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Your Home: Holiday Entertaining

Thursday, December 5, 2002

Tips for entertainment success

Here are some things worth considering to make party planning easier:

Aim of the party: What feeling do you want to convey? Is it a relaxed backyard barbecue or a formal cocktail party meant to impress the boss? If you're going formal, bring out all the silver — the tea service, flower vases, frames — or try something beaded, such as placemats and candle rings. For a casual gathering, try pottery bowls filled with pine cones, or fresh daisies, or garden trugs filled with artichokes and aubergines.

Budget: If cost is a concern, host a party during the day, at cocktail hour or just for dessert. Make sure to specify that on the invitations.These are good times for a get-together, and you can get the most for your money.

Space: Can you comfortably seat 12 for dinner, or is it more sensible to have a buffet and let guests sit where they want? For a buffet, make sure you have enough chairs out. Otherwise, have a cocktail party with finger foods. Consider setting up different food stations — fondue in the kitchen, spring rolls in the entryway and so on. This also creates better flow and encourages movement. 

Food: Try out every recipe beforehand. If preparing the food yourself, do so well in advance, and properly estimate how much time you'll need, including table and bar setup. Consider your guests' level of food savvy. The object is to make them comfortable rather than intimidated by a fancy menu. On the other hand, it's a good thing to have a few things that are special, new and unusual.

Theme: Barbara Stuart-Peterson, owner of Stuart and Saladino Catering, Gifts and Style, once did a tango theme for a wedding reception. While the bride and groom danced, guests threw long-stemmed roses. Be adventurous with your menu, but consistent with your theme. So for a tango party, go for a tapas menu and table linens that are brilliantly hued.

Help:  Even hiring just one person can mean the difference between you being up to your elbows in the sink all night, or you enjoying the party.

Equipment: If you're having a barbecue and your grill cooks eight hamburgers at a time, consider renting a few extra. The same goes for dishes and glassware. A common complaint by hosts, says Stuart-Peterson, is that irreplaceable items get broken. Rent to be on the safe side. Besides, you won't have to wash up.

Décor: To create space, remove furniture you don't need, without stripping rooms of personality. You can never have enough coffee tables so guests can put down drinks and food. Use flowers to create a mood. This season, try cedar and amaryllis flowers, magnolia leaves or calla lilies. Put tiny ones in bathroom and kitchen.

Linens: Depending on the theme, burlap will do, and so will palm fronds, or coco matting — South Pacific anyone? You may have pretty bedsheets that can be topped with an inexpensive cloth. Tie plain napkins with a piece of beautiful wide ribbon. Or for a woodsy theme, tie with herbs and twine.

Barbara Stuart-Peterson can be reached at 416-955-1360.

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