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Monday, November 11, 2013

Holiday Party Planning - Part 1

I can't believe its already November!  The holidays are coming up quick and what better time of year to entertain?  But holiday party planning can be stressful.  Follow my week-long series on holiday party planning for some great tips and tricks.

When to DIY a party and when to hire professionals (planner, caterer, etc.)
Some people like getting crafty, have a good eye for coordinating colors and patterns and have the time to incorporate some DIY into their holiday party.  If you enjoy doing it yourself, then there are a few DIY party projects that I suggest considering investing your time on, others, are better left to professionals.

·      Tablescapes and Decor- For a small dinner party, a little goes a long way when decorating the dining table. Easily make your own, no-sew, table linen in a wide variety of fabrics, by buying fabric by the yard at your local hobby store and using a stich-witch type product as a double-sided tape, to hem the edges.  If you do plan on investing in a luxurious tablecloth, choose a neutral colored linen that you may be able to re-use in other seasons. When choosing your table centerpiece, keep in mind the size of your table, number of guests per table and how many plates, glasses, silverware and food dishes you will need to fit on the table.  Round tables look best with one large centerpiece, or a clump of a few small centerpieces in the center of the table.  If you are seating people at long banquet tables, place small décor items such as votive candles and small bouquets all the way down the center of the table atop a long table runner.  Wooden farm tables are trendy right now either left uncovered or with just a table runner.  Your guests will want to see and talk with other people across the table, so remember to keep centerpieces, at all tables, low enough to see over, or tall enough to see through/below.  Pick a color scheme and stick with it.  Obviously red and green are universal Christmas colors, for example, but explore more unique color combos, such as red and teal for a modern winter twist or forest green, white and silver for a woodsy, elegant theme.  DIY simple arrangements such as a hurricane glass filled with pinecones or colorful, round ornaments.

For larger events- If you will have several round tables, vary two or three different centerpieces with the same all-around theme or color scheme.  It is usually more economical to rent linens from a local party rental company, if you have several tables, and they will have a large variety of colors, fabrics and patterns to choose from.  While you are in their showroom, check out what they have to offer in the way of table décor options.  Often, they can rent to you lanterns, vases, chargers and other small items to add to what you already have or plan to purchase.  If you plan on making your own arrangements for all of the tables, make sure that you do a mock-up centerpiece ahead of time, obviously to make sure that it looks alright, but also to be sure that you have all of the right materials and to gauge how long it will take you to put all of them together.  I would suggest leaving fresh floral arrangements to a professional.  Not only will a florist have a great eye but they can also offer their expertise in what flowers are going to be in season and they may receive wholesale purchasing benefits to offer you savings on materials, versus just buying whatever your grocer has to offer that particular day.

·      Food- If you enjoy cooking, and consider yourself to be fairly good at it, you may choose to make the meal yourself.  Prepare as much as you can ahead of time so that when your guests arrive, you can be a proper hostess.  Consider time savers such as purchasing store-made appetizers that all you will have to do is plate and garnish.  Keep in mind that it is not necessarily improper etiquette to ask each guest to bring a dish to share, such as a side or a dessert.  Many people like contributing and having an excuse to share a favorite recipe with their friends and family.  Whenever possible though, organize who will bring what type of dish ahead of time, so that you don’t end up with 10 dishes of green-bean casserole.  Like the idea of hosting a dinner party at home but don’t have the time or skills to cook the meal?  The trend of hiring a personal chef for your event may appeal to you.  They will meet with you in advance to discuss a customized menu that may include specific dietary options, such as gluten restrictions or food allergies. They will show up early to your party, cook in your kitchen and may even do the dishes!

I discourage trying to cook yourself,for parties over 20 guests. iI is just too time-intensive and stressful.  If you are not having a potluck, you will need to decide on whether to contract drop-off catering or full-service catering.  For shorter, more informal events, you may wish to partner with a favorite, local barbecue restaurant,etc who will bring the menu items in disposable pans to put out on a table that you will provide and your guests will be responsible for serving themselves.  You must budget for disposable plates, napkins, utensils and servingware.  You will also need to figure out how you will provide drinks (being careful to keep any self-serve, alcoholic drinks away from anyone underage.)  Food will only stay warm in a disposable pan for up to 1 hour, so if any of your guests come later on in the party, they may be eating cold food.  Although an added expense, hiring waitstaff and bartenders for your event could ensure that service for your guests is top-notch. A good caterer will help you coordinate all of your needed rental items, such as plates, glasses, linens, tables, chafing dishes and chairs.  Waitstaff can help answer questions from guests as they serve them, regarding what ingredients are in the dish, etc.  Hiring licensed bartenders may be imperative to making sure that under-age guests are not served alcohol and that overall consumption stays at an appropriate level.  Finally, your caterer may be happy to lend a helping hand to set up and decorate for your event, placing linens on tables, setting out all place settings, lighting candles and folding your napkins into cute little swans.  If you are renting out a ballroom or other venue, you may be required to hire an approved caterer who has proven to run successful events and will be trusted to clean up the room and kitchen according to the venue’s standards.  Do it yourself and you may run the risk of losing big bucks in a cleaning or damage deposit if you don’t return the venue in the condition that it was rented to you.

·      Professional Party Planner- I highly recommend hiring a party planner for any size party.  Many think of this service as an additional expense but when you calculate the number of hours saved in researching vendors, planning menus, meeting for contract signings and walkthroughs, making checklists, and finalizing payments, this service can prove invaluable.  A professional planner has worked with many venues, caterers, photographers, musicians, bakeries, and they know who is dependable, reputable and good.  No hostess needs the headache of finding out that their vendor has gone out of business the week before their event or has double booked.  A bonus- sometimes vendors offer special discounts or incentives for those events booked with a professional planner, because they look forward to working a well-organized event and of course, appreciate additional referrals.  After all of your hard work, you should be able to enjoy your party with your guests, not worry about getting food out on time, cueing music, cutting and serving desserts and all of the dreaded cleanup at the end of the night!

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