You can only eat hummus and celery sticks so many times before you crack and jump out a window in search of something more stimulating. Sadly, the same can be said for the gold-trimmed thrift-store plateware, which has been recycled as the “party china” since your first apartment days. Entertaining at home is fantastic, but it often falls victim to the same silent killer: monotony. Fear not, your next party can go from good to spectacular with little more than some planning and thinking outside the box.
Dinner parties are one of my favoritest favorite things to do. Naturally, the food is always my primary concern, but I love every part of the process: thinking about what to drink or deciding on the layout, even crafting the general feel of the shindig. You have complete creative control over exactly how special you want this thing to be. And by special, I don’t mean expensive, but I just mean special as in a little planning and perhaps some crafting.
There are a few main points to think about when planning a party, no matter how big or how small.
- Decide how many people you want to invite—this is the most important step because you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. In this case, surprises are not a good thing. Plan the guest list.
- Is it a social, small-bites and cocktail party or a full-on seated dinner party? Obviously, you can’t serve chips and dip as dinner, and conversely, you don’t want your cocktail party guests walking around trying to eat cassoulet out of dixie cups while balancing a wine glass in the other hand.
- Where is it at: outdoor picnic or at-home, cozy get-together? This will determine the type of food you have, as well as the décor, transportation, and parking restrictions. (Parking is always on peoples’ minds here in the City of Angels.)
- To booze or not to booze? That is the question. You have such a variety to choose from: wine, craft beers, or cocktails. Making fun “signature cocktails” can be awesome, as long as you decide which way you want to go. Liquor can get pricey, so pick one variety and stick to it. Also, always have non-alcoholic options (not just water!) Not everyone drinks, so be mindful of that. Plus, more than likely people will be driving later, so you don’t want to liquor them up and then send them packing. Arnold Palmers are great; club soda and lime is a nice, refreshing option as well.
- Playlists are vital. I can’t tell you how many parties I’ve been to with the same 2006 top hits playlist blaring. Put some thought into, and get a good variety of old and new music, maybe something upbeat and bluesy. Records are a total blast if you can get your hands on a record player: it keeps guests engaged in the music because you have to go flip the vinyl every 30 minutes or so. It’s a perfect way for people to break the ice with other guests.
- It sounds odd, but signage is key. Make cute little seat cards for each dinner plate with your guests’ names on it. Or, if it’s more of a buffet-style thing, write the name of each dish on a natural paper card in cutesy handwriting, then place it by each dish. Make a fun sign to hang on the front door, and string it up with natural twine or vintage ribbon. Use branches or flower stems to affix name cards to. Write fun quotes on pieces of cardboard and construction paper, and scatter them around the space tied to wine corks or folded into paper planes. This creates more activities for people to participate in during your party.
Jess Ayers is somewhat of an expert in this department. When I say somewhat, I mean absolutely the best party planner I’ve ever met. Her parties are simple, complex, and relaxed and pristinely put together, and I’ve never attended one of her parties where I didn’t have the absolute best time of my life, laughing until my sides ached.
Her foolproof mantra for hosting a killer soiree is easy to remember. “The three Ps.” She deadpans. “It’s simple: prepare, personalize, and prioritize.”
“The key to a good party is preparing. The host should not be doing anything other than looking fabulous and putting on final touches. The décor, the table, or setting out that last d’ouurve. Having a plan and sticking to it eliminates stress. You execute properly, and there’s minimal room for error.”
Throwing parties at home is all about paying attention to the right things: making it an experience for the guests and knowing what you want it to be. Jess explains, “Prioritization is a must to determine what aspects of the party are most important to you. Make sure the key components of your event are executed well and budgeted for. For example, you don’t want to end up in a situation where you have an awesome photo booth, but run out of food!”
And finally, it’s the all important personalization. “This is what takes a good party to great! Take the time to find ways to incorporate your own personality into every facet of the event. From the place-cards to the menu to the quirky play-list.”
Make some tasty treats (there are lots of easy recipes and ideas here at thedeliciousview.com), and pour some wine. Think about décor. Some empty jars with succulents is easy and beautiful, or branches. Monochromatic candles scattered around the house is lovely with brown parchment paper on the tables as liners. Put out some markers, and encourage people to write little anecdotes on the paper as a fun way for them to leave their mark.
Whatever you do, don’t overcomplicate, and as Jess strongly advises, plan ahead! It makes your life so much easier. After all, who doesn’t want to look fabulous and to make party planning look totally effortless? Not to mention, you’ll actually enjoy your own party! With these tips and Jess’s advice, you’ll be looking like Martha Stewart in no time. Find out more about Jess’s expert party planning at Cereal & Wine.