Celebrate the season with a swing and without the headaches by hosting a fizzing good get-together

Put your guests first, and your enjoyment will follow naturally

Put your guests first, and your enjoyment will follow naturally

First published in What's On

It’s party time! No excuses, don’t sit back and wait for everyone else to play host – do it yourself.
And if the thought of organising a party on top of all the other Christmas preparations makes you recoil in horror, just follow our guide to make sure it all comes off with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of fizz.

Top six musts

Plan ahead
Planning ahead is the key to a successful party. Send out invitations in advance, requesting an RSVP by a specific date. If you want music provided (disco or Karaoke service) book well in advance, especially at Christmas.

Specify the dress code
If there is a theme or if you want to set the tone for your get-together by having people in party dresses and smart casual then say so. Or if you’re just expecting people to pitch up then make it a ‘come as you are’ or ‘scruffy n tipsy’. Otherwise guests who show up in jeans are likely to be very uncomfortable if everybody else is in their best party outfits. On the other hand a guest who has taken the trouble to arrive in a cocktail dress would feel very uncomfortable if she is the only one so dressed. The alternative is to have a prize for the most over-the-top Christmassy outfit. It will get people laughing as they arrive and are met by ever more outrageous get-ups. You can ask people to vote for their favourite, or exercise your role as host by choosing a winner yourself. (Top three to be announced in reverse order, of course).

Organise some food
Plan a spread well in advance, making sure you’ve got a varied selection of nibbles that covers all tastes. Keep it simple, though. Have everything prepared in advance, so when guests arrive it’s all out ready for them while you are ready to party. Make sure you have enough crockery, cutlery, glasses and serviettes.

Set the tone
Don’t just rely on your guests and their outfits to brighten the place up. Make an effort with a few special touches to give a bright, welcoming party atmosphere. Switch off all overhead lights and use uplighters and fairy lights to give drama to each room. Even in the kitchen, try to forego the fluourescents in favour of colourful lighting.

Don’t be selfish
Put your guests firsts. If they have fun, your enjoyment will naturally follow. Be meticulous in introducing them to each other and offering starting points for conversations. Keep an eye on everyone and if anyone is alone or appears to be withdrawing from the crowd, make a big effort to get them back involved with the action.

Timing
Get in early to kick off the season and you can be confident guests will be raring to go. Too late in December and everyone will be partied out. Avoid Christmas Eve unless you are heading off to another house for Christmas dinner the next day. Who wants to be clearing away the dregs of the previous night when you have a Christmas lunch to prepare?

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DRINKS

Bubbly
Shop around for bubbly, because there are plenty of deals to be had if you’re buying in bulk. You might be tempted to go for quality, but don’t overdo it. Have your premium stuff at the start of the evening and keep the less expensive varieties cooling, ready for later in the evening when there’s a chance people won’t be quite as discerning.

Beer
Even though guests should be encouraged to bring a bottle it’s essential that you have a generous supply of both beer and lager available. Leftovers (if there are any!) will keep you going through the New Year. Better to have too much at your party, than too little.

Wine
If you’re pushed for space keep unopened white wine chilled outside the back door before bringing in for consumption. If it’s a frosty evening it will be at just the right temperature.

Cocktails
All the major producers of spirits are keen to show the flexibility of their wares so cocktail recipes abound. Keep an eye for special promotional cards in supermarkets or do a quick search on-line. Manufacturers of mixers provide similar suggestions.

Non-alcoholic
It’s essential to offer plenty of non-alcoholic options and it doesn’t have to be plain old fruit juice. Give the drivers at your party a special punch to enjoy and again there are many recipes. Never underestimate the role of dull-sounding ginger beer in spicing up a soft drinks cocktail.

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AVOID THE LAST-MINUTE PANIC

Party preparation schedule

Four weeks to go:
Choose a theme.
Set your budget and stick with it.
Invite guests.

Three weeks
Plan menu of nibbles. Decide on décor and music (D-I-Y mp3 probably, at this stage, since any professional who is any good will have been booked weeks ago).
Check kitchen items to see if you have everything you will need.

One week
Contact non RSVP guests to see if they’re coming. Prepare and freeze or buy and freeze any food that can be stored in that way.
Prepare games or brief one of your guests if they will be looking after this aspect of the party for you.

Two days
Buy perishable food (but not fresh meat).

One day
Prepare food that can be refrigerated, make dips, wash and cut vegetables being used with dips.
Clean the house. Put out clean towels and ensure toilet paper is in plentiful supply.
Make sure you know where a bucket and mop is, in case of emergencies. Decorate rooms.
Rearrange furniture to create dancing area and lounge zone.
Refrigerate drinks, defrost frozen foods.

On the day
P(arty) minus four hours – Prepare food.
P minus two hours – shower, make-up and party dress on (followed by apron). .
P minus one hour – reheat prepared food. .
P minus 30 minutes – dim lighting, light candles (check safety). .
P minus 20 minutes – Music on, apron off. .
Party time! Relax and have fun. .

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