Have you ever seen the movie or read the book High Fidelity? The main character Rob, your typical 30something man child, constantly makes up Top 5 lists. Top 5 favorite movies, Top 5 Favorite albums, and so on. Now if Rob were a 30something woman, his top 5 lists would be probably consist of something else which got me thinking about some Top 5 lists I could make up for an entry. I've been asking people for ideas on entry topics and an overwhelming majority of my friends have talked about entertaining for cheap. So in the spirit of High Fidelity, I decided that I'd start a series of Top 5 entries about Entertaining.
We'll start with the basics and work our way up as we go along...
5 Food Related Things You need to own:
1. Tri bowl - I registered for this serving dish when we were getting married and have since bought it for 2 other couples who gush over its versatility. Guacamole, sour cream, mini pretzel sticks. Strawberries, grapes, cherries. Honey roasted nuts, M&Ms, Swedish Fish. Baby carrots, tomatoes, celery. Spinach dip, onion dish, salsa. Ok, I could keep going, but you get the idea. This dish comes out for every party and holiday in my home. And the best part, 3 dishes in one means less clutter and less cleaning up.
From Crate and Barrel
2. Chip dip bowl - This is a staple dating back to our parent's generation. Much like the commercial floating around TV right now, I think my mother has 3-5 of them. But as much of a joke as they have become, this is another versatile dish that leads to less clutter and less clean up. Especially if you have boys or children coming, this is a must. And if you look hard enough, you can always find something cute and different so you don't get stuck with your mother's extras.
From Bed Bath and Beyond - $19.99
3. Appetizer Plates - Every time I have a party my mother buys me paper plates, plastic cups, and fancy napkins telling me that it'll lessen my cleanup. Fancy napkins are thick and double as appetizer plates! No they don't. And paper and plastic anything is reserved for a picnic. That being said, appetizer plates are a must. If you're worried about having one more set of dishes to do, think of it this way. They're small (so they can go in the top shelf of your dish washer) and if you don't have a dishwasher, they probably won't get that dirty so cleaning them won't give your arm that much of a workout. PS. Mom, I'll take fancy napkins any day. I have a collection growing that I pull out when I need extra decor for my design theme.
From Crate and Barrel - Set of 12 - $22.95
4. Cocktail Shaker - No longer for James Bond or your grandmother's cocktail party, a shaker is another must! Sure, most people will probably just want beer. But if you invent a signature drink for each party you'll score creativity points.
From Macy's - $14.99
5. Place mats - I know this is a given, but I use them all over my apartment, not just on the dining room table. When you have people over (especially if people plan to get drunk or there are children or elderly or clumsy or anyone in my family around) things get spilled. And usually it's red wine. I put them down wherever I have food. If they all match then it adds continuity to your party decor. If they don't, as long as they match the room they're placed in and they are not plastic or paper you're good to go. Added bonus: on certain key furniture I leave them out all the time to prevent my rambunctious cats from destroying everything I own with their claws.
From Bed Bath and Beyond - $2.99 each
5 Things to Never forget:
1. Ice - You don't always have to buy ice, depending on the size of your party, but at least make sure your ice cube trays are filled and ready to go. We never use ice on a regular basis, and I can't tell you how many times someone has brought something and wanted ice at a party only to discover that we have none. Worst party hosts ever? Yes, only until I shove my delicious food down their throats and they forgive me.
2. Alcohol - A party without alcohol? This is sacrileges! However, even at a BYOB party, you need to at least buy something. Just because people will usually bring their favorite thing to drink, does not mean you should not have supplements. You should at least start out with a case of beer, one bottle of red wine, one of white, and your crowds favorite liquor. In college we drank Goldschläger and Jägermeister. Now, I always make sure there is a bottle of Captain Morgan, Butterscotch liquor, vodka, and Bailey's around.
3. Toothpicks - If you're serving appetizers or people are eating, why would you not have these around?
4. Club Soda - See #5 of previous list. When things spill, you must be prepared. Plus people can actually drink it too.
5. Introducing people - This is perhaps the trickiest part of being a hostess, but if you have a party where people do not know each other it's rude not to do so. Sometimes it's as simple as "Joe, meet Bob." And sometimes people like to take it one step up, "Joe, meet Bob, he's a musician. Bob, Joe is an artist. You both enjoy Quentin Tarantino films." I generally go around and say names, and then if someone looks lonely I'll drag them into my conversation or pull people into a group if I think they'll have input on the topic or get along. There's really no wrong way to introduce people, as long as you do it and don't walk away leaving anyone stranded.
5 Things that are essential to a successful party
1. A theme - This helps to keep you organized. It doesn't need to be an obvious theme like "Hawaiian Luau" or "Tea time in the Queens Court," anything will do. Let's say the theme is green (the color, not the lifestyle). Now you know what napkins to pull out, candles to light, table cloth to use. White matches, so you can use your white plates. Blue also matches, so you can use those two blue serving dishes you own. Build from there. If you want to be more specific, you could build it around an appetizer party. Have people dress up in cocktail attire, make 10 different finger food appetizers, play some upbeat jazz music, and drink martini's. When you have a starter idea (no matter how big or how small), you give yourself direction and it gives your party a more cohesive and organized feel.
2. Ipod - What is a party without the right music? My father is a musician, so is my husband, my brother, my grandmother, myself, and about 10 of our closest friends. There's a lot of music snobs and I make a mix for each occasion, put it on my Ipod, and let it do it's thing. 6 hours of uninterupted music just means one less thing to worry about. And honestly, there's nothing worse than being mid-conversation and having to run to the CD player to change to the next CD.
3. Food that creates flow - Really this is more about food placement. When you have a small apartment, or not a lot of furniture for people to sit in, you need to create movement so you don't have everyone crowding around one table fighting for the food. I like to place food around my living room, kitchen, and dining room to encourage people to walk around the apartment and check out the different scenery and guests. (This is where those place mats come in handy!)
4. A guest list - No, I don't mean a NYC club complete with scary big bouncer guest list. I mean actually think about who you are inviting to this party. Not only do you not want to forget anyone, but sometimes you probably shouldn't invite people. Think the drama the comes around when two ex's are in the same room; or some parties are totally appropriate to invite every single person you know (BBQ, surprise birthday party, etc.) but other parties you may not want to invite your mom to (Anything but clothes, Sex Toys). Be aware of the kind of people there who will be mixing together, and what each group would like. It makes for more friendly interactions and less awkwardness later on.
5. Clean up before, during, and after - I know this negates a lot of the "entertain simply" rules, but people forget how easy it is to clean.
*Step 1. "Husband, I cooked for 6 hours, can you please sweep/vacuum/pick up the clutter and throw it in our laundry basket. Thanks!" Maybe I'm idealistic because Nick is such a huge help around the house, but I honestly believe that men should be helping with things and not sitting in front of a TV all day. Equal work for equal pay. They want to eat and drink and have a good time, they can do the bare minimum clean up before we start.
*Step 2. As you circulate, if you see something like an empty cup or play or dirty napkin, just pick it up! Leisurely (ie. talk, socialize, etc.) make your way to the kitchen and dispose properly. Rejoin the party. No one said you need to clean the whole time, but doing little things like that when it comes to mind will make your clean up later easier and sometimes if people see you cleaning they may suggest they help. When that happens, I send that guest home with extra leftovers.
By the way, almost all of these points are going to have their own more detailed blog entry. So if you felt jipped, there will be more!