Your party may involve a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary, or perhaps a wedding rehearsal dinner. It may just be getting a few friends together from around the neighborhood or you may want to invite hundreds of guests to kick off a fund raising campaign. Think about how you want the event to be experienced. Write this out for your edification and for reference as the plans evolve. This will frame your approach to planning your party. If there is no specific occasion, maybe you want to have a theme such as Mardi Gras, casino night or Bastille Day.
Once you’ve determined the purpose of the party, determine your budget and whether it is to be a strict parameter or a guideline. Factors affecting the cost of the party will include the number of guests, specialization of the menu, professionally prepared or home-made food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, rented items, decorations, entertainment and hired help. Remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune to make your guests feel good. Decide what’s important to you and how you prefer to spend the budget you are setting.
The date of your party will dictate how far in advance you’ll need to send out invitations, reserve equipment, and contract with service providers such as caterers and entertainers. Holidays and high season dates require the most advance notice. Selecting a weekend as your party date may require more advance notice than selecting a weekday.
The season of the year affects the availability of some ingredients, a consideration in your menu. Some fruit, vegetables, and shellfish, for example, have periods when they may not be available or are not in prime condition.
The time of year also affects whether you have to deal with heat, cold, winds or rain. So if you’re planning to be outside, rental items such as tents, fans and different serving pieces may be needed to deal with the elements.
The time of day is another determinant of the menu and budget. Is it a breakfast, a specialty brunch, a light lunch, an elegant dinner, a buffet of hearty hors d’oeuvres or simple appetizers? Timing will also determine the array of beverages such as juices, sodas, tea, or cocktails.
The number of people invited or anticipated is directly proportional to the quantities of food and drink as well as the space needed to hold the event. Can you fit all your guests in your home or does the party need to be held in another location or out-of-doors? Can you seat your guests comfortably around your dinner table or do you need to offer buffet service and lap trays? Will everyone have a place to sit during the event?
The number of people invited also affects the menu. The more people, the simpler the menu should be.
Creating a guest list can be a challenge! You want to select guests for a combination of traits that will make for interesting conversation and support your purpose for the party. This is especially significant at a seated dinner party. Consider using place cards to facilitate individual contributions as well as to enhance the engagement and interactions among your guests.
How formal do I want the party to be? Formality dictates the type of invitations, the dress of your guests, and the type of food service. Formality impacts the environment of the event and thus, is to be considered in the purpose of the party. Choices for food service include:
First select the entrée(s) when you are considering food for your gathering. The challenge of pleasing all the guests seems less difficult if you have that focus. The event may suggest a specific food such as turkey on Thanksgiving. Theme parties make the entrée selection more straightforward but it may be more challenging to make the preparation/presentation of the entrée outstanding or unique. For a casual get-together with friends, try something different from your usual. If you always serve spaghetti, try other pasta dishes such as ravioli or lasagna. If you frequently serve beef, use a different cut and a different sauce.
Buffets, whether casual or formal, usually provide two entrée and multiple side dishes. Because these are prepared for larger groups with diverse eating preferences, be sure to include some buffet items for vegetarian and diet-restricted guests.
When you are selecting hors d’oeuvres, omit those containing the same ingredient as the entrée.
"Our wedding was beautiful, everything Steve and I had hoped for and mostly because of you (Cari) and the entire Sarasota Catering staff. Right from the beginning and through the entire process, you took my hand, literally and figuretively and helped us through the entire event. Everyone had a great time, the food was wonderful (Steve and I were told) and the service was impeccable, as I wrote in the survey. My biggest hope was that everyone should just have fun and have it feel like one big cocktail party. So many people came up to us and said how much they enjoyed it all. As a Concierge, my biggest fear was that I wouldn't let go and allow you to do your job. After only five months of planning and literally doing everything in preparing for our special day, I thought I'd still have to continue doing things. But, Cari, you didn't let me down. You stayed, which I was grateful for and took charge. I did not see anything but Steve and I talking with our guests. As you know, I've already recommended your services and will continue to do so. You are definitely number one in our book. Thanks again with a special thanks to the entire staff that made our wedding, a day we will always remember with smiles on our faces."
- Elaine and Steve
Bride and Groom