Perfect Parties are always planned.
Step 1: Select a theme
The easiest way to throw a party is to pick a theme and thread it through the entire event — invitations, food, drinks, decorations. Take inspiration from the holidays (for Christmas, throw a Feast of the Seven Fishes party), from your travels (recreate that Greek vacation), even from pop culture (retro Mad Men party, anyone?).Help your guests by wording your invite clearly. Serving just nibbles? Promise "light hors d'oeuvres." Including a roast? That's a "buffet dinner" or "cocktails and supper." And when it's a full-blown meal, you're throwing a dinner party!
Step 2: Decide on the menu
If you're serving passed hors d'oeuvres, figure three kinds (two of each per guest) for a two-hour party. Add a buffet with crudités (3/4 cup per person) and dip or salsa, at least three different types of cheese (three pounds per 20 people), crackers and fresh or dried fruit. Make it more substantial with a roast beef or ham for carving, four or five ounces per person — and consider reducing the hors d'oeuvres to one of each per guest.
Step 3: Set up the bar
It's always wise to buy more than you think you'll need — you'll use it eventually, and often you can return unopened bottles. Guidelines for a two-hour party:
Buy one bottle per two people, a mix of red and white. For a festive touch, add an inexpensive sparkling wine like Spanish Cava.
One case per 20 guests — increase if you know your crowd likes beer.
One liter of vodka, plus one liter of any other liquor per 20 people. Or offer just one memorable cocktail and pre-make pitchers. It's easier and much more fun. For winter, Nilsson suggests a Broken Leg: warm apple cider spiked with Captain Morgan spiced rum, a cinnamon stick and a splash of applejack or Calvados.
Three bottles for each liter of alcohol — club soda, tonic water and cranberry juice are classics.
Four lemons and limes (pre-cut one of each into slices, and another into wedges), plus olives.
- Soft drinks
Offer cola, diet cola and ginger ale.
You'll need at least one pound per person.
Pick up serving pieces at thrift shops or look throughout your home for items that can be repurposed: Thoroughly clean galvanized-tin garden trays, mirrors, baskets, bamboo steamers or even spare ceramic tiles, then line with parchment, napkins or food-safe foliage. Keep food hot in chafing dishes (you'll find disposable aluminum ones at party supply stores), slow cookers or warming trays — or hide a heating pad, set to low, beneath the tablecloth; place ceramic or metal trays on top. Refrigerate cold food until just before serving, then nestle platters on a bed of ice.
For dining, I recommend using the real thing, not plastic. It's both more elegant and more environmentally friendly. Buy stacks of dishes, cutlery and glasses at estate sales or thrift shops; they'll be inexpensive, you'll use them again and again, and a mix of patterns can be fun. Assume two glasses per person — the simplest is a combination of wine and highball glasses — and at least one plate per guest. If you're tight on space (or dread the post-party cleanup), buy disposables made of biodegradable or recycled materials. And don't forget the napkins!