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Entertaining Q&A

Party planning just got a little bit easier.

How can we have fun at our own party while doing all the hosting duties?
To keep from feeling like the wait staff at your own bash, don’t take it upon yourselves to mix martinis and keep everybody’s wine glasses full. Set up a self-service bar in a central area and direct all of your guests to help themselves as soon as they arrive. Although you’ll have to keep an eye on it and do things like refill ice and bring out more club soda throughout the evening, your guests will mostly do the bartending work for you. As for food, fill a large central table with room-temperature appetizers. “Stay away from any hot food if you don’t have help,” says event planner Andrea Correale of New York’s Elegant Affairs. “Instead, lay out beautiful platters of antipasti, cheese, and sushi that can sit out for the duration of the party.” All you’ll need to do is take away trays once they’re empty and pick up discarded cocktail napkins. Another way to be a happy host: Divide and conquer. If one of you is in charge of, say, the bar and the music, and the other is in charge of the food and mid-party cleanup, you can limit the scope of what you each have to stress about.

When should I send out invitations to a party -- how early is too early?
“Three weeks is a good lead time, maybe four weeks at most,” says event planner Andrea Correale of New York’s Elegant Affairs. That allows you enough time to get on people’s calendars before they make other plans, but if you send them any earlier than a month away, you take a risk that your guests could forget about your event entirely. If you invite early, it’s a good idea to follow up with an email reminder about a week before the party to get last-minute RSVPs and make sure that none of your early responders have forgotten.

What should we do to dress up our place for a party?
Making your home feel festive shouldn’t mean hitting a party store and tricking out your living room like it’s Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras. In fact, when it comes to creating a sexy party atmosphere, less is more. You’ve heard this before, but it’s worth repeating: Soft lighting is essential. “Dim the lights and use lots and lots of candles,” says event planner Andrea Correale of New York’s Elegant Affairs. “Candles really do a lot in creating ambience.” Beyond that, fresh flowers are the only party decor you need. Place bouquets at the entryway and on food tables, and scatter bud vases on the side tables and mantle. Correale recommends you stick to a single color and variety of flower. “Monobotanical bouquets have a more sophisticated, ‘professional florist’ effect,” she says. To give the look of your party a little more visual punch, create a subtle color scheme. If your flowers are deep red dahlias, for example, echo their hue with scarlet cocktail napkins, pomegranate martinis, and red velvet cupcakes. Repeating a hue throughout the room will make things look elegant without a much effort.

Party guests always wind up in the kitchen! How can we keep them out of there?
Simple: Put the bar as far away from the kitchen as you can. “This is a very basic tip that I have to explain every day,” says event planner Andrea Correale of New York’s Elegant Affairs. “People will always gather at the bar, so put it in a spot that won’t create bottle-necking.” Never set up the bar in the kitchen, right at the front door, or in a tight space. Another trick for preventing a traffic jam in one part of your pad: Put the food and the drink on opposite sides of the space so people are forced to move around if they want to hit both.

Good party flow can also get clogged when a guest (usually a sports fan) makes the unilateral decision to turn on the television. To prevent this, you can always unplug the cable box or hide the remotes preparty (although your guests could probably figure out how to turn the tube on anyway, they’ll hopefully take the hint). Or place the television in a bedroom and direct die-hard sports addicts in there. Although a few might peel off from the party to watch, they won’t linger for too long if they’re cut off from food, drink, and the rest of the crowd.

Some of our friends don’t get along that well -- can we invite them to the same party or is that asking for trouble?
You should absolutely invite them all. Whether or not they get along isn’t your problem, and you shouldn’t let their issues prevent you from being able to celebrate with all your friends. If there’s true animosity between two specific people, it’d be wise to warn each friend that the other is invited -- this gives them both the chance to decline your invitation if they simply can’t handle being in the same room. Plus, if they choose to attend regardless, they’ll be prepared and less likely to behave badly than if their enemy’s presence caught them by surprise. And if they all choose to attend, don’t give it space on your list of things to worry about. Honestly, the little undercurrent of drama will probably make the party more interesting for all in attendance.


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