Do you spend days cooking, baking, freezing and cleaning and then flap wildly around the kitchen when you should be mingling with your guests?
Do you run chaotically all over town trying to find paper napkins to match your plastic plates, or flowers to fit in with your party decor?
Here is advice gathered from party-planning experts that should help you enjoy your own parties.
Decide the five Ws--the who, what, when, where and why. That is, choose your guest list, type of party, the date, location and purpose of the party. Then decide the H--how much--and figure out your budget.
First the Guest List
Invite as many people as you want, without overriding the space and budget. Figure that 75% of the people you invite will show up. Ask early, two to three weeks in advance. If you give people a month's notice or more, they tend to forget.
It's a good idea to mail invitations rather than make phone calls. Messages left on answering machines are often erased or forgotten, and an invitation makes your gathering sound more important.
You can go to a printer for fancily designed invitations, or simply write or type your party information on a piece of paper and make photocopies. You might cut out an appropriate picture from a magazine and tape it to the page, or have someone you know with artistic talent draw or illustrate a design for your party.
Include the address, an illustrated map, directions and a phone number. Also let guests know the reason for the party and its theme, if it has one.
It's a good idea to have people RSVP so you can get an estimate of who's coming. If people fail to call back, some hosts and hostesses feel it's acceptable to call them one week ahead of time to see if they're coming.
Decide what kind of party you're having--perhaps cocktail, dinner or after dinner--and if it will be in the yard, by the pool, on the patio or in the living room. Be sure to think of a bad-weather alternative if your party will be outdoors. Also decide if your party is for social, business or family reasons, or to honor a special occasion.
To spare your family any inconvenience, you may consider renting a hall. When scouting locations, consider the geographic location and room size, suggests Nancy Maizlish, assistant at Celebrations International. Places can make a party especially memorable; interesting ones include mansions, old homes, art galleries and yachts.
For other good ideas, you might consult "Meeting & Event Planning Guide," a booklet edited and published by Susan Freas, 2811 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 590, Santa Monica, (213) 829-0516, which can be picked up free of charge or sent by mail for $1.50 (to cover postage and handling). The booklet suggests sites, services and suppliers for event organizers.
Use your imagination when deciding on a theme for your event. The familiar themes often focus on a nationality, such as Mexican, Hawaiian or Italian (gondolas in a swimming pool), or an era, such as the Roaring '20s, the '50s or '60s. New ideas include murder mysteries, casino night, country and Western, games (video and/or board games are the central focus). Parties during the holiday season present obvious and easy motifs to follow.
Then combine other party ingredients--the food, decor and entertainment--to create the ambiance you desire. These other components should come easily when you have decided your five Ws.
If budget isn't a problem, party-planning services can handle the job from start to finish or fill in when you run out of time and ideas. Decide what things you need help with.
Options include people to serve the food and clean up; catering services, which cook the food as well as serve and clean up, or party-planning services, which do it all, including site selection, invitations, catering, decorations and entertainment.
Prices range from $20 per hour for a party server to thousands for coordinating everything. Sometimes you can cover the cost of a party specialist's services from the savings they can negotiate for you on sites and suppliers.
"A lot of caterers prefer (to coordinate a party) and can offer entire party-planning services, including flower arrangements, decor, setup and cleanup," says editor Freas.
Food Makes an Event
Many parties are remembered for their food. The hour that food will be served is a factor. People eat more at 5 p.m. cocktail parties, or around mealtime, than they do at 8 or 9 p.m. after-dinner parties.
Food can be served at a regular sit-down meal, from a buffet table or on pass-around trays. Buffet style is often the easiest and most accommodating to guests, because they can eat as much as they want at their leisure and have the most freedom.
If you're doing the cooking, try using items that can be prepared in batches, such as potatoes, rice, pastas. They yield huge quantities at negligible cost and are easy to prepare.