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Planning the Perfect Party: How to work smarter, not harder

[Adobe Stock photo]

Planning a party is easier said than done. Considerations like preparing a menu, decorating a space and choosing a venue can be enough to make even the most experienced host’s or hostess’ head spin.

To avoid the pressure of party-planning without compromising entertainment, here are some tips and tricks from local entertainment blogger Julie Blanner, whose advice has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Midwest Living, Elle Decor and Country Living. Blanner’s lifestyle blog [julieblanner.com] has been recognized as a “Best Entertaining Website” by Better Homes and Gardens, and Blanner herself was recognized as an “Entertaining Blogger to Follow” by Southern Living. She was born in St. Louis and lives in West County with her family.

Plan everything early.

It’s impossible to be overprepared when planning a special occasion. Blanner recommends party planners use downloadable or homemade spreadsheets to track factors like time devoted to food preparation or how much shopping is required. A folder in which to save important notes or emails containing event information, such as RSVPs or guests’ contact information also is helpful.

Blanner recommends starting the planning process early and that includes being smart about invitations.

A good rule of thumb is for invitations to be mailed six to eight weeks in advance of a formal event and two to three weeks before a casual one. Be sure to include all the pertinent details: where, when, why is the party taking place, how and to whom should guests RSVP and what is the dress code.

Taking time to build an event schedule that includes meal and activity times can help take the guess work out of managing all the details once the party day arrives.

If entertaining at home, Blanner advises: “Consider not only the time involved preparing the meal, but the number of guests, expenses and food safety.” Especially when planning a buffet – whether a full meal or appetizers – be sure to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Bacteria can multiply quickly at room temperature.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, hot foods should be kept at an internal temperature of 140°F or warmer. Use a food thermometer to check. Serve or keep food hot in chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays.

Likewise the FDA advises that cold foods should be kept at 40°F or colder. If plates of cold food are going to stay on the buffet table longer than two hours, they should be placed on ice to help them retain their chill.

Plan the menu around the occasion.

A party isn’t a party without food, and according to Blanner, there’s no wrong answer for what type of food can be served at a party. From finger foods to large entrées, each occasion’s menu depends entirely upon the host and, to some extent, the time of day. An evening celebration might present the perfect opportunity to serve guests a multi-course dinner, whereas guests of a late night meet-up can thrive on appetizers and finger foods. The most important factor is to make sure guests are informed in their invitations about what to expect in terms of sustenance.

“If you’re serving finger foods, make sure you offer a variety of easy-to-eat options that are hearty enough to make a meal,” Blanner said. “Also ensure there are plenty of places for guests to set their glasses or plates.”

Trust the experts. For those looking to take an event on the road, communication is key. Understanding a venue’s requirements and making sure the location’s staff fully understands your needs is critical to hosting a party with relative ease. Venues with private rooms often have occupancy requirements and limited menu options associated with booking the space. Knowing each space’s protocol will eliminate confusion when it comes time for guests to order.

“When selecting a venue, consider if they offer a private room, if you will have a [required] minimum, a set event menu, or if guests will order off the menu,” Blanner said.

For events with catered meals, do be sure to consult the venue’s event coordinator, who is skilled in helping party planners determine proper portions, but remember a little more is better than not enough.

“Always overestimate – you never want to run out of food, but no one will complain if they’re offered amazing food to take home!” Blanner said.

[Adobe Stock photo]

Don’t forget beverages.

Whether they’re from a soda fountain or a bar, drinks should be provided by the host at any event. Some venues even allow party planners to bring their own drink options from home.

“If you’re hosting an event, drinks should be provided,” Blanner said. “You can limit options to wine and beer to keep costs to a minimum. In fact, a lot of venues and restaurants allow you to bring wine and pay a corkage fee or purchase by the bottle.”

Something to consider when hosting a multigenerational event with a bar option is to choose a consumption model where the event host pays only for actual beverages consumed rather than a price per person per hour. The standard rule of thumb for alcohol consumption is two drinks in the first hour of the party and one for each hour thereafter; however, older guests may not drink that much or at all. When groups have a good number of attendees that are older and young [under 21], a consumption bar can be the best option – one that allows everyone to enjoy the drinks of their choice.

Add personal touches.

To help make a venue more intimate, Blanner suggests using décor to add a little extra charm to a venue space. These can include personal linens, flowers, china and even personal photos. Though during the holidays, you may not need to be anything more in to enliven the event space.

“Add something organic whether it be flowers, plants, branches or fruit,” Blanner said. “It will immediately bring a room to life. Don’t be afraid to personalize utilizing photographs, monograms and more!”

Check with staff members to see what additions can be brought in. Rules may vary by location.

Use activities as entertainment.

Gone are the days of hiring multi-act bands or talent acts to entertain party guests. Modern party planners utilize interactive crafts or icebreakers to provide entertainment that’s inexpensive for the host and hassle-free for guests. According to Blanner, activities can help bring party guests together and serve as the perfect change to make even more memories at the already merry occasion.

“I always like to incorporate some form of activity, whether it be ‘Thankful For’ cards and word searches for Thanksgiving, or a wine tasting among a group of friends who don’t know one another,” Blanner said. “It helps break the ice, even if you just have it available for backup.”

Don’t feel obligated to provide party favors.

According to Blanner, party favors should only be considered if they have lasting use or are memorable.

“If it’s something you’d personally throw away in the next day or week, you’re better off refraining from giving a favor,” Blanner said.

Usable gifts, such as coasters or candles, are favored over knick-knacks that gather dust. Rentable photo booths can work double-duty and provide entertainment and souvenirs for guests if the venue will allow them. Just be certain to clear your plans with the venue well ahead of making reservations with and paying deposits to outside vendors.

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