Whether you're inviting the entire neighborhood for cocktails, celebrating your child's birthday or planning a fe^te for 50, throwing a great party requires panache and lots of planning. As host, your task is to create a mood--relaxed, elegant, festive or wild--that carries through every aspect of the party.
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Find a reason to celebrate. Whether it's a holiday, a special occasion, an achievement, a big announcement, a new endeavor, a job well done or a journey completed, the reason you're partying will set the tone. See 316 Throw a Dinner Party for more ideas.
Pick a date that allows ample preparation time. Consider catering, decorating and entertaining needs when choosing the date.
Decide on a guest list. Take into account the size of your dining table, party area or rented venue. For cocktail parties, you'll need 4 to 5 square feet of space per person. Expect 70 to 80 percent of invited guests to show up for a large event.
Spread the word with flair: Invites that reinforce your theme add an exciting buzz. For example, attach potluck invites to inexpensive potholders if guests are expected to bring a dish. Specify the dress code (if there is one).
Determine the party's tone and style (celebratory, elegant, themed). Keep in mind the time of year, what you're celebrating, and how formal or casual you'd like it to be.
Plan your menu a week in advance. Consider flavors and combinations that reinforce your theme. What you serve is almost always determined by what's in season. Read 301 Plan Theme Menus, 315 Plan Party Foods Ahead and 316 Throw a Dinner Party for more ideas.
Consider serving beer and wine, plus one cocktail you can premix in batches, such as margaritas or sangria. Hire a bartender if your group is larger than 30 and you're serving cocktails, wine and beer. (Three to four drinks per person for a two- to threehour party is standard.) See 328 Set Up a Bar and 336 Hire a Bartender.
Spread out the food and drinks so there's a smooth flow to your party. If you don't want people in the kitchen, direct the traffic to other rooms--an outdoor bar, for example, or put most of the food in the living room. Hire servers to pass hors d'oeuvres.
Buy a few yards of colorful silk or other bright, textured fabric. Use it as a table runner or wrap it around the middle of the table for a splash of color. See 103 Decorate for the Seasons.
Enjoy yourself and your guests. Fun is contagious: Relax, pour yourself a drink, eat--and have a good time.