Pick Your Best Guest List
A good guest list is critical to a great night. Take the time to think through who you'd like to be there, plus how they interact. Mix it up with both new and old friends, couples and singles. And hey, if you know two guests just can't stand each other, think about picking one good friend over the other. Yeah, the holidays can be brutal. Also, make sure your guests know they need to RSVP. It might be old-fashioned, but it's the best way to make sure you've got the supplies, space, and sanity to deal with a crowd.
You Should Care About When and Where
Closely behind the guest list, these decisions can really doom a party if not thought through. When should you have your party? Try a Thursday night; when folks know they'll have to get up tomorrow there might be less chance of drunkeness, plus they'll have something to talk about Friday at work. Why not Friday or Saturday? Believe it or not, folks can find something to do on those nights, but a Thursday event is enough of a Hump Day cure without being the "thing to do this weekend."
Scout's Honor: "Be Prepared"
You know the drill; in the middle of a party, the boyfriend/husband/guy that wants to date the host has to run out for a 10 pound bag of frozen H20. After doing a quick spot check, you start adding to the list; more beer is needed, oooh, and some pretzels....soon you're runner is lugging back the goods while your guests are suffering with warm drinks. Being prepared means more than just having ice, though; getting your house cleaned and tidy needs to be done -- and done way before guests arrive. An unprepared party, with you playing the "unprepared host" role, is certain to delay your enjoyment and up your stress level. Schedule the party later if you need more time between work and martini time, or just be forward thinking and get your home in party order days before.
Deck Your Halls
Speaking of getting your space ready; putting out some decorations can really transform your living room into that hot new club. Dim the overhead lights and use non-scented candles and limited lamps to brighten the room. Dress up your standard tables and counters with a tablecloth, and double check that centerpiece; some folks are allergic to lilies. Finally, put on the tunes, but also think about that sexy flatscreen -- a slideshow of friends photos might get some laughs and generate conversations.
Be "Progressive" With Your Food and Drink
If you're not a cook, innovation may be a scary word when you're talking about food. Don't fret! If you know how to make a hamburger, then you know how to make trendy "sliders," too. Make a square patty instead, and slice it into four pieces to be served on dinner rolls. Frozen appetizers can also save a party, but make sure you're not serving Totino's Pizza Rolls if your goal is to be glam. Make sure to time the food to "progress" from one element to another. If you've only got appetizers, you'll may have hungry folks near the end of your party. Setting out lighter fare first will help folks be ready for the main course (if there is one) and then eventual dessert overload. If folks are "bringing something" make sure you know what it is ahead of time: it's not rude, it's just making sure not everyone brings a chocolate cake.
Drinks are a similar beast, with "unique" drink recipes showing up in every corner, it's hard to know what to serve. First, set up the basics; beer, wine, soda, and water. The debate will continue to rage about which beer to buy (light, import, domestic, lime-flavored, etc.) but things get a little clearer with wine choices (get a red AND a white) and soda picks (two colas, two diets, a lemon-lime; all in two-liters) plus the essential water (spring/filtered is good, buy some sparkling, too). Then the real challenge begins. If you're serving traditional martini's, you'll need to think about how much vermouth and gin you'll really need. Do some recon before the party starts by asking what someone's favorite drink is when they RSVP.
Remember the Key Attraction: You
As fun as just getting together with friends is, this is a party -- your party -- and the reason folks are there is most likely you. So have fun and don't stress about the small details. The best way to make sure you're the life of the party is to be prepared (see above) far ahead of time. Don't stress on the day of the party about your wardrobe; you should know three days before what you're going to wear. Also, if you know you're one of the worriers, think about getting some help setting up or even running the festivities. A good friend can help mix drinks while you slice tomatoes and panic if that cute guy from accounting will show up...
Do you have essential party tips that have saved a get-together? Post them below for everyone to learn from your entertaining experience.