The word party spells excitement for anyone, be it a kid or an octogenarian. Anything from a simple birthday cake at the office to an elaborate soiree is something to look forward to. It takes us away from the daily humdrum routine, and adds some spark to our life – much needed in our superfast lives.
Throwing a successful party is an art, and takes meticulous planning. It is not everyone’s cup of tea, and we see a proliferation of party planners offering all kinds of services. If you are pressed for time, these might be a godsend, but they can also burn a hole in your pocket with no guarantee that every whim of yours will be catered to. In the US, it is relatively much easier to throw a fancy party. Party City wows you with various themes, you can have custom made banners, and themed plates, cups and what nots. A trip to the supermarket can also ensure you grab all kinds of goodies, and pizza on speed dial or chinese take out can take care of some good grub. It is relatively difficult to gather all things in Pune, although the tons of supermarkets like Dorabjee’s, Hypercity, Spar etc. do provide most things in one place.
This post though is not about what can be bought, but how you can DIY a great party without too much fuss. Any cook/chef/organizer at heart will take more pleasure in doing things themselves. You know you had a great party when people talk about it for days and months afterwards, ask for tips, and leave with a full tummy.
Here are some of the things I feel are a must for a great party. This is based on experience gained over years living in various places, tips learnt from other great parties and some from not so great ones. These are some things you definitely need to consider, not necessarily in this order or importance.
Budget for the party
However deep your pockets may be, you have a number in mind, unless you won the 500 million jackpot i.e. Decide an overall budget and work backwards, or assign a number per person. Then prioritize various things – decorations, drinks, food, cake, favors – what’s most important to you? Allocate money accordingly. Even if you go slightly over, this step will ensure you stay in the ballpark, and actually smile during your party, instead of agonizing how you spent a thousand dollars instead of three hundred!
Theme of the party
A theme can take things from dull to interesting. Kids generally have their own ideas nowadays, be it Harry Potter or Angry Birds or the Malibu Barbie. You can do some artwork yourself, have big cutouts on thermacol or chart paper, and set the kids to work coloring or adding glitter etc.
For an adult party, the cuisine can very well decide the theme. Dig Mexican food? Serve margaritas with nacho platters and fajitas, and let the guests build their own. You can have some mariachi type music playing and encourage Colorful cruise type clothes, maybe even have garlands the guests can wear ( hawaiian/caribbean rolled into one). You need not be totally letter perfect – the idea is to break the ice and get your guests to unwind and enjoy themselves. A middle eastern theme can have similar music and food, so can a down home marathi one with misal, vada pav and lavni music. You might even get an impromptu belly dancer or lavni artist from your guests, who breaks out into an enthusiastic jig.
Drinks for the Party
Drinks get a party going. Its probably the first thing you handover to your guests. Non-alcoholic drinks can be livened up to add some zing. You can make your own iced tea and add some fruit juices to make tasty fruit based teas. Make lemonade and muddle some berries in the glass. Mojitos can be popular in hot weather and colorful drinks like curacao topped with some soda or sprite can be a nice alcohol free bubbly drink.
You just have to take a staple base, add some fresh fruit or colorful twist and some fizz and you are in business!
For an adult themed party, it might help if you know your guests’ preferences. For a larger group, have a standard list of drinks printed out – like beer, a vodka based cocktail and a rum based cocktail – and ask guests to choose out of these. You can also have the usual colas and sodas on standby. You can never go wrong with an eclectic selection, since people are sure to like something. And once a couple drinks are underway, who cares? 😉
Food for the party
The food is undoubtedly the star of any party. ANY. PARTY. If you don’t realize that, you’ve got a lot to learn. Whether it’s the 200 pounder on a perpetual diet, or the size two whiners, they need to eat. Are you their only meal ticket? No. But by the time a person primps and travels to your venue, they are hungry, and the only images pushing them forward are that of good food.
Your food can be totally catered, or partly catered with you supplying a signature touch. You could also have a potluck, but more on that later!
You need lotsa munchies, and chips and pretzels are always welcome, no matter how common they are. A trip to Sams or Costco can get you super sized snacks enough to feed a party. Have a fancy book club meeting? How about a cheese tray with some home made pate’, nuts and grapes and crackers? Or home made hummus and muhammara with pita chips? Nacho chips with salsa and home made queso and guacamole can also be thrown together in a jiffy. The conversation flows with the wine, and the crunchy sounds indicate your party is under way.
Points to Note –
- Always ask your guest’s dietary preferences. You want to have something for the vegetarian and the vegan. The same goes for food allergies. So it may be tedious making some special arrangement for one person out of 50, but hey, that’s what hospitality is.
- Have kid proof food. Once you take care of the kiddies, it is much easier to concentrate on grown up tastes. A quick pizza delivery can bring smiles to their faces, or you can also make some finger food for them that they will enjoy. Simple and fuss free is important. Serving spaghetti to a bunch of rambunctious kids can spell disaster – not only for your walls and carpet, but to the kids themselves.
- When ordering food, err on the higher side. The biggest faux pas you can make as a host is run out of food! What’s worse is not realizing it. Have some plan B for more food, keep an eye on your guest’s plate and make sure they were able to eat something. Remember how Draupadi was cursed for running out of food? If such a crisis ever happens, be sure to apologize to your guests!
Planning the Date
This goes for slightly big events such as a first birthday, big anniversary or special event. You may not need this for super bowl or the world cup finals, but it is necessary otherwise, considering that everyone has a busy social calendar. Send a ‘Save the Date’ card or email or message to people, so that they know they should keep a certain time free for your event.
What about the invitation itself? You might be able to shoot a bulk email or SMS to twenty people, but a handwritten card still brings a smile to anyone’s face. You have a creative license here – buy some blank cards and write a personal invite with crayons or glitter pens – your guests will be convinced you really want them to come, and they will scramble to make time for you.
Do only kids play games?? No way. Although you really need games for a kids’ party. This keeps them channelized and busy. Plan 2-3 games – some fun, some informative. Make sure everyone is included.
The big kids can play more interesting games. ‘Truth or dare’ never gets old, believe me! Nor does paper dancing or the one where you twist yourselves any which way to connect the dots.
Song and dance are the ultimate culmination of any great party!
What about party favors?
Party favors, or ‘return gifts’ are absolutely must..or maybe not! It depends on you the host. If you throw a great party, people will be talking about it for years to come. But you might give away favors to remember a special event. Kids seem to be more excited about these. You can buy any small item off the rack in bulk and wrap it in a pretty way. I still have a pretty ‘batua’ I got at a co-worker’s son’s christening, and although we have fallen out of touch, I think of them every time I see it. Keepsakes have a value that far transcends their cost.
The finale – dessert
Does dessert deserve a special mention? You bet! It’s your swansong before your guests leave, and who doesn’t have a sweet tooth? Once again, a grand gesture speaks more than the thing itself! The cake is the highlight at a birthday or anniversary. Snow cones and ice cream or kulfi can be the star in the summer heat. Or a warm pie or steaming gulab jamuns can warm your heart in the winter.
Want to be uber fancy? Arrange a trifle in shot glasses, or rice pudding with layers of jelly – anything that is bite size and pleasing to the eye. With most people watching their sugar intake, this allows your guests to indulge their sweet tooth without too much damage.
Making your guests feel special
Whether you are inviting a hillbillie relative out of some family obligation, or a grouchy boss, or a co-worker you suspect is flirting with your guy, it behooves you to treat them with respect and make them feel special. This is what sets you apart as a host or hostess. Graciousness is the most important trait you can have.
People travel large distances, plan their attire days in advance, hunt around for your perfect gift, and choose to spend their time with you – they deserve your undivided attention. This also applies to close family members and friends who you expect to entertain themselves or become wallflowers. The line between special and unwanted is very fine, especially in a crowd of people.
Here is some etiquette you Must follow, even with your mother, or especially with your mother –
- Greet your guests personally. In a very large crowd, have a designated ‘greeter’, but make sure you speak to them personally at least once.
- Thank your guests for coming, and tell them how pleased you are to see them. As obvious as this sounds, saying it makes a difference!
- Check that your guests’ glass is never empty, or their plate. Make sure they were able to eat something and ask them if they need anything else.
- After the party, at some later date, make note of everyone’s gift, and be sure to thank them for their particular gift. This lets people know you took the time to open their gifts, instead of dumping them in some closet or throwing them in an attic.
- Play special attention to seniors, or people with special needs.
- Do not humiliate your guests in any way – no one deserves it. Dredging up anecdotes that embarass someone, or making hurtful comments is a no-no. This ain’t the time for it dude. You can always take your ten paces outside.
- Have clean restrooms ready with towels, soap etc. – this is a MUST! And is especially important when you are selecting an external location.
- Make arrangements for parking, or put up a sign to let your guests know what to do.
These are some basic things you have to consider when throwing a party – baby showers, birthdays, just because or whatever!
Modesty and humility are simple things that will make your party a grand success. Did I cover everything? I am sure I haven’t. So what do You think is most important while planning a party? What are your ‘must haves’, and what are your phobias? What party tips do you think are indispensable? I am sure all readers want to know!