December 2007

A Tale of Two Parties

Author: Linda Hopkins

Celebrate New Year’s Eve Home-style

What are you doing New Year’s Eve? You could head to a fancy restaurant, toot your noisemaker at a club, or… celebrate at home. To ring in 2008 at home, consider the following party scenarios:

Over the Top
If you’re ready to throw a big bash and money is no object, go ahead and invite the whole town.

Key ingredients:
An eclectic mix of guests (Be sure to include your neighbors to avoid complaints about noise or parking.)
Lavish decorations
Decadent food
Free-flowing spirits
Lively dance music
Imaginative entertainment
Plenty of outside help

You can make your party as elegant and formal or as laid back and casual as you like. Give guests some direction on how to dress—it can be anything from black-tie to a pajama party—and set the scene to reflect the ambiance you prefer. Or juxtapose the two: Ask your guests to come in jeans or casual wear. Then break out your finest linens, china, crystal and silverware. Serve rich, elegant food such as whole tenderloins, salmon, caviar, top-shelf liquor and, of course, the very best champagne. A champagne fountain makes a glamorous and functional centerpiece.

For a large crowd, you will probably want to serve buffet-style. But spread the party out, placing food and drink stations in more than one location. This not only helps relieve traffic congestion but also forces guests to mix, mingle and move. In addition, consider having servers pass hors d’oeuvres or drinks on trays.

If you really want to enjoy your own party, your best bet is to hire a party planner or catering service to handle the whole shebang, including food, furniture, tableware, flowers, decorations, serving pieces, silverware, other rentals, bartenders, servers and the all-important clean-up crew. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, you will still need help. Communicate with your hired professionals exactly what you will be contributing and what you expect them to provide. Get everything in writing!

At a large party, and especially for New Year’s Eve, entertainment is key. Consider hiring a band or a DJ or renting a jukebox. Other options are limited only by your imagination and your bank account: casino tables, a magician, a comedian, a dance instructor, an Elvis impersonator, a palm reader… Area caterers and entertainment companies can coordinate everything you need to make your New Year’s Eve event the party of the year.

On a Shoestring
So you can’t afford to hire a caterer, much less a band. You can still host an unforgettable New Year’s Eve gathering for a group of special friends.

Key ingredients:
Your favorite people
Simple decorations
Convenient foods and drinks
Homemade entertainment
Shared responsibilities

Most likely, everyone is feeling the holiday pinch in the pocketbook. Feeding a crowd doesn’t have to break the bank or your back. If you want to serve a meal, the answer is a potluck buffet. First, decide what you can afford to provide—perhaps a main dish (think ham, barbecue, a bucket of chicken, a pot of chili, Lowcountry boil…) Guests can bring the other elements: appetizers, salads, sides and desserts. At a true pot luck, you might take your chances on the variety. For more control, assign each guest a category or specify the dish. Encourage your guests to keep it simple. Nobody needs to slave over a hot stove or stay up all night stuffing pea pods. Another option is to skip the meal and serve heavy hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. You provide them, or “share the love” by asking guests to contribute.

One of the biggest expenses for any celebration is the drinks. You can always ask guests to bring bottles of wine or champagne, beer or their preferred liquor. Another way to save on your alcohol budget is to limit the offerings—e.g. champagne punch and/or a keg of beer.

Decorations don’t have to be complicated or expensive. Start by recycling some of the Christmas décor you have yet to pack away. Twinkling lights and glittery balls are perfect for New Year’s Eve. Buy some paper streamers, confetti, cheap party hats and noisemakers. (Visit area party stores for inspiration and supplies.) Since you can’t afford a clean-up staff, you might consider springing for sturdy paper plates and plastic utensils. You might be surprised by the selections available—from fun and festive to downright elegant. Well-fed and entertained guests will be having so much fun they won’t care anyway. Turn the lights down low, light a few candles and transform any room into a party palace.

Here again, you can have some fun with the ambiance by having guests dress to the nines while serving them casual food in a relaxed atmosphere or add some entertainment by suggesting that guests wear funny hats, masks or period costumes.

Whatever you do, give them a reason to dance. Create a play list of favorite CDs, log onto a good Internet radio station, or plug your iPod into your amplifier and set it to shuffle. Additional inexpensive entertainment might include old-fashioned party games such as trivial pursuit or charades. Of course, you can always watch the countdown at Times Square on TV and break into a group rendition of Auld Lang Syne. For a more intimate style of entertainment, gather your guests together to share resolutions. Better yet, have guests write them on slips of paper and drop them in a fishbowl. Challenge them to express themselves vividly and dramatically. Draw them out after midnight and make a game of guessing who resolved to do what. This works best for small groups of friends who know each other well.

Other simple party plans
To simplify matters even further, consider starting your party later, allowing guests to fend for themselves for dinner. You can host:

A dessert buffet: Let guests know that you are serving dessert only. Purchase or make a variety of desserts that are easy to serve and consume (bite-size desserts are best). Provide a few simple decorations, champagne and noisemakers for the countdown and plenty of lively music. Serve coffee afterward.

A post-midnight breakfast: Encourage guests to party until midnight wherever they please then stop by and smell the coffee at 12:30. Serve scrambled eggs, sausage biscuits, sweet rolls, fruit and coffee or simply set up a bagel bar. Keep the lighting soft and add a little relaxing background music to encourage guests to wind down and sober up.

Word to the wise
Be sure to specify an ending time for your party so that guests know when it’s time to go home. If a few clueless guests linger, turn the music off and the lights up. If they still don’t get the hint, say, “We’re going to bed now.” Then get their coats, open the front door and usher them out with air kisses and promises to see them again soon. If you don’t have the guts to throw the guests out at a reasonable time, just go ahead and call it a slumber party and provide the appropriate accommodations.

Rules for the road
Whatever kind of party you choose to give, provide plenty of non-alcoholic drink options: water, soda, non-alcoholic beer, etc. And when the party’s over, don’t let your guests drive home drunk. The over-the-top solution might mean providing limo service to and from your party. Otherwise, ask your friends to appoint designated drivers. If need be, call a taxi or set aside enough room and be prepared for a few guests to spend the night.

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