Playing The Perfect Host – Top Tips for Organising A Party

An intimate soirée, or a bigger than Ben Hur lavish production, where do you start when planning the perfect party event?

If you are like me, gone are the days of an impromptu bash, everyone bringing a six pack of beer, cask of wine and a packet of chips. Not that there is anything wrong with that. We had some fantastic nights start just that way!

Just recently, my gorgeous husband and I had the pleasure of hosting an engagement party for close friends Paula and Pete. These two lovebirds are from Queensland and Victoria respectively, but met while both living in Sydney. Instead of asking all their guests to come to them (which will happen for the wedding) they chose to throw 3 bashes, one in each state! I love that idea – keep the good times rolling! As they have no family in Sydney we offered our abode as the venue.

It is wonderful to be able to offer a personal touch for such a special time, and secretly I’m a great list maker and love to organise, so I was in my element! So to answer my own question, where DO you start?

Top three questions, where, when and how many?

Firstly numbers are important. They can dictate the venue. In “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” Holly Golightly threw a super soirée in her tiny apartment. It was a tight fit but it felt exciting.

Have you ever been to a gathering where the venue is too big for the amount of guests?

There is just no atmosphere, not that you want it to be claustrophobic, it is a fine line.

Second, when?

What time of year is this fabulous party going to be held? February was our month (Sydney summer) so our roof terrace was perfect. The guest list was for 25, so we decided on a casual gathering, and set times, 4pm to 8pm.

People like direction, the more information you can provide, the better.

On your invitations specify times, dress code and what to or what not to bring. For example, guests feel comfortable knowing to come at 6pm, wear a jacket and tie or a tiara and gloves. If they are to bring a bottle of champagne or wine – you choose and tell them what to buy to compliment the food you are serving, or to come at 8pm in fancy dress and to bring nothing. (if they watch TV you will be sure to receive a box of ‘Cadbury Favourites!).

This is at least easy, and it saves confusion. If you do have a cut off time for your revelry well make it plain, friends can plan for after, and it will give them an idea of catering.

Usually finger food or maybe a light buffet would be served at the time of day our party was happening, which is just what we did.

Always have vegetarian options too. Anti-pasto and cheese platters are tasty options, dips are also easy.

When serving alcohol it is important to provide plenty of nibbles and soft options.

I love big jugs of pink grapefruit and soda water, with fresh mint and slices of lime or there is nothing like adding a luscious raspberry.

The colour is stunning, and makes guests who like a non alcoholic option, (for whatever reason) feel as if they have a lovely cocktail in their hand.

Also serve guests who do opt for a non alcoholic option, their mineral water or whatever they are drinking in a wine glass. Putting it in a tumbler makes them look and feel odd person out.

NEVER pressure anyone to have a drink, if they have chosen not to, this is for their own reasons. And, always be respectful of that, and their decision.

Have plenty of ice, fresh for drinks and bags to fill the laundry or bath tub, to chill drinks.

A great tip is to store ice and drinks in your dishwasher. Load up cans and bottles in the racks and cover with ice. They are chilled and the melted ice drains out below, no mess!

When planning the menu, try to find out if any of your guests have food allergies or intolerances. Coeliacs and nut allergy sufferers have to be very careful, and in extreme cases these can be fatal.

My wonderful pea and broadbean pate was gobbled up in no time!

We also bought a de-boned leg of lamb and cooked it on the BBQ just before guests were due to arrive. The meat was beautifully rested, thinly sliced and placed on a platter.

We served pita bread, hummus, tzatziki, a basil pesto, tomato salsa and a big bowl of fresh rocket.

Everyone could make themselves a personalised delicious wrap.

A beautiful cake for the happy couple to cut was a great finish. Choosing a Tiffany style was a surprise, and the cake was gorgeous, made by a very talented friend.

Friends could savour a slice immediately, served with double cream, or take one home to enjoy. Outsourcing the cake freed up my time for other aspects of catering.

Choose your weakest talent and let someone else take the reins, there is no point in stressing out.

If the party is to be held outside, have plan B.

If there is torrential rain, can you move inside? Is there room for a marquee in the yard?

If the plan is for a completely different location in case of bad weather, state this on the invite and add a contact number so people can call to find out where to go.

We were lucky enough to have one of the most lovely nights, weather wise. Even enjoying fireworks being displayed for Chinese New Year when the sun went down.

Glasses or plastic cups, plates, forks and spoons are on the checklist. Garbage bags too. Decorations and music are important. These add to the ambience of the day or night.

Make sure you provide good quality paper napkins (The big ones from Ikea are great) for finger food, and if outside, a bin for rubbish.

Last but not least, as a host with the most remember to have a good time too! If you have planned ahead and are organised, this will be easy.

Even if you have forgotten something, your guests are you friends, they will be happy just to spend time with you.

That’s the best part!

Jo Bayley, Fashion Editor, The Culture Concept Circle

Recipe for Pea and Broad bean Pate (will keep, covered, in the fridge for up to 2 days).

  • 300g soft goats cheese
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 long green chilli, seeds removed roughly chopped
  • 1 cup of frozen broad beans, blanched, skins removed
  • 1 cup of peas,blanched and drained
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves
  • zest of 1 lemon plus juice of 1/2 lemon
  • toasted sourdough to serve

Place all the ingredients except for the bread in a food processor and whiz until smooth.
Season, then transfer to a serving dish.
Chill overnight.
Serve with toasted sourdough.

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