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How to host a before-and-after party

Host a before-and-after party when a special event or activity comes to town

If you want to host a unique event that will have guests clamoring to make it an annual affair, try throwing a before-and-after party. The concept is based around an activity that is held off-premises, away from the hosted area. It may be a sporting event; it could be a public arts celebration, or even an outdoor theater presentation.

Two party opportunities that come to mind are Oktoberfest celebrations and special cult theater presentations, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. These casual events encourage an energetic audience that is already primed by plenty of socializing.

For the perfect before-and-after event, you will need to select a menu that encompasses several stages, depending on what time of day the party begins. Start with a light lunch with finger sandwiches and dollar rolls followed by a secondary light snack stage. Third will be the heavier appetizer stage, which is set out before the event. Fourth is the heavy food stage, which should follow the event. The fifth stage involves desserts, coffee, and iced sweet drinks.

Deliver invitations at least three weeks in advance. You want to give guests plenty of time to figure out their own commitments and to respond enthusiastically. Make it clear in your invitations that people can come and go according to their own schedules. Some may already have evening plans, but wish to stop by during the afternoon. Others may have regularly scheduled daytime activities during weekends, but can meet up afterward. That's the fun and flexibility of a before-and-after gathering.

The invitation should include type of attire and state where guests will park. Make the invitation as much fun as the party promises to be: create one-of-a-kind postcards with stamps and paint or collect items that relate to the off-site event and incorporate those in the mailing.

If you are inviting more than eight people, you should consider hiring a combination bartender/food helper.

Because you will have so many food levels, don't hesitate to fire up the smoker or grill if you have one - or more - and keep waves of food coming. The aroma of wood smoke or charcoal wafting up the walkway as guests arrive just adds to the fun.

Do not hesitate to ask for help around the outdoor cooking areas. Men will gather there, anyway, and the more competent outdoor chefs should know their way around the kitchen to handle carrying and carving.

Prepare and cook as many foods as possible before the day of the party. You can put a roast or turkey in the oven even two days before and slice in advance for dollar roll sandwiches. Make frozen desserts, such as a margarita pie. If you can make them in muffin- or mini-muffin-sized tins, they'll be easier to pass out than trying to serve in slices. This will also save space in the fridge.

When planning extra serving space, make sure the pathways to the kitchen "triangle" are clear. With so many courses, you'll need quick access to the sink, refrigerator, and oven/stovetop.

Serve appetizers on smaller platters rather than one large one. It's easier to scoop away a nearly empty platter rather than fussing with placing new items on the old one. Figure out a chain of food command: as one tray comes out of the oven, for instance, a new one goes in. Remove a third from the fridge and let it come to room temperature.

Keep refrigerated foods stackable to free up space. You don't want foods sitting out too long. Keep an eye on the time and rotate as necessary. Fill all insulated chests with ice for extra food storage on the day of the party.

You'll need plenty of plates, utensils, and service dishes, but it may not be feasible to use glassware. Reserve the glass plates for lunch and dinner-type foods. If you choose to use paper plates, make them heavy-duty or plastic; they can be theme-based and festive.

Start winding things up to head off to the event by putting food away. Cover plates and bowls with plastic wrap. Make a last call for drinks about thirty minutes before the scheduled departure.

To really wow your guests, consider renting a van and hiring a driver for transportation. If you're lucky, you can get triple duty out of your bartender/kitchen helper by paying them be the chauffeur. Pick up the van in the morning and park it in the driveway for your guests' convenience. Some cities have businesses that rent special vans, such as trolleys, by the hour. These will include a driver. You should take advantage of these options if available.

Following the event, bring out the heavier foods. Whatever you decide to serve, include an exotic or interesting dish. Brainstorm ahead of time for some really wild ideas, such as alligator skewers or fried quail. Oddball dishes will give your guests a fresh conversation starter and something new to try food-wise.

Return leftover snacks to the buffet areas and include a few fresh appetizers and pre-made side dishes. Fire up the grill, turn on the oven, and crank up the slow music. You're about to start all over again.

After the dinner foods begin to dwindle, you can begin setting up a dessert area. If you have room in the freezer, premix your sweet drinks and store them away until thawing time.

Put on a pot of coffee. Serve a strong coffee blend or espresso to keep folks going. As with any party, keep an eye on your guests and do not let them drink too much, especially as the evening winds down. Be prepared for surprise overnight guests.

You can adjust the food service stages as needed to accommodate the timing of your off-site event. It does not have to go late into the night or begin at noon.

The key to any good party is to have fun. Don't put pressure on guests to show up or leave at a certain time, and always throw something unusual into the mix. Relax, enjoy the great food, and accept the raves from your guests - as any good host or hostess should.


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