RESIDE: MEL’S GUIDE ON ENTERTAINING AT HOME
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Rachel Mueller-Lust - Event Planner
Entertaining at home can be a daunting task, especially for new homeowners. But, you’d be surprised to know how simple throwing a bash at home can become once you find a groove with the basics. To sweeten the deal, inviting your friends and family over usually proves more economical and a whole lot more fun and meaningful. What’s better than making your best memories with your favourite people right at home? To create the ultimate starter guide, I consulted with my friend, writer and design professional, Melanie Schwapp. So grab your checklists, maybe a glass of wine and let’s get started!
Establish The Basics
Organization is key to make hosting a breeze. There are six questions to answer to get started: What is the date? How many guests will be there? What is the location? What type of party will it be? What is your budget? Will there be music or entertainment? Sending invitations is not necessary for informal parties. A simple telephone call several weeks in advance is sufficient. For formal affairs, invitations can be sent out three to four weeks in advance, or even earlier for very important events. Be sure to include an RSVP and don't hesitate to call people for responses -- not knowing how to calculate quantities for an event is a sure cause of nervousness.
Curate Your Guest list
It could be a group of people you like; (or if it is a, small, intimate function, make sure the guests like each other - a tense atmosphere will spoil the mood of any event). It may be family, or even professionals you need to entertain. Be strict about the size that fits your space and try to find an idiosyncratic mix of people who would make an interesting ensemble.
Choose A Specific Location
Evaluate your space like a critic – do you have a small oven or single bathroom? -- and don't exceed the space and equipment you have. If guests will be standing, the average-sized room can generally accommodate 30 people, a three-room expansive, about 60. For any form of buffet, you must provide seating. Consider renting a place or equipment if your home isn't equipped to handle the party you want. A greenhouse or museum gallery could provide an interesting edge to your party.
Consider The Great Outdoors
With festive outdoor lighting, parties can last long after the sun has set. Outdoor lighting can be both functional and festive, whether, you're highlighting a focal point in the garden, defining a pathway, or setting a table with votives, lights will help you navigate the darkness and create a little romance outside. One week before your party, plan the table decorations and hang any festive details like flags or garlands. A few days before the event, buy the menu ingredients, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and extra charcoal for the grill. To make the event less hectic, consider preparing salads and desserts on the day before the party. An event out of the ordinary is always a great idea – why not use large blankets and cushions on the lawn and allow guests to sit picnic style or around low tables Mediterranean style? These events are always a fab way to appreciate a full moon or cooler temperatures.
Budget Budget Budget
Consider liquor, food, rentals, service, music or entertainment and flowers or decorations to establish your initial budget. Think drinks first, as alcohol can be a major expense. Don't feel as though you need to be as well stocked as a restaurant; consider serving a signature drink; and be inventive with your food choices to limit costs. Signature drinks can be a very cost-effective touch, as you can use fruits from the garden or the market (june plums, otahiti apples, guava) to make juices for sangrias or cocktails, thus ‘stretching’ the alcohol. The beauty of sangrias is that they taste so much better when made from the day before, cutting out prep time on the day of your event.
Your décor does not have to be expensive – again, use what you have in your garden. Get creative with coconuts, banana leaves, cocoa leaves, palm fronds, driftwood and wine bottles. I love to incorporate our Jamaican heritage in my décor, using small antique pieces like old coal irons or Gene Pearson masks to display flowers. Throughout the year i collect our coffee bean crocus bags and use them to display napkins and cutlery rather than the traditional napkin rings. Nowadays, I find that the simpler the décor, built around texture and creativity, the better.
Make a playlist
Music can make or break a party, but doesn't have to be complicated at all. Match your selection to your budget and style. For simpler affairs, it is generally there for background support. Hook your iPod up to speakers and create a specific playlist. For more theatrical parties, consider live music. Student musicians are a good source for quality and affordable entertainment. If it is for dancing, choices range from a rented jukebox to a hired disk jockey, through neighborhood rock groups or an expensive and established swing band. One of my favourites is a mento band, especially at Christmastime (available through the Jamaican Ministry of Culture). They provide quite a nostalgic and energetic touch as guests enter your event. I rarely book them for more than an hour, allowing them to set a spirited tone before switching to recorded music.
Plan Your Menu
Based on the amount of guests you will be having, plan your menu. Make sure you research that your guests have no food allergies or vegetarian preferences before you plan what you will serve. If it is a large group of guests, then realistically assess if you can prepare all the food on your own or if you need to have a few dishes catered. If you are preparing the meal yourself, make sure that most of the prepping is done beforehand so you do not spend all the time in the kitchen. If you’re with an intimate group of friends, enlist help to put the last minute touches like tossing the salad and taking the dishes to the table. Keep your menu set to dishes that you have made before and that you know are delicious. No one wants to face a culinary disaster with a roomful of hungry guests.
Plan Your Bar Location In Close Proximity To The Gathering Area
Nothing cuts a party vibe as when the crowd is distantly split. Try to map out the area for your bar and socializing area so the guests remain in the same vicinity for conversation to flow. Put someone in charge of the bar to ensure that it is stocked with clean glasses, ice and drinks. If you are doing a self-serve bar, make sure these things are easily accessible to your guests. A great idea is to fill a large wash tub with ice and stick bottles or beer, water and sodas within for easy access.
Prepare The Guest Bathroom/Powder Room
Make sure the bathroom is stocked with spare rolls of tissue, hand towels, soap and air freshener. A nice touch is to light scented candles that add to both the ambience and freshness of the much utilized room.
Make Your Home Inviting
After all the cooking and activity throughout the day, the house may be a little stuffy. Light scented candles or spray air freshener through your home to rid of cooking odours. Open windows to allow fresh air to pass through. If you are entertaining indoors, the house may become quite hot with the crowd, so ensure that you have adequate fans and ventilation to relieve the heat.
Be Creative With Party Favours
Depending on the time of year, it’s a nice touch to give guests a little gift as a reminder of the evening or just as a thank you for being great friends. At Christmastime it could be a Jamaican Christmas decoration for their tree, or a packet of ginger cookies. For any other occasion, it could simply be a little note expressing gratitude at something they have done for you or how they gave you joy.
Make Sure Your Guests Do Not Drive Drunk
After a great party, there may be guests who have had too much to drink. Please do not allow them to drive home inebriated. Arrange for someone to drop them home, or call for a taxi.
Most of all, smile and be joyous at the blessing of friends and family, and enjoy yourself as much as your guests will!