By Mike Thayer
Throwing a party can be stressful and no, I'm not talking about the impromptu kind of party where you have some buddies over to watch the big game and all you have to do is have cold beer in the fridge and a few bags of chips on hand. I'm talking about a planned out party, to include a food menu, a drink menu, a variety of guests, perhaps some party favors and a bit of decoration.
The first thought when planning your party should be about the aftermath...... Who wants to wash dishes? NOBODY. For a casual party keep it simple! Buy some inexpensive plastic or paper plates and cups. You can pick up something a bit more festive than plain 'ol white paper plates at Dollar Tree, various packages of 8-12 plates for just $1 a package. Check out their party isle! They've got just about any party need and decor covered, plates, napkins, tablecloths, plasticware, cups, shot glasses, serving trays, serving spoons, you name it.
The second thought is the menu. Jot down menu ideas whether it's simply on a piece of paper or on a white board in the kitchen. Everything else for the party hinges on what YOU plan to serve. When inviting guests, ask them to bring a side dish or a dessert and BYOB for drinks. This cuts down on your meal prep, adds to the food menu and cuts down on your booze expense. You supply the main dish, the meat for example, let's say, burgers and brats for that casual party. Guests will provide a wealth of chips, salads (lettuce, pasta, potato), hot potato dishes, bean dishes and more to compliment the main dish. Most party guests will let you know what they're bringing. There will be desserts to enjoy as well, and desserts go with everything! When it comes to drinks, have some water and a couple of 2 liter bottles of soda handy. I typically purchase a case of bottled water, some Sprite and Coke. Many guests will bring a bottle of wine to open up and share which is always fun and conversational. If you have a bar, open it up to your guests, having beer, wine and spirits on hand for any special requests. This can be quite fun too, having guests try an adult beverage they've never tried before. People will respond to, "Come here, I want to give you a shot of something....." A tip jar on the side to cover bar expenses is optional.
Take the lay out of your buffet line seriously. It can't be hap hazard, burgers on one end and buns way over on the other.... Lay it out in an organized fashion, imagining how you would fill your plate as you set it up..... Pick up the plate, napkin, plastic ware, then condiments, meats, sides and so on, consider the possible warming trays, platters, bowls and even a crock pot or two guests might bring (Can you say, "Baked Beans with huge chunks of bacon?" It's another dose of YUM!). Provide a power cord or outlet option. Make it so a line of people have room and won't be bumping into each other, cutting through, excuse me, sorry, pardon me.....
Provide an appetizer for guests to snack on until the bulk of the guests arrive or in case your main entree isn't coming along as timely as you had planned. Keep it simple. A few small bowls of Pub Mix (Costco $6), pretzels, nuts, etc., dispersed in key places in the party area will go a long way towards keeping folks satisfied - especially those early arrivals - until the buffet line is open.
When it comes to entertainment, it depends on the crowd and if there's a theme to the party. It could be playing cards or board games on the coffee table; work friends just chilling out to binge watching the latest trendy program or a run of sitcoms; or good old fashioned soft music and conversation. For a little fun I always like to post a trivia question somewhere and the first person to answer the question correctly gets $1. At my latest party, I put a bag of ice in an ice chest for drinks (don't forget ice for the party!), and on top of the ice chest was an impromptu sign that read:
Name the rock band for this late 70's era hit and win $1
Play it up, use your imagination, maybe the prize will be different for your party. And themes for parties are always fun. Themes can be in the food, Asian cuisine, Mexican cuisine, Mediterranean.... Or themes can be in the entertainment. Think like as for having a watch party for a big game on TV. Guys and gals (whether bona fide fans or gals just supporting their guys) typically wear sports jerseys and some even 'sport' face makeup in their favorite team's colors (see what I did there with, 'sport'.....) to watch that big game. If watching a movie, let's say something Marvel, why not 'sport' Marvel apparel? Somebody might just show up in an Iron Man mask.....
As the host of the party, you'll want to have an assortment of aluminum pans and disposable plastic storage containers on hand. The aluminum pans are for serving up the meats or whatever main dish you planned, possibly using those pans to transport the meats/main dish if grilling. These are fantastic because there is no clean up involved, throw them away when done and they're cheap. Get a package of two or four (depending on size) for just $1 at Dollar Tree. And for when guests would like to take some tasty leftover treats from the party home with them, a small stack of Ziplock or other brand of plastic storage containers/bowls, a.k.a. Tupperware comes in rather handy. I love it when guests take some food home with them, that means the food was good and party guests are leaving with a party 'favor' of sorts and a smile. Party success! If any food remains after that, bonus for the host.
A few little things that sometimes get overlooked when putting together a party are having enough serving spoons ($1 at Dollar Tree), condiments, toothpicks, seating and a trash can on hand. When guests bring those fantastic side dishes to the party, sometimes they forget the spoon to serve it up with. That's where you as host, come to the rescue with a serving spoon or a set of tongs (89¢ at Walmart). When it comes to condiments, this depends on what's being served, but I like to buy small bottles of ketchup, mustard, pickles, mayo, whatever for the party. They're fresh, smaller bottles that take up less space which is important because you'll want to keep them in a small tray of ice on the buffet table for the duration of the party. An assortment of toothpicks and appetizer/cocktail picks come in handy as well for grabbing those pickles, olives, etc., and perhaps serving up a mixed drink requiring an olive to two. Seating can sometimes be an afterthought. Sure, you've got the couch, loveseat, maybe a Lazyboy (your chair...) and maybe some folding chairs. But what if your party grows to 15 - 20 people? Dining table chairs will suffice if they're not in use for playing cards, but don't be afraid to say, "Bring a chair." Just about everybody these days has some kind of sporting/folding chair. For parties growing in number beyond that, then it becomes a standing around, rubbing elbows party. And then perhaps the most overlooked need for a party, is a strategically placed trash can. While putting it in the middle of the room would be the easiest to find, the "Hey, here I am so don't just leave your frick'n dirty plate on the coffee table!"..... It would be a bit unsightly. Find a spot that's out-of-the-traffic-path, yet easy to find, like say, on the way to or next to the bar.
Here's my checklist for getting started on putting a party together:
List of supplies for a casual party
- Table cloth(s)
- Plastic or paper plates
- Complimentary soda
- Ice, don't forget the bag of ice!
- Condiments and a tray of ice to hold them in
- Power cord/extension cord, or outlet access for a crock pot or two
- Aluminum pans
- Serving spoons & tongs
- Toothpicks, appetizer/cocktail picks (for picking up small appetizers, mixed drink use or after meal use)
- Tupperware for guests (the 'party bag', taking home tasty treats!) Tip: Repurposed Deli Meat containers work great for this.
- Seating (do you have enough?)
- Trash can access
- Charcoal (if grilling)
You can have a great party without having to spend a lot to make it so. Besides, it's the people that make the party! Most of the above list that you don't already have on hand can be purchased at Dollar Tree and/or Walmart for a sum total of about $30 tops. The bulk of your party cost is going to be in creating the main course and then there's the optional alcohol if you decide to do that. I recently bought brats, ground meats for burgers, a pork shoulder for pulled pork and the buns and cheeses to go with it all for around $65, so my total expenditure for a casual grilling themed party was less than $100, the cost of some adult beverages not included..... "Come here, I've got a shot of something for you....."
$pend Wisely My Friends.....