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SIZING UP THE CELEBRATION
How does a good host or hostess ensure that a good time is had by all? Entertaining is a joy when you keep the following in mind.
•REMAIN calm Entertaining doesn't have to be a monumental undertaking, taking on the proportions of a crisis. Simplicity is often the best approach. Get help if necessary. Never let your guests think you're huffing and puffing:
panic is contagious.
•BE PRACTICAL Emily Post advised a "pragmatic approach "-everything she did was geared to commonsense practicality. She even designed a movable tea tray, a device to make tea serving simpler.
•WORK WITHIN YOUR BUDGET Be realistic. Cut back on the size of your guest list if necessary. You don't have to buy luxury foods or wines or prepare a fancy, complicated dish to have a successful party.
•STICK WITH WHAT YOU know w Don't experiment on your guests; in other words, don't serve something you haven't made before or plot an elaborate evening you're ill-equipped to handle. A MATTER OF SPACE
As you assess the space you have available for entertaining, it is important to decide on the degree of formality you want and can achieve within that space. Someone who lives in a small house with a large deck or patio would most likely be more comfortable inviting several guests to a barbecue or backyard picnic than to a formal dinner, while someone who has rooms with generous proportions could more easily give a formal dinner party.
Another consideration: basic supplies. Do you have enough chairs, place settings, glasses, and the necessary pots and pans to accommodate the number of invited guests? If yourparty is large and you are having it in a big space other than your home--say, in a reception hall--you may want to enlist the help of a party--planning service or parry-rental company, which will rent almost any kind of party supply, from chairs to coat racks to china to linens. Even if your party is at home, and you have the necessary items, you may consider renting supplies if you don't want to worry about using your own or you prefer to use matching place settings.
If your living space is limited, you can become adept at working with it. In a small apartment, the party meal can be served directly from the stove, buffetstyle; one-pot meals might even become a host's specialty. Arranging the space so that guests are able to move about comfortably can be the trickiest aspect of entertaining in a small space. The answer to that problem may be breaking up the room. Arranging the furniture into several intimate clusters can result in cozy conversational areas. The creation of small clusters works equally well in large spaces, where if you don't break up the space it can seem isolating and empty. Either way, by arranging the furniture into intimate clusters, you'll create a festive atmosphere humming with little pockets of chatter.
Consider as well having fold-up furniture that can stretch your dining accommodations. Card tables are very useful and can easily be tucked away in a closet until their next use. Tabletops placed on top of a smaller table and covered with a pretty tablecloth can be used to add space to a table-whether leaves that can expand your existing dining-room table, collapsible tabletops, or simply large square or round tops that can be stored standing up in a closet. Make sure, however, that when the tabletop is in place it is solid and sturdy.
Whether you are planning a dinner party, a cocktail affair, or a Super Bowl chili party, keep your guests' comfort foremost in your thoughts. If you want to have a seated dinner, you'll need a very large dinner table, or you can place smaller tables around. For many hosts and hostesses, the latter choice is a favorite way to serve dinner; it feels much cozier and encourages relaxed, intimate groups.
THE GUEST LIST
NUMBER OF GUESTS
After first deciphering how many guests your space can hold, the type of party you're going to throw can determine how many guests to invite and whether you intend to have help in serving food. In these casual times-and with the help of modern conveniences and easier access to a variety of foods-there is no set rule for the numberof dinner guests you can comfortably serve yourself. It used to be that eight people was the maximum number you could serve by yourself at a sit-down dinner. You can certainly cook for as many guests as you want, but to serve a seated dinner of more than eight efficiently and quickly, you may want to either change a sit-down dinner to a buffet or enlist a friend to help you serve. For more than 16, you may need two friends or temporary help. You'll need someone to help serve drinks, pass hors d'oeuvres, serve dinner, and clean up in the kitchen. Greater numbers generally require more help.
A CONGENIAL MIX
The most venerated hosts and hostesses agree that the right mix of people-the most "congenial stew" --can make all the difference in concocting a successful party. You might enjoy mixing and matching people who don't know one another but who you believe will get on famously.
Your primary requisite is to invite guests who are likely to be interesting to one another. Additionally, it is wise to include guests upon whom you can count to be sensitive, thoughtful, and entertaining so that your concern for drawing out those who may be quiet or shy is not a burden on you alone. When seating your guests, remember their likes and dislikes: avoid seating two people next to each other who are on extreme opposite sides of a touchy, controversial issue.