Many parties celebrate an event such as an annual feast, birthday, wedding, christening or anniversary; they can also take place for no special purpose at all other than to see friends. Whatever the occasion, it is most important to have a clear outline of the form of entertaining before you begin to work on any of the preparations — planning is the cornerstone of success.
Annual festivities, such as Thanks-giving, Christmas, New Year and Easter, often follow a traditional structure, but this does not mean that there is no need to plan ahead; it simply means that there will be fewer decisions to make and that they will all fall into an existing framework. For all other occasions, a decision on the type and size of celebration is the starting point, and the usual pre-arranging has to follow. Begin by considering your budget, then outline what sort of part)you are planning within your financial restrictions. Work through all of the following points to establish a structure for planning all the details.
Degree of formality
If you decide on a formal party, this will provide you with a set of clear-cut rules to follow. You may opt for complete informality, in which case you need to work out your own pattern of rules. However, many occasions tend to fall somewhere between these extremes.
The important thing is to decide exactly how you want to entertain, let everyone know what to expect and to stick to your decision by planning accordingly. Think in terms of dress, how you expect guests to participate and the type of refreshments, and pass all this information on to your guests.
The style of celebration will also dictate whether you need outside help. Caterers, waiting staff and bar staff maybe hired for formal occasions, such as weddings, and may also he employed for any large party or even for formal dinner parties. These aspects of any party should always be planned at the outset, not as afterthoughts.
Bringing people together for small parties such as dinner parties is not always easy, and deciding on the group of people to invite to larger gatherings can also be difficult. Nevertheless, this is an essential and important first step in good planning. If you organize a dinner party for people who are
Planning ahead will leave you time to add finishing touches such as flower arrangements.
strangers to one another, it is important to mix individuals who are likely to get on well together, or at least to express an interest in one another. When inviting friends to larger gatherings, always ensure that there are groups who will know or can relate to one another.
Think back over your own social experiences, and you will probably recall occasions when certain guests in the minority have obviously lingered on the fringe of a gathering, awaiting the first polite opportunity to take their leave. Having made the point, it is equally important to stress that there are exceptions — outstanding social successes do sometimes occur with the most unlikely groups of people.
Although it may seem an obvious point, it is vital to make sure that you can cope with the numbers for the type of party that you are planning. This is largely a matter of space. For example, it is not practical to arrange a formal dinner party for 8 guests if you can only sit 7 around the table: the eighth person who is perched on a stool at the corner of the table will make everyone else feel thoroughly uncomfortable. The same applies to a barbecue for 50 when you have one small grill; a cosy kitchen brunch for 10 in an area that is cramped with 6 people; or a children’s party for 25 in a house that is overfilled when half-a-dozen children are invited and where there is only a small garden. Remember, however, that the equation can work the other way, and that, for some types of gatherings, success depends on having the party area fairly tightly packed with people.
Food and drink
Whether the gathering is small or large, it is important to decide on the level of refreshments — snacks, finger food, some form of buffet or a proper sit-down meal — and to make sure that the food and drink you provide arc suited to the occasion. You need to think about this in relation to the time of day, numbers invited and your budget. Do not be afraid to make an unusual decision about the form of food, but do make sure that it is adequate and that you can cope with the preparation, or that caterers, if you are using them, do not need facilities that are not available.
Whether printed, handwritten or extended by word of mouth, invitations should convey certain important information clearly to the recipients. They should state the names of those
invited, your own name(s), the occasion and the reason for it, the place, the time and an address to which replies should he sent. Written invitations often include the formula`RSVP'(which stands for please reply in French), in one corner, to remind guests that an answer is required. You should give details of any special form of dress on the bottom of the invitation.
Ready-made cards on which you write in the details yourself are available in styles ranging from formal to fun. You can also have cards printed for a special occasion.
Giving A Dinner Party
A proper dinner party can he fun, as well as formal, especially if you know your guests well. This is an opportunity to lay the table with your best table linen and chinaware, to make your home look beautiful with flowers and other decorations, and to prepare dishes that are special and out of the ordinary. Plan to have all the cooking calmly under control and to allow yourself a period of all-important relaxation before your guests arrive, so that you can enjoy the occasion too.
To ensure that everything goes smoothly on the night of the party, draw up a checklist of things that you need to do, starting with jobs that you can easily complete a few days before the event, such as the shopping and cleaning. Try to prepare as much as possible in advance: make and freeze suitable dishes or, with dishes that cannot be frozen, make them the day before if possible and store them in the refrigerator. Leave only the finishing touches to be done on the day, to avoid a last-minute rush
A formal dinner party
Serving a meal of many courses can be an excellent way of entertaining,
particularly when guests appreciate the nuances of different foods and subtle flavours. As lighter eating has become the norm, the most acceptable way of serving such a feast is to present small portions throughout the meal. Serve good-quality bought or home-made appetizers with drinks before dinner. The meal itself may consist of 4 or 5courses, or more. Supper are usually avoided on very formal occasions in favour of carefully sauced dishes with separate vegetables or side salads. The simplest of formal dinner-party menus should include soup dish.
Menus for dinner parties are best kept simple, and cook-ahead dishes are ideal, as most will not spoil if your guests linger over pre-dinner drinks. Simple first courses often make the most memorable appetizers — opt for prime-quality ingredients and serve them attractively. You might try avocadoes and chopped walnuts with an oil-and-vinegar dressing, melon with Parma ham (prosciutto), fresh figs served with a twist of freshly ground black pepper, or perhaps something hot, such as Scallops Wrapped in Parma Ham (prosciutto).
Classic casseroles such as Coq au Vin or Boeuf Bourguignon make practical and versatile dinner-party fare, as do simple but delicious meat dishes such as Boned Pork Loin with Apple-cream
Sauce, or Pot-roast Chicken with Sausage Stuffing. For the latter, you can prepare the stuffing the day before, making the dish very simple to put together and cook on the day of the party. Lightly spiced curries, such as a Simple Chicken Curry served with rice is also acceptable and often benefit from being cooked a day ahead so that the flavours mingle. Even if you plan an elaborate dessert, it is a good idea to offer a simple alternative. Do not dismiss fresh fruit —pineapple and different types of melon, as well as other fruits, can be presented in eye-catching ways. There are many exotic fruits now available that make eye-catching displays. Fruit ices and sorbets are also wonderfully refreshing at the end of a meal course, a main course and dessert. In Europe it is also usual to serve a cheese course towards the end of the meal. A fish course or light appetizer may he served after the soup or a refreshing sorbet may be served between the first and main courses, and a savory dish may be served instead of cheese.
Place cards are always laid at formal or large dinners. Simple, elegant cards are best for such occasions. First cut a strip of card(cardboard) measuring 15 x 7. 5 cm/6 x3 in. Mark a told across the centre and a2.5 cm/1 in told at each end of the strip. Using a craft knife, lightly score the folds.
An informal dinner party
Although the style of an informal party will differ from that of a more formal occasion, your aim should still be to provide well-prepared and beautifully presented food. 3 or 4 courses are usually served at a party of this kind. The opening course may be a starter (appetizer), salad or soup, and the main course will be followed by either dessert or cheese, or both. An informal dinner party can feature a more extensive menu, if you wish, even though the general approach to the evening is very casual.
1. If the informal nature of the evening refers more to dress than to food, you may wish to offer 4 or more courses of less ‘classic’ food, with supper-style dishes (such as pasta or risotto), perhaps with a national theme, included on the menu.
2. Draw a simple stencil design on to sheet of acetate using a waterproof felt-tip pen, and cut it out using a craft knife. Lightly load a stencil brush with gold paint. Hold the stencil firmly in position on the card (cardboard) and dab the paint through it, keeping the brush vertical.
3. To attach the ribbon, mark and then cut 2 small slits in the card. Thread the ribbon through and tie it into a bow. Trim the ends of the ribbon if necessary.
4. Lay the finished cards in suitable positions on the table, such as on side plates or with the napkins.