Entertaining and party-giving should be enjoyable, and timely planning ensures that any event is as relaxed for the organizer as for the guests. One of the aims of this article is to make party planning as much fun as the party itself, whether informal or formal.
The process begins with setting dates. While this sounds pretty simple – a matter of looking at a calendar – one has to calculate and plan the date and time to ensure that your guests, particularly guests of honor, can attend without scheduling conflicts. Depending on the nature of the party, the time of day and day of the week are just as important as any other factor. You wouldn’t want to schedule a school-age child’s birthday party for a school day at 1PM as the child and friends will likely be in school.
So too, planning office parties, social events, and other things requires far more calculation than one might think.
The process of deciding on dates, times, venues and occasion style often starts the roller-coaster task of putting together once-in-a-lifetime gatherings. It can often be a stressful time when you are making decisions such as whether traditional ceremonies take precedence over a relaxed celebration or how to assemble different groups of family and friends Side-stepping a frantic start helps to avoid dips in enthusiasm later on. Often the initial problems are not as complicated as they appear. Enthusiasm and energy are the first requirements for overcoming any uncertainties, backed up by making useful lists such as key dates, numbers of guests, types of food and drink. It is important to do this before any celebration, large or small, in advance of getting down to the practicalities of invitation writing, room clearing, cooking and greeting.
There is no point in playing the party hero and trying to juggle every last item alongside a normal busy life – it is far more sensible and fun to share the load and satisfaction with at least one helper, if not a team of supporters.
Hand pick a reliable and hard-working friend who shares your aims, ethos and humour to join in the process – most people are flattered to be asked for their support, especially on important occasions. Then be thoughtful about who to add to the team. For children’s parties, unless the occasion is a surprise, involve the child whose party it is and allow one special friend to be included in the pre-party organization.
Getting together a round-table of enthusiastic organizers is best avoided unless there are specific, separate tasks that are ideal for distributing among several contributors. Finally, there are times when coordinating a committee of people is an essential part of putting together a group event, such as for a club or school. and adopting the same approach to selecting one or two main helpers while ensuring everyone else is usefully involved is an excellent ploy.
Mix and Match
If the occasion is so formal, such as a wedding or christening, or the approach so traditional that there is little room for changing the style and form, it is best to follow the rules of etiquette. For all parties adopt a sensible attitude to all numbers, catering, ambience and entertainment and use tried and tested approaches to ensure success.
When the occasion allows for flexibility, do not take yourself too seriously but aim for enjoyment rather than perfection. Mixing and matching can be an inspiring approach to party planning, especially for informal events. Adopt the “do it with a good will or not at all” approach and loosen up on the rules. Concentrate on the aspects you most enjoy. Those who are not keen on cooking for crowds often do best by selecting just one or two practical one-pot dishes and complementing them with well-chosen bought foods There is plenty of advice on making the most of bought ingredients in the following chapters.
The same goes for party drinks: while all the experts may dictate offering chilled champagne or certain wines and liqueurs to go with individual courses during a meal, or an eclectic array of drinks, if you – or your budget – dictate otherwise, then do so with conviction and without apology. And if you expect guests to make a contribution by bringing a bottle, do not be afraid to make the occasion a “bring a bottle party” by spelling it out on the party invitations.
Great atmosphere is the most important feature of any party or celebration – and that does not mean ambience alone. Whether you are entertaining in a palace or on a building site, remember to do so with a genuine and warm welcome. Make your guests aware of the type, context and style of the party so that they all come suitably dressed and in the right frame of mind to enjoy themselves.
Greet everyone and be sure to encourage them to mingle, making them feel relaxed, at home and with a certain responsibility to participate.
At the end of the day, no matter how brilliant the tables, food and decorations, it is the people who make the party.
Note: This begins a series of articles on successful party planning, with new installments monthly.