Empty a closet near the foyer and put down trays for boots—unless you would rather heave wet ‘n’ salty stuff to and from a bedroom every time someone arrives or departs.
When guests arrive bearing gifts, thank them warmly, but don’t feel you have to open each one on the spot. Set aside wine and keep a vase of water handy to preserve bouquets.
Stagger arrival times if space is tight. Ask half of your guests to show up an hour later. You’ll have to set out smaller portions of food more often, unless you want your buffet to look like locusts got to it first.
Santa has helpers and so should you. Pals can play DJ or serve drinks. For fun, write fortune-cookie-style tasks on place cards: “Genius is in the detailsâ¦so please keep tabs on the ice bucket!”
Prevent buffet bottlenecks. Set up a table that’s accessible on all sides or use two small tables (one for hot dishes and one for cold). Order the sequence logically: plates first, then food in the order you would serve it at a sit-down meal (appetizers followed by main-course dishes), then condiments. Place napkins and cutlery at the end. Leave empty spots for guests to rest their drinks while helping themselves.
For a crowd, use paper plates, now sold in a host of cool shapes and shades. Check card shops or your local supermarket. Hefty (yes, the garbage bag people) makes a line of colourful disposable plates called Hefty ElegantWare. Steer clear of disposable cutlery, which no one likes to use.
Serve a couple of cold dishes instead of struggling to keep everything hot. Salad makes a great starter, and cake is just as nice as a hot pie for dessert. Keep vegetable and meat dishes warm in an oven set on low heat.
Make a sit-down dinner simpler by asking guests to help themselves from serving dishes placed right on the table. Or, set up a separate food table: it’s easier than a buffet because the cutlery and condiments are already set out on the dining-room table.
Save yourself from having to clear a buffet table during the party by setting out desserts and coffee in another room, perhaps a den or living room.
Stock your bar wisely. Count on two drinks an hour per person. Keep things simple by offering wine, beer and one type of cocktail. Don’t forget juice, pop, tea and water. Slice lemons and limes and use them liberally.
Separate the bar from the buffet table—opposite ends of the room is best.
Be a responsible host or you could be held legally liable for your guests’ well-being after they leave. You may choose to serve alcoholic beverages personally and leave out non-alcoholic drinks for guests to help themselves.
Set out cold hors d’oeuvres (cheese and crackers, olives, nuts, veggies and dips or even cold soup served in shot glasses) at the start of the party. Save the hot ones until after your guests have arrived. Allow for about eight hors d’oeuvres per guest, but err on the generous side. After all, a typical cocktail party starts at 5 or 6 p.m., includes snacks and drinks, and ends by 7 or 8 p.m. Keep guests any later and they’ll expect dinner.
Use coloured wine charms, available at housewares stores, to reduce the need for fresh glasses every time a guest gets a new drink. Plastic cups are OK for kids, but rent extra glasses or use acrylic for grown-ups.
Consider removing some furniture to leave more space for mingling. Leave extra chairs against the walls so that guests can use or move them as necessary.
If you need more chairs, consider renting them. Check the YellowPages under Party Supplies to get seats, tables, linens, glasses, cutlery and more. Best of all, rental companies will pick up the dirty dishes afterwards.
Set small garbage bins near the food and drink tables or you’ll find napkin pileups around the room.
Feel free to clean up during the evening or accept offers of help. Go through the party room every so often and pick up used plates and glasses. Have garbage bags and a spot for recyclables ready so you can dispose of things quickly.
Don’t make everything from scratch. Plan dishes you can heat and serve. (TIP: Look for options that cook at similar temperatures.) Or, get a caterer to provide the main course.
Be ruthless with leftovers: toss creamy dips or seafood that sits out all evening.
Keep paper towels, club soda and stain remover handy in a basket. Blotting club soda, white wine or salt on a red wine stain will get the mark out, but only if it’s applied pronto.
Don’t overlook the bathroom when you’re planning a party, since almost everyone will be using it at some point during the evening.
Pile rolls of toilet paper into a wicker basket so no one is forced to look through your cupboards for extra rolls.
Fill a soap dispenser with a liquid cleanser in a delightful scent—communal bar soap is icky
Leave several hand towels on the countertop or buy disposable guest towels.
Clear your medicine cabinet of any embarrassing remnants of that fungal infection you had in 1998. Presume that someone will be peeking—c’mon, it’s human nature!