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How to Host a Perfect Party

Here are a few hosting tips that will make your party guests feel welcome

Pre-Party

State clearly in invitations the style of dress. This is one of the main things people fret about, as some wording can be ambiguous. You may know exactly what is meant when you say "smart casual," but that doesn't mean all of your guests will (and they won't all have the most current copy of Emily Post, either!). Be concise, but clear: slacks/skirts, no jackets. If you really mean casual, then say so: jeans or shorts, come comfortable!

Be clear, also, on the types of food to be served. That will be determined, in part, by the time and theme of the party. If you're planning a 7 p.m. start time, people may be expecting a full meal; if they know it's heavy hors d'oeuvres, they can plan accordingly. A cocktail event or wine-and-cheese party is self-explanatory.

Holidays are packed with events, so the one-month rule of mailing invitations should be extended to five weeks minimum; eight weeks is even better. We recommend getting on your guests' calendars with a "save the date" card as early as possible. A more detailed invitation can follow at the five- or eight-week mark.

Planning is your most crucial element. Set up a timeline to get things done and stick to it as much as possible. Don't worry if a few things fall through the cracks, but go over your list often and cross jobs off when they are completed.

Party Time

Say goodbye to your spouse for the evening. Especially as guests arrive. If you are entertaining as a couple, you should be constantly mingling - separately. If you hang together, you're not doing your job as hosts. If you are entertaining as a single person, line up a close friend or family member who is comfortable around strangers to help with the hosting duties.

If you are inviting a couple - from work or the neighborhood, for instance - who may not know others in your circle, encourage them to bring along another couple that they know. Not only will you get to meet new people, but your guests will feel much more a part of the crowd if they have someone to talk to until they get warmed up.

Don't hesitate to pick up an appetizer tray and mingle. Move among your guests and check for loners - food is a wonderful conversation starter. You can reel the shy ones in with food and match them up with the extroverts.

Never skimp on food. It is always better to have a table that looks abundantly full or people will not enjoy themselves. Count on at least 300 hors d'oeuvres for a group up to 20 and don't leave out your vegetarian friends when planning the menu.

Bar service

Always have a couple of bottles - two reds and two whites - of wine open and ready to serve when your first guests arrive. Champagne is also a very special touch and appropriate for any occasion and with any food. You'll look prepared and won't be caught struggling with a corkscrew while guests are waiting with empty glasses.

Typically, white wine drinkers outnumber those who prefer reds, although the gap may close during colder weather. Plan the wine purchase accordingly as well as stemware. Depending on who your guests are, one or more of them may automatically assist with bar duties. If it's a gathering of close friends, encourage them to help themselves.

For casual settings, move all soft drinks and beer cans to a cooler or attractive tin tub.

Set up chatting areas so that the flow of traffic will not be impeded.

One last tip: never panic if something goes wrong. Keep your sense of humor and move swiftly to either correct the problem or brush it away and move on. We're all human; don't make your guests feel uncomfortable by losing control. Laugh and they'll laugh with you - not at you.


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