Unfortunately, you might not really know what to do with it all.
When it comes to entertaining, have you done much more than order a pizza and open a bottle of wine? Are your friends and relatives fishing for invitations to your new place with ever-increasing frequency? If you’ve answered “yes,” then the idea of hosting your first official social gathering as a married couple might be about as appealing as getting a bikini wax after childbirth. But party planners reassure that planning a successful soiree doesn’t have to be that painful. The key, they emphasize, is exercising a little forethought and keeping everything as simple as possible.
“The whole point of inviting people over is to have fun, not to be uptight and freaked out about it,” stresses Timothy Yanko of TGY Parties and Special Events in Cleveland.
Every good party, of course, begins with a guest list. Yanko recommends inviting only “good friends who aren’t going to be critiquing you” to your first effort at hosting. “You don’t want to put pressure on yourself,” he says. He also suggests limiting the number of guests to 20 for a cocktail party and six to eight for dinner — if, that is, you have the room and the budget to do so.
Sherri Foxman of Party 411 in Warrensville Heights points out that hosts must evaluate whether they have the space to accommodate a given number of people, whether they’re standing and chatting during a cocktail party or sitting down for dinner, before issuing any invitations. Traffic patterns through the living/dining areas, placement of food and beverage spreads, even closet space for coats, must all be evaluated. Those living in smaller spaces might want to consider having an open house. “When it gets really crowded,” she says, “the people who are uncomfortable will move on.”
Both Foxman and Yanko advise novices to keep their first social affair a casual one, from the dishes to the dress to the food. Yanko favors serving meals family style, while Foxman prefers a buffet. Serving a multi-course plated meal, Foxman explains, keeps the host in the kitchen while guests are at the table. “You start to feel like you’re neglecting your company,” she says. “It’s a stressful situation if you’re not used to it.” She adds that cocktail parties are better suited for finger foods than anything that requires flatware and multiple napkins to eat. Planning a gathering around an event such as a Super Bowl or Oscar telecast helps reduce the pressure of keeping everyone entertained. The same goes for throwing a theme party, such as a Hawaiian luau or Mexican fiesta, when it comes to selecting the menu, music and decorations.
“You still have to consider the people who don’t eat red meat, the people who are vegetarians, the people who don’t eat carbs,” she amends. “People are following so many different diet plans that you want a little bit of everything so that you make everyone happy.”
Yanko suggests a cookout, a fun occasion that lures both the kitchen-shy husband and guests into food preparation. A menu of grilled steak or chicken, salad and baked potatoes is virtually goof-proof. Side dishes such as roasted corn or grilled vegetables — Yanko recommends a mix of peppers, summer squash, zucchini and carrots — gets the cook out of the kitchen and limits the number of pots and pans needed.
“I don’t think you should be trying to do a hollandaise sauce, a filet in a puff pastry or a soufflé unless you’re really into cooking,” he advises.
In fact, Yanko says one of the biggest mistakes people make when entertaining is attempting to whip up a gastronomical feast when they don’t have the experience to do so. Even seasoned cooks should stick with a menu they’re comfortable making. Performing Herculean feats in the kitchen, he adds, isn’t necessary in an age when so many tasty prepared foods are available at the local supermarket.
According to Foxman, the stigma associated with serving such items is a thing of the past. “It’s all in the presentation,” she says sagely. “If you do the Martha Stewart thing, then no one’s the wiser.” Both she and Yanko advocate laying out a selection of cheeses, crackers, spreads, crudités and dips instead of slaving over trays of hot hors d’oeuvres (“They’re time-consuming and take you away from your guests,” Yanko warns) and ordering a delicious torte from your favorite bakery for dessert. Whether you’re making everything from scratch or picking up the entire spread from a gourmet grocery or restaurant, Yanko says there’s only one rule: “Don’t serve something you’ve never tried before!”
Another mistake first-time hosts often make is waiting until the last minute to do everything. Yanko recommends doing as much cleaning, shopping, cooking, etc., as possible ahead of time so those last hours before the party don’t become a nightmarish race against the clock. (Scheduling an event on your day off means you won’t have to worry about working late or getting stuck in traffic.) Foxman says to-do lists can be found on her company’s Web site, www.party411.com.
“People don’t make a list, and all of a sudden they have no ice, or they’re sending people out to get more pop,” Foxman says. “You need to be organized. If you’re not organized, you’re going to forget some major thing.”