Entertaining: Planning a Party
Room for everyone
If you’re catering for large numbers at home or in a hall, you will need to allow a space 1.2m x 1.2m (4ft x 4ft) per person. When placing guests around a large table, leave elbow room of about 760mm (2-1/2ft) between settings.
The smaller the party, the more careful you need to be in choosing your guests. Two visitors with strong – and differing – opinions could ruin a small dinner party, for example. Guests need not know each other, but should have something in common. Try to shake the mixture up a bit, however, or the evening could be dull – if everyone is from the same profession or background, shop talk may take over and spoil the party atmosphere.
Balancing men and women
Don’t feel you have to invite the same number of men and women, even if it’s a small dinner party. Single guests often appreciate thoughtful introductions, but obvious matchmaking can be embarrassing.
Preparing in advance
Draw up a list
Always make a detailed check-list before you start planning a party, or you may forget something vital. Divide the tasks up so that you spread the load over weeks or days, and use the list as a countdown schedule, ticking off every task as it’s completed. Your list could include: arranging to borrow or hire equipment, ordering food and wine, guest list, menu planner, shopping list.
Deciding on a menu
Flip through recipe books to get new ideas, then test them out on the family well before the party day, so that you’re familiar with the recipes. Don’t be too ambitious; cook dishes you know you can do well even if they are plain, rather than experimenting with fancy new recipes that may go wrong.
Avoid last-minute cooking
For any type of entertaining, it’s best to avoid dishes which need attention just before serving, or you’ll have to disappear into the kitchen and abandon your guests. If you choose a hot dish, make sure it’s one that won’t spoil if left to keep warm. Cold starters, cold puddings and cheese make entertaining easier, as they’re ready whenever you need them.
Shopping for a party
Once you’ve decided what to cook, you can make a detailed shopping list. Buy any non-perishable items ahead of time to spread the cost and the workload.
Consider the amount of time and work involved in what you’re planning to do. If necessary, ask a few friends to help, or consider hiring caterers. With careful planning, an experienced party-giver with plenty of time and a well-equipped kitchen may be able to cater for as many as 25-30 people – but others might find 10-12 guests more reasonable.
Once you’ve decided on the guest list and the menu, check on the equipment you’ll need. Few ordinary kitchens are equipped to cater for large numbers, so you may need to borrow or hire cooking pots and serving dishes.
Cooking in advance
Catering is much less trouble if you cook as many dishes as possible before the day, and then store them in the fridge or the freezer until needed. If you’re short of fridge or freezer space, ask neighbours if they can help.
A map for guests
Make sure all guests have directions to your house, or to the party venue. Send a simple map with the invitation if the place is unfamiliar, and hang balloons on the door or a lantern at the gate to illuminate the house number.
What if it’s wet?
Always check the weather forecast the day before a party, and see that there’s a place to leave coats, umbrellas and boots, if necessary. If you’re planning a barbecue, make sure there are covered cooking and eating areas in case it raining.