It's party season, so let's get ready! I love having people over, an option that makes increasing sense as we all whittle down our entertainment budgets and try to stay close to home.
Maybe you're thinking, "How does that save costs if I'm providing food and drink for all my boozing friends?" Or maybe you're thinking, "The last time I threw a party, I got stuck in the kitchen" or "I had to run to the liquor store in the middle, while everyone else relaxed." If you avoid hosting parties because you don't want to be the cook or bartender all night, here's how to throw a party while still having a good time.
EASY - The Dinner Party
1. Choose an entree that you can make ahead of time and either leave in the oven or on the stove simmering. Simmering pot dishes are good because they'll be hot no matter what time you serve them or what time latecomers arrive. This frees you from having to stay in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on a sautee or a meatloaf, while your guests are arriving and mingling without you.
Anything you can put in a crock pot is perfect. Inexpensive options are thick stews or soups that you can load up with beans and vegetables and only a little meat, if any. Don't forget how filling split pea or a bean soup can be.
2. Serve buffet style. No waitressing for you and it also relieves you of having to wait until everyone arrives before you sit down and serve. In fact, I've never hosted a sit-down, plated meal because my friends arrive at all times and I never know exactly how many will show. People are often shy about being the first one at a buffet table, so go and serve yourself first to get everyone eating.
3. Have an assistant. Ask someone to help you answer the door, greet and take coats. Of course you'll be doing this too, but you'll enjoy your party more if someone else helps. Sometimes you'll already be getting someone a drink when the buzzer goes off again, or you might be deep in conversation, etc.
4. This one might be controversial but I do it: if a guest arrives with a contribution to the meal that requires some preparation, let them do it. When a friend handed me a couple of baskets of fresh strawberries, straight from the supermarket, I handed them right back and said, "Thank you. Do you mind washing them and putting them in a bowl? I'll get you a bowl." Otherwise you can end up stuck in the kitchen washing produce, opening containers and cutting up the extra food people have brought. That's lost party-time.
5. Stick to wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages. Set wine bottles out with cups and bottle openers, tell them the beer's in the fridge and let them have at it. Always encourage guests to bring something to drink because most people will do it and that decreases your chances of running out.
6. Clean-up: sometimes if you start picking things up before people leave, someone will step in and help you. That's the best. But even if no one does, make things easy by using disposable tableware and asking if anyone wants to take anything home. You might say, "Hey, Jackie, do you want to take some brownies?" or "Kenn, you really liked these potatoes. Can I pack them up for you?" Have aluminum foil ready and some plastic containers you don't need. If you play it right, you'll have nothing to put away but some chips and cookies (but keep unopened bottles for your next party). This also gets people moving if you're ready for them to leave, but they aren't budging.
EASIER - The Potluck
These days everyone understands why one person wouldn't want to foot the whole bill to feed a large group. Call it a potluck, follow some steps and people will be happy to pitch in. Fifteen years ago I threw a potluck for which I made a pot of beans, a pot of rice and bought some tortillas. I figured my guests would fill in with extras and was very disappointed and embarrassed when they mostly showed up empty-handed. We had a humble meal and I learned a big lesson.
1. Get potluck commitments from everyone. Invitation websites like Evite and Punchbowl will let you specify what you want guests to bring and lets them sign up for each item. If you don't use a website, when each guest says they're coming just say, "Great. Right now it's wide open so you could bring a side dish, dessert or something to drink." Get them to pick one and say they'll bring it.
2. Provide the main course. This keeps you from waiting on someone to arrive before you can start eating. If the mashed potatoes are an hour late, so be it. You can enjoy the entree and whatever else is there until they arrive.
3. As it gets closer to the date you can say things like, "Pretty much everything's covered, but I could use one more dessert." You know what your friends like. Assign to each person their favorite party food/beverage and they will not mind making sure it's there.
4. Another way to assign items, is to ask people who tend to run late to bring desserts and extra drinks, while asking your more prompt friends to bring appetizers and side dishes. If everyone's unpredictable, provide a core meal (main dish and one side) and add other things as they arrive.
5. Do not feel bad about asking your guests to bring things. You are offering them a chance to enjoy your home, relax with great people and spend a fraction of what they would at a restaurant, bar, theater, etc. Anyone who's not into it can just RSVP no.
6. Serve buffet style, etc. as described above.
EASIEST - The Snack Party
There was a time when I was on the tightest shoestring budget possible, but I refused to let that stop the Regina Party Machine. This is what I did.
1. Find a focus that isn't food. I love card game nights, but it could also be movie night, football night, charades, whatever.
2. Ask people to bring their favorite snack foods. Make sure they know you're not providing a meal (at least I had to because everyone was used to me cooking). Chances are, if everyone's bringing soda or chips or a pizza or cookies, you'll end up with PLENTY. I was also up front and told them I just couldn't afford to provide a main course this time and absolutely no one minded.
3. Put out napkins and sit down and enjoy the evening's activity.
Hosting friends in your home is a generous and gratifying way to socialize. You'll be surprised by how many people will thank you, even if you did nothing but open the door and point to the place they could put their items. Please do not let a little effort stop you from hosting people. Remember how great it was when you were a kid and you had friends come over to play at your house? Do it again!