First decision: date and time. Your best shot for getting lots of guests is to pick a not-prime time. Try something the Saturday before Valentine’s Day, for instance, or Sunday, the day after. Also an off-time, such as brunch of lunch instead of cocktail or evening party. Check to make sure key players can come. Also a time when you’ll have the week before to do the work. Guest List Write down whom you want to invite and take a count. This determines everything from cost to venue to refreshments.
Where will you have it? Your home? A romantic outdoor patio restaurant? A restaurant with a fireplace and strolling violinist? The rec room at your apartment complex? If you’re going to rent, call ahead and find out how many people they can accommodate, if the place is available that day, how much it will cost, what’s included in the rental fee, and what other services are available. If you’re renting a place, go there and talk to the catering decorator, walk around and take a tour. Questions will occur to you that might not otherwise:
- Can you bring your own food and drinks?
- What about decorating?
- Are there separate fees for room rental, security, maintenance, waiters, insurance, etc.?
- How’s the parking and public transportation. This can make a big difference in your guests desire to come, for instance on a rainy night.
What’s the theme? Well, Valentine’s, but romantic? Light-hearted? Formal? Casual? Choose your theme and then plan your tablecloths, tableware and dishes, glasses, decorations, invitations, party favors, music.
Schedule of Party Events
Plan a time for mingling, with drinks and hors d’oeuvres before a dinner â€“ that’s how people warm up If you’re having honorary speeches or some such (20 minutes is plenty of time to allot for this), allow time afterwards, because the conversation will be primed Provide music for background according to the tone of your event â€“ rock band, romantic piano, harp, etc. Now coordinate what you’ve decided on so far Make sure time, place, theme, and cost all gel. Here are some adjustments you can make
- Hard liquor, mixed drinks are expensive. If you’re having lots of people, switch to beer and wine, or make an alcoholic punch.
- To cut costs, try something thematic like a bottle of Valentine wine, that is, from the Valentine Vineyards, in Southern Mendocino County. The labels on the wine are cool for a Valentine’s Party!
- You can buy party trays at Sam’s or at Local Fancy Catering Boutique or you make them. Making them is probably going to cost more than Sam’s, but it has it’s virtues, Caterers can be very pricey, but then there’s no work for you to do.
- Ordering a beautifully decorated cake is a good way to handle dessert for a crowd. It brings everyone around, is festive, and easy to manage.
- Music can be live (more expensive) or your radio or CDs (no cost).
- Will you want a maid? The day before to clean? The day of the party to help serve and clean up? Or both? (Be sure and check out her uniform. You could provide a cute Valentine’s apron for her.)
- Need a bartender? Also check on his uniform. You don’t want any surprises.
- Arrange for photography â€“ stills, candids, videos, a professional photographer?
- Decorations â€“ floral arrangements are probably the most expensive, but they can sure dress up a table.
- You can go to a party store and look around according to your theme, if you’re going with paper goods.
- If you have your own china, crystal, etc. start planning how to get it clean and shining and ready to go.
- If you want to purchase permanent tableware, visit a store like Tuesday Morning and see what they have.
(Tip: Shop right after Valentine’s this year and see what they put on sale! Then you’ll be ready for next year.)
Elegant doesn’t have to be more expensive People instinctively cut back when the goods are pricey, i.e., f you serve Beluga Prime from Caviarteria in New York (price $750/lb.), your guests won’t be expecting to make a meal of it, and who can eat more than a dab of caviar anyway? If you’re providing Krug Clos du Menil from Sherry-Lehmann in New York ($1,400 a case), no one’s going to be chugalugging it. Tell them it’s Kobe beef (up to $500/lb.) and they’ll be too horrified to ask for seconds. Make Julia’s Child classic chocolate cake, all of 1 high, and one small sliver suffices even the piggiest eater. It’s richer even than a Starbuck’s brownie. These things titillate your senses other than raw hunger and so are very satisfying in another sort of way. Have a classic piano in the background, and people naturally move into refined slow-motion.
However, if you’ve got bins of queso dip and tortilla chips, everyone will have that belly-up-to-the-car approach to the buffet table. If JC and the Sunshine Bang are cranking it out, well all impulses are on go and all inhibitions are on low.
Brunches are quite economical! Call those pancakes crepes â€“ no, really, it’s a separate recipe and divine, but nonetheless basically flour and water. Serve a light fruit punch or Bloody Mary’s, some bacon and sausage, a light salad – green or fruit â€¦ won’t cost much at all. I recommend Julia Child’s crepe recipe, and definitely the flaming orange crepes. They nearly put your tongue to sleep, and again, these things are so rich, no one wants more than a taste. A little trick thrifty hostesses learn!
Entertainment Live entertainment adds a really special note to a home party. Local talent is probably available that isn’t expensive. Check with universities, colleges, high schools, and churches â€“ the choral directors, the music or dance department. Check the yellow pages. There may be several children’s dance groups, and they are always charming, because children can do no wrong, entertainment wise. Check the ballet and tap schools and see if you have a boys’ choir.
Make decisions and book it. Also get a babysitter for the kids â€“ or send them all over to your sister’s with a sitter over there. Book your hair and nails. Send out the invitations. (Want to do something cute online? Try here: www.evite.com .) Put all your details in a notebook. Add notes afterwards with tips for your next party. That’s how we learn!
Start cleaning, cooking ahead and freezing, getting glasses out, and cleaning the farther corners of the house.
The little touches These you tinker with as time and money allow. It’s for fun. Look on the Internet for things like Valentine’s candles and Valentine’s soaps for your guest room, a Valentine’s wreath for your door, maybe a heart-shaped doormat. These are little touches you CAN add, not things you MUST have.
If it’s in your home, always have something hot to serve that’s in the oven as the guests arrive and smells divine.
Tip: Always use candlelight if you can. It hides a multitude of sins, i.e., dust bunnies and carpet stains, and sets a gentle ambience. Even the most white-glovey diva is disarmed in soft lighting.
If you want a good turnout, do your PR work. Talk up the party with friends as you see them, or give them a call to see if they got their invitation. Drop a hint about the Clos du Menil, or the Big Band. Tell them you’ve got a group sitter for the kids. Ask them for suggestions. Get them involved and committed.
That should get you started.
P.S. This is the year you’re going to be good to yourself. Wouldn’t that dog be happier in the kennel overnight?