Invitations set the tone for the party, whether they are verbal or written. A verbal invitation typically is for a small, informal gathering. For larger and less casual events, a written invitation will provide not only essential information about the event but will also set the level of formality. Invitations should be sent out two to three weeks prior for a social event and four weeks for a business or formal event. Save-the-date postcards increase the probability that the intended guests will be available and are mailed a month or two before the invitation. This is especially important for galas or fundraisers where publicity is key to the event.
If you use a verbal invitation, put together a script that you can follow so you don’t forget any of the details. For formal written invitations, check with invitation specialists or a book on etiquette for the proper format.
Party equipment includes items such as tables, linens, table skirts, paper goods, dishes, serving utensils, serving dishes, extra chairs, chair covers/cushions, tents, umbrellas, beverage coolers and games.
When you are trying to determine how many tables are needed or how many people you can fit comfortably at your dining table, the standard is two linear feet of space per person. This includes the ends of the tables as well.
Typical table sizes:
|24 inch round (cocktail or bistro size)||Seats 2 / 3 casually (not for full meal service)|
|36 inch round (cocktail)||Seats 4 casually|
|60 inch round or square||Seats 8 / 10 with a squeeze|
|60 inch square||Seats 8|
|72 inch round||Seats 10 / 12 with a squeeze|
|72 X 30 inch rectangular||Seats 8|
|96 X 30 inch rectangular||Seats 10 / 12 with a squeeze|
Tables are generally between 28 to 30 inches high; therefore, add 56 to 60 inches to the diameter of a round table for floor-length table cloth coverage. For rectangular tables, use a 156 x 90 inch cloth, boxing the corners. Alternatively, use two smaller table cloths. For dramatic effect, you can add a smaller square cloth over the first one to create contrasting colors. Table skirts for buffet or service tables can be attached to the edges of the table. These skirts are not satisfactory for dining tables because they stand up at the table's edge, possibly being dislodged by a guest during the course of the meal.
Linen napkins are necessary for all but the most casual events. Exceptions include paper cocktail napkins for beverages and hors d'oeuvres. Extra linen napkins are used in breadbaskets, for wrapping wine bottles, covering drink or serving trays, and by servers in case of spills.
Food Heating / Holding
Food being served warm, especially on a buffet table, needs to be kept warm. This is accomplished easily with chafing dishes, which come in different sizes and styles, ranging from wire racks and aluminum foil pans to silver plated dishes. Whichever you choose, they use Canned Heat such as Sterno. These items can be bought from party stores or rented from equipment rental sources.
A warming tray is another device that can keep food warm or crispy without drying it out. These can be purchased or rented inexpensively.
Coffee is served at most meals. For 10 people, you will serve about 15 cups of coffee. If you purchase a coffeemaker, choose one that can handle at least 24 cups. It can also be used for mulled wine or cider. Otherwise, invest in an insulated carafe so that the temperature of the coffee can be maintained while the next pot is brewing.
Serving UtensilsEvery plate or bowl requires a serving spoon, fork or knife. Cake or pie requires a serving knife. Cheese should have a knife to cut cheese or toothpicks to pick up the cheese if it is already cut. Cream cheese should have a spreader. Soup should have a ladle with a handle that is large enough not to slide into the tureen or pot. Tongs can be used to pick up meat, shrimp or vegetables. Spatulas can be used for cake, pie or hamburgers.
Dishes and Flatware
At a dinner party, you will need plates and flatware for each course. If you do not have enough pieces, you can leave the flatware on the table when the dishes are picked up. Have enough dishes for each course to avoid the need to wash them between courses. On a buffet table, expect the guests to use new dishes for each trip to the buffet.
If you rent dishes and flatware, allow one extra place setting of flatware and dishes for every 10 guests in the event something is dropped or broken. For a buffet, plan on one dinner plate and one salad plate for the main course and a third plate for dessert.
Planning a party is not only about the food but where to place the guests, the buffet table and the wine or beverage station. Decisions about these placements should include consideration for how to avoid congestion and how to encourage mixing. You want your guests to be comfortable and have a good time. The key is to match your group's size to the space selected. If the space is too small, guests may feel claustrophobic and unable to be served adequately. If the space is too large, guests may feel isolated and disconnected.
You may want to hold your event at a specific venue such as a museum or on the beach. Remember that each venue has advantages and disadvantages. Consulting with a local caterer or event planner can tell you about the idiosyncrasies of the desired location.
If the beach or park is a desired venue, you may need a permit and alcoholic beverages may not be served. You should understand the restrictions before you sign a contract for the venue.
Lastly, caterers usually carry liability insurance for their delivery vehicles, services, and liquor service. Some venues will not allow a caterer to provide food on their premises if they can not show proof of insurance. Make sure your caterer has appropriate insurance for your event.
Outdoor entertaining provides space and an atmosphere that your home or a rented hall cannot. It is important, however, to anticipate what the weather will be like on the day of your party and to plan what you will do if it is not what you expected.
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