Christmas, Easter, Mother’s day, someone’s birthday. The occasions to have a party are numerous. But someone has to organize and host the bash. How about you?
When our parents/grand-parents, that traditionally hosted get-togethers, grew older it became obvious that unless someone took the initiative of inviting everyone over the family would drift apart. So we took over, even if the first times were especially intimidating. (Other siblings now share the party hosting with us, and that’s awesome!) This was ten years ago, so I now have enough experience to share what worked for me in the party-planning thing.
Decide who you want to invite
Six people? Ten people? Fifteen people? Twenty people? More? Personally, I’ve found little difference between hosting twelve or up to twenty-five. So I tend to lump both my family and in-laws together, with a couple friends thrown in. Don’t be afraid to mix-and-match. My quiet reserved in-laws help temper my boisterous Irish family. And, over the years, they have developed their own relationships!
Determine if you have enough space
Not enough room in your home/backyard/trailer/tree-house for all the folks you want to invite? Maybe you can split them up into smaller manageable groups. Host your family at Christmas and your in-laws at Easter.
Or, if the occasion is important enough, consider renting a community center. They are generally affordable, have ample and easy-to-customize space, enough bathrooms, and keep the mess out of your home. I have done this twice, for a fifty guest milestone birthday and my 125 guest wedding. However, they present their own logistical challenges, such as needing to be set up and (unless you have a full-service caterer) you will need to plan for every item from napkins to salt shakers.
Send invites three or four weeks in advance, if you can
I’m not talking about hand-scripted haikus in gold leaf on artisanal flower-pressed cards. Just a group text or e-mail to give people a heads up will do.
Start planning your food
This is the biggest thing you will need to organize. Do you enough room for everyone to sit at a (folding) table? If not, this doesn’t mean you need to cut back guests, just adjust your menu. Ever try to eat spaghetti from a paper plate in your lap? Yeah, thought so. Plan for something easy to eat while standing. Like a traditional sandwich/cold cuts buffet. Cocktails and appetizers. Tapas. Pizza. A wine and cheese pairing. Or skip the complicated meal and have a mid-afternoon party with a cake and coffee.
Decide how you want approach the meal
A lesson learned renovating my hundred-fifty year old house applies here: Either you can pay a professional to do something (hire a chef who will concoct a gastronomic feast in your own kitchen). Or you can save costs and do it yourself, for way cheaper but much more trouble. So decide which one fits your situation better.
Personally, I DIY, so I can share a few tips:
- Plan around a main dish that is seasonal or on sale.
- Anything that can be prepared in advance/reheated/crock-potted is best.
- Don’t expect to be able to man the stove right before the meal; if you are setting up tables, you will be pulled in a million different directions to coordinate it all. A way around this is to delegate to (trustworthy) helpers.
- Simple is best for a large crowd — Save the experimental six-course cuisine feast for a smaller dinner party. A tasty main, two sides, a salad or two.
- Keep in mind oven/fridge space. And make sure to look inside the oven before you turn it on (I’ll explain later).
Potlucks are fun, but they require at least a minimum of coordination so you don’t end up with six desserts and nothing else. And communication about who needs the stove/oven/freezer/serving dishes is difficult, making potlucks tough to organize in my opinion.
But definitely delegate to (responsible) people who ask if they can help. Be specific. A dessert. A cheese platter. A salad. Not “bring something”.
Certain things are easy to accommodate — like having a meatless options. However if one person out of twenty-five has multiple allergies, I think it is perfectly fine to give them a call and admitting not to be able to cater to them. As a mom of an allergy kid, we definitely do not get mad if someone says, “I’m sorry, can she bring her own lunch.” Heck yeah! I’d much rather know in advance.
What about booze?
Well that’s up to you. We don’t drink much alcohol, so I usually have one mixed drink like sangria and non-alcoholic drinks. My sister, on the other hand, is a wine aficionado and will serve several carefully selected wines to pair with each dish. If you’re doing bring-your-own, just make sure guests know.
Now clean your home
Don’t go overboard. You are not Pinterest, and most people won’t be bothered by a little lived-in look. Move the furniture to edges along walls to open up that floor space as much as possible. But the one thing you absolutely must have sparkling is the toilet. Everyone will use it, and they are bound to notice any suspicious brown spots. Also, add a pile of four-five spare rolls of toilet paper on top. And plan a place for coats/boots/purses or they’ll end up piled in a corner and block the door.
It’s party time
Greet everyone as they come in
Introduce people who don’t know each other. Direct them to drinks/where the action is happening. If there are new/shy people, I will try to start them off initially with someone who I know has something in common. Some people feel better helping out, cutting veggies or manning the bar.
As the host, don’t expect to have really long, in-depth conversation with anyone. You will be asked for things and tugged away from any heart-to-heart. Keep your cool. A party does not have to be perfect to be a success.
When meal-time is approaching
Get ready for a blitz of action. I have found the best way to keep stress down is to have everything ready for set-up in bags and boxes nearby. Ask for help if you need to, and remember to be specific. “Big strong cousin, please unfold the tables and set up twenty five chairs.” “Friendly sister, set the table using the stuff in those two bags.” “Gentle mother-in-law, put those rolls in these baskets.”
Have a down time before dessert
Everyone is already full from all that delicious food! Get help clearing the tables, maybe get a head start on dishes. Brew some coffee. Relax. Finish that drink. Eventually, serve the sweets.
I often use disposable plates and napkins/spoons, because by dessert the dishwasher is already full, we are getting tired, and generally convenience wins.
As the party starts to wind down
Usually people will pitch in to help with putting stuff away. That’s really nice of them, so do so. It also means you will be left looking for stuff that was “put away” for the next week. You also might set your pots and pans on fire after your mother-in-law stored them in the oven without warning you.
Once everyone is gone
Congratulations, you did it. What a success! Collapse onto the couch for a well-earned drink. Savor the silence.
(You can leave the mess for tomorrow.)