or two main courses (chicken and meat or fish, usually) and up to six side courses, including vegetables, grains, salads, breads, and desserts.
  • At seated parties, one main course and related side dishes are all that is required, but you will want to serve dinner prefaced by an appetizer and/or salad, and follow it with dessert. Don't forget to have a few pre-dinner noshings available for guests: cheese and crackers, chips and dips, and an additional appetizer or two.
Don't go overboard with food! You might think a sagging table will impress your guests, but if you overdo it, you'll only have leftovers that probably won't keep, as well as an empty wallet.

Try to keep your menu varied and surprising, but don't make it overly complicated. For example, you might make an exotic main course, but you should pair it with a relatively bland side dish, allowing guests to take a break from spicy flavors. Likewise, spend your time (and money!) preparing one or two significant appetizers, and then round out the menu with dips and breads.

Planning Drinks for Your Party
Although the beverage selection should vary from party to party, a few basic rules hold true:

  • Stock up on bottled water and assorted soft drinks (including diet drinks) and juices for guests that don't drink alcohol.
  • Make sure you have plenty of ice! A few hours ahead of time, fill a large bucket – or the bathtub! – with ice and chill a selection of soft drinks, beer, and water.
  • If you are serving spirits, take into account your guests' varying preferences. Include red and white wine and assorted cocktails.
  • Regardless of the event, always have regular and decaffeinated coffee ready to brew toward the end of the night, as well as sugar, cream, and a few interesting coffee condiments, such as cinnamon or vanilla syrup.
Don't forget two critical planning elements with respect to beverages: space and chill factor. Make sure you have enough space in your freezer for the amount of ice you'll need, or plan to hit the store just before the party so the ice doesn't melt before your guests arrive. Also, remember to chill your cold drinks at least 24 hours before the party so that your drinks are deliciously chilled when the guests arrive. You might think you only need a few hours of chilling, but your refrigerator will cool down 80 cans of warm soda more slowly than you might think. You'll need to make room in your refrigerator for all those cans and bottles, too, so keep your cold food requirements in mind.

Although you can't be expected to stock every type of beverage your guests could possibly demand, a good host will have enough of a variety on hand to suit most requests.

As mentioned elsewhere in this book, you don't have to stock your bar with top-shelf liquor. Keep a few bottles of quality hooch on hand – citron vodka, a good scotch – and decant the bargain liquor into attractive glass bottles. You can also purchase two types of wine: the good stuff for the first hour, and the mediocre stuff for the rest of the night, after the guests have loosened up a little on the quality cabernet.

Although water, juice, and soft drinks are perfectly fine for those who don't drink alcohol, you might also add a few exotic options, such as freshly brewed iced tea, flavored bubbly water, or sparkling juice.

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Reproduced from Plan a Fabulous Party In No Time, by Tamar Love, by permission of Pearson Education. Copyright © 2005 by Que Publishing.

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