Last weekend Donna from My 50′s Year and The Apron Revolution asked me to do a guest post for The Apron Revolution on the subject of entertaining. As entertaining is one of my favorite things to do I gladly accepted. Rather than focus on one type of party, we both decided it would be best to first write a more broad article covering all kinds of parties, for anyone who may be new to entertaining…and vintage entertaining!
Anyhow, I thought I would share the article here as well.
What kind of party to throw
The first step in any party planning is to decide what type of party to throw and how many guests to invite. Do you want to have a formal dinner party for four? A mid-summer BBQ for your neighbors and their children? A birthday brunch for your sister in law? A swanky cocktail party? Tea for your closest girl friends? Whatever the occasion, take into consideration the time of year, the guests you have in mind, your budget, and start planning a party that fits in with your lifestyle. Each different kind of party requires careful preparation on your part as the hostess.
A cocktail party is a great way to get a medium to large group of people together. The drinks will make for easy flowing conversation, so a party like this is great for inviting friends who have not yet met.
A dinner party is fun for a smaller group of people, usually two to three couples (though a larger group can be done, but I recommend getting some experience under your belt before attempting!). For sit down dinners, the night revolves around sitting at the table, be sure to invite people who you know can carry conversation well.
An afternoon tea is usually a smaller gathering to catch up with girlfriends, but can be quite large for the celebration of an occasion. This party is casual yet classy. The party can be all chit chat, or a game of cards can be thrown into the mix for fun.
Potlucks are one of the easiest parties to throw. Though everyone chips in on bringing food dishes, it does still take some preparation to insure that you don‘t get twelve bowls of fruit salad. This party can be thrown indoors, your backyard, the park, or anywhere else that seems suitable for a group of people. Because the food preparation isn’t all on one or two people, these parties can be considerably larger than others.
Whatever the type of party you decide to throw, there is much to be considered and planned.
Depending on the kind of party you have chosen to throw, you may already know who to invite to your event. However if you don’t have a solid idea who to invite there are a few things to think about. If you plan on throwing a smaller more intimate party, like a dinner party, inviting old friends who have met several times and like each other is always a good route. However, you can also invite friends who have not yet met, as long as you take the different personality types into consideration, and think they could be a good match conversationally. For a party that is a bit larger, where people have the opportunity to get up and move around throughout the evening, a larger and more diverse guest list can be planned.
There are a few things to avoid when you are planning your guest list. Make sure to not to invite two couples and a single person to a sit down dinner party. Instead bring in a few other singles. This way your guest won’t feel like a 5th wheel, and will have more opportunity to escape into smaller conversation if they feel the need. Also don’t forget to take into consideration your guest’s health needs, for example, don’t invite a recovering alcoholic to your late evening cocktail party, or a vegan over for a steak and potato dinner.
Plan the menu
Food and drink is really what nearly all social gatherings revolve around and should be well thought out and planned. With careful preparation, even the most novice cook can wow guests with some simple dishes and beautiful presentation.
Depending on the type of party you choose to throw, you will want to plan your food accordingly. For a cocktail party you should plan on making about 4-6 bites of food per person per hour. If however the party is to be around the dinner hour, plan on making considerably more food. Always round up when it comes to planning the food menu. It would be better to have a few leftovers than empty plates half way through the party.
Have one dish that is a show stopper; fondue, tiramisu, almond stuffed bacon wrapped dates–you get the idea. Something that really wows your guests, whether it is an exotic dish, something that takes meticulous preparation, or something with unique presentation, your guests will be impressed, and feel like you went to a lot of hard work just for their enjoyment.
Be sure to find out if any of your guests have any special dietary considerations. Inviting your new neighbors to a dinner party where you serve Thai food, dredged in peanuts, only to find out that they have an allergy to nuts, will not go over well.
Whatever type party you throw, make sure to offer a variety of foods to please the pallet. Something sweet, savory, salty, etc. Choose foods that can be mostly prepared well in advance to the party. Dips are easy to throw together, and most often can be made a day or two in advance. Unless you are having a sit down dinner, don’t plan on making too many dishes that need you to slave over the stove. Choose dishes that can be made early and warmed up quickly, or kept heated in a low oven.
Though not necessary for all parties, alcohol is a great way to get people to lose their edge and get the conversation flowing. At dinner parties, a red or white wine is really all you need. Choosing something that compliments the dish you made will really go far. For a cocktail party, having a drink of the night that can be made in advance is really an easy way to go. By making something like a pitcher or bowl of rum punch, daiquiris, or whiskey sours your guests can serve themselves, and you won’t need anyone to play bartender. Have at least one other option for anyone who may not like the kind of liquor or the drink you are serving.
Depending on the type of party you throw you may already know what sort of entertainment you want to provide for your guests. For most parties good old fashioned chit chat is all you need. For other parties you may want to revolve the party around other forms of entertainment, use it to kick off a party, or use it to pull a lagging party back together.
Games are a great way to get people together, and always guarantee laughs and easy conversation. Game playing is also a really great way to get to know people, so inviting friends who have not yet met over for a game night is a great way to bring your guests out of their shells.
Other forms of entertainment that a party can revolve around are events such as elections, important televised programs, musical entertainment, etc.
The best way to set the mood for the party is with music. A nice dinner party would do well with something calm that can be enjoyed, but won’t disrupt conversation. Some nice instrumentals or something like Glen Miller would be perfect in this setting. An afternoon tea could be something kicked up a little, but turned down low, also to allow conversation to happen, such as The Andrews Sisters. A party where alcohol is involved can be a bit trickier, as you want the music to go along with the mood of the party, but not control it. As modern as an iPod is, in a situation like this it can be a real tool of value. Creating a play list for your party on the iPod can really help set the tone more than anything else. However if the party starts heading in a different direction than you had planned, do not hesitate to switch off the Les Baxter and put on the Peggy Lee.
Décor always sounds scarier than it needs be. A vintage tablecloth, some nice flours, dim lighting, and candles are timeless. If you haven’t gotten up to investing in a nice set of vintage dishes or serving wear but still want to throw a vintage party, do not fret. While you may wish you were serving your food out of Franciscan Oasis dishes, as long as you dress your food, and present them carefully and beautifully with garnishes, and clean presentation, no one will even be looking at the dishes at hand.
Want to go the quirky vintage route? Head down to your local thrift store and pick up some assorted vintage or vintage looking serving dishes, bowls, platters, etc in similar colors or patterns. This is a fun way to get lots of color on the table.
As any good housewife knows, organization is the key to success, especially when party planning. Your ability to plan everything on paper will ensure that the party runs smoothly and that your guests will have a good time.
Write down everything related to the party you are planning; the guest list, the menu, drinks served, and the time schedule for the day of the party. Make lists of things that can be completed a few days prior to the party, the day before the party, and the day of the party. Go into great detail when you will do what–and stick with it. Writing out things like ’prepare cheese ball’ on the list for the day before the party, or ’put spinach dip in oven’ forty minutes before the party will ensure that you aren’t running around like a mad woman when your guests arrive.
When the party goes South
There are some things to try and avoid during any party. Lighthearted conversation is always the way to go and talks of religion or politics should be avoided at all costs. If certain guests sound like they are starting to head down that road conversationally it may be up to you to break it up and lighten the conversation and mood. Have a couple tricks up your sleeve in the case that something like this should arise. Introducing new people mid conversation and giving a bit longer introduction of the newbie can quite often do the trick. Asking their opinion on a certain dish you prepared will most likely change the coarse of the conversation. If things really start to head south suggesting a game will most definitely kill the disagreeing conversation.
Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook from 1967
The Glamour Magazine Party Book from 1965