Ideas for the Party Human

Tip 4: Through Their Stomachs

Posted on: October 7, 2009

            Though it doesn’t necessarily make or break the party, food generally plays a very important role in party-throwing.  Even if a party is fun in every other way, the guests will usually be disappointed if the food is scarce or less than tasty.  Actually, many choices and concerns need consideration when you’re making decisions about the food at your party.

            First, decide what type of food you want to have.  Do you want to have snacks, desserts, or are you going for an entire meal?  This should be quite easy to decide. 

            Second, you decide who is going to be responsible for the food.  Are you going to provide it all yourself, or are you going to ask the guests to help?  Either way is perfectly acceptable, but beware of overspending your budget if you’re doing it all yourself.

            Third, you select the specific kind of food you want to have.  The theme you have chosen will help you with this decision.  Consider the whole party carefully when making these choices.  Think about the atmosphere you want to create.  Don’t serve English crumpets at a luau, and don’t serve sloppy joes at a black tie affair.  Is it a swim party?  Have lots of cold stuff to drink, but keep the eats light.  Is it a dinner-dance?  Don’t make the meal too heavy or spicy, and don’t serve food that creates bad breath unless you intend to provide after-dinner breath mints, too.  (Remember that people come face to face with each other when dancing together, and bad breath–real or imagined–inhibits the desire to mingle and dance!)  Is it a caroling or sledding party?  Have warm drinks and hot food.  Try to anticipate what the guests will feel like, so you can “hit the spot.”

            Try to include new and different, creative choices.  This doesn’t mean that you need to be a gourmet–or cook like one–unless you want to.  It just means that you should try not to get into a rut, using the same old party foods.  (Chips, dips and pop does not say a whole lot for your creative genius, now does it?)  If you need help coming up with new food, check special party-type cookbooks out of the library and look through them or search the internet.  Or, use your imagination to fix favorite foods in a new, exciting way. 

            Even old stand-bys can seem novel by displaying them in unique ways.  In fact, setting out your food can be a fun part of the total decorating process.  Let me give you some examples of eyecatching display ideas to get your mind running on the creative track.

            Suppose you’re giving a Mermaid Party.  You could set out refreshments in large seashells, hollowed melons and coconuts, toy treasure chests or boats.  Perhaps you could rent an interesting beverage fountain to go with the theme.  For the endless varieties of Halloween Parties, you could serve food in plastic skulls, mini-coffins, mad scientist beakers or tubes, or hollowed pumpkins.  Dry ice in a cauldron will carbonate your drinks, and also add a spooky atmosphere.  Perhaps you could carve a cheeseball like a jack-o-lantern or use a witch’s hat for a cornucopia.  For a Gypsy Party, maybe you could craft a mini-wagon to hold refreshments, or put them in tambourines or atop colorful scarves.  If you’re giving a “Peanuts” Party for children, display food in a clean dog food dish or mini-doghouse, on a toy piano or in lunchboxes. 

            I hope these four examples will give you an idea of the creativity a good theme can bring out, whether in displaying your refreshments or decorating for the event.  You will find more ideas in the posts to come.

            Now, a few words about asking your guests to bring food . . .  This is an ideal way to make guests feel needed, as well as keeping your budget down.  If people are asked to do something, they usually feel important and wanted.  They will feel responsible and will more likely come to the event.  (This true principle can work in all phases of our lives.)

            When making food assignments, first list all assignments on a piece of paper, then use as a reference when filling out invitations.  This way, you can match the assignments to the guests, giving more complicated recipes to the better cooks and less-expensive items to those on a tight budget. 

            If you’re just having snacks, you can ask them to bring specific things, or you can ask each person to bring his favorite treat.  You should provide the things that are less portable, like punch or ice cream.  It’s also a good idea to have a backup in mind, in case some guests forget.  Something easy, fast and cheap, like popcorn, is best. 

            If you’re having a potluck meal, try not to make the assignments too complicated, unless you’re entertaining a gourmet cooking club!  You might even include a recipe with the invitation, if you feel that would be appreciated.  Always be sure to tell the guest how much of the particular food he should bring.

            If you are providing all the food yourself, take a lot of thought before setting off to the grocery store.  Consider your budget first.  You don’t owe anyone an exotic, expensive meal.  If you’re doing it all to hear praises of your wonderful cooking, you might be disappointed.  Some people just won’t notice all the work you went to.  Besides, that should not be your reason for having a party, anyway.  Food should be a delightful sideline at most parties, with a few exceptions (like the gourmet club above).

            Next, consider the time element.  How busy are you, really?  Be honest with yourself; be practical; be reasonable.  How much time will you truly need?  Are you going to start making things ahead and freezing them?  Do you have a full, uninterrupted day to make it all fresh for the party?  What food do you have to make from scratch, what can you use mixes for, and what can you buy ready-made?  Can you afford to have some or all of it catered?  (Do this only if your time is a very precious commodity.)  Don’t think it all has to be from scratch, unless you’ve really got the time for it.

            Last, consider the amount.  In general, you want to have slightly more than you really think you’ll need.  If you are not sure what you will need, consult cookbooks for how many servings the recipes make.  Read labels to see how many servings are in the box or can.  Assume all the guests are coming, even if some sounded rather iffy.  People can always change their plans at the last minute, and if you really know how to throw a party, many people will do that, just so they won’t miss your shindig.

            When you’re preparing the food, set priorities.  Anticipate which foods will be most popular and make sure you have plenty on hand.  Make the most important items first, leave the “nice-to-haves” for last.  If you get down to the wire and you are not done, don’t sweat it.  You can leave out the minor stuff, and no one need ever know.  This is part of The Flexibility Principle, covered in a later post.

            If you follow the basic guidelines in this section, and give some intelligent thought to your preparation, you will have a party that is made all the more successful by your tasteful array of tempting victuals.

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