Planning a Painless Party

Cinco-De Mayo Fiesta

Sure you could have it catered but why? Go for it, you can do it… Not everyone likes to cook or plan, but if you do, it’s not difficult to make your party as enjoyable for you as it is for your guests. A little time and effort spent planning can make all the difference in the ease of execution and fun.

As a child, I remember my Mom and Dad would have small and large dinner parties and make them seem effortless. When I asked my Mom the secret she said it came with practice and experience. She said my Dad would often call her early afternoon to announce that he was bringing clients home for dinner, that night and she just learned to make it happen. She said if she didn’t have time to cook she would cheat a little and buy a rotisserie chicken, cut it up, add some garlic, fresh herbs and lemon wedges, a drizzle of olive oil and serve it on a beautiful Amen Wardy platter and voila. Some beautiful flowers, a nice bottle of wine and a spectacular presentation can go along way.

Of course, when you plan a party, you have the benefit of time to prepare the details and cook the meal. We wanted to share some tips that help us when we entertain. We plan our parties a minimum of 1-2 weeks in advance and longer if it’s a theme party, holiday of larger affair.

We recently hosted a Cinco de Mayo Fiesta. We started out thinking we would invite 12-16 people (our dining room seats 10 comfortably and 12 squeezed), that number quickly grew to 30, and we could have easily invited more. We decided to serve dinner in the garden, and have people sit and stand around enjoying the view. Unfortunately, we did not check the weather and once the invites went out, we realized it would likely rain on our beautiful Island of Kauai (oops).

Plan B: We rallied up our folding tables and chairs, borrowed some extras from the neighbors, swept out the garage and converted it into Fiesta Central. Once we set it all up visions of a bingo hall danced in my head, but kitsch is fun, right? Pepper and I decided it would be chic as long as the food and cocktails were good and they were…Here’s a play by play on how we pulled this off.

Mailing invitations are very nice but today it’s hard to ensure that they will be received and or opened on time. We have two PO Boxes in two different states and we do tend to get things late. Try Evite or Paperless Post and email your invites. They offer creative and fun email invitation templates for just about any kind of event. Make sure to let people know if kids and plus 1-2’s are welcome. Unless you specify a sit down dinner some people assume casual means bring a friend.

We planned the menu carefully to make as much ahead as possible. Since it was a Cinco de Mayo Fiesta, everything was as authentically Mexican as possible. It’s important to plan the menu to match your theme, imagine if we had served Coq Au Vin and Tiramisu (another oops). Although it may also be fun to host a dinner where every course is ethnically different, but that sounds like the topic for another article. Just remember to make everything with the best ingredients and a lot of love or in this case amor!

Careful planning for appetizers and dinner made creating a master shopping list and daily timeline for dish preparations a breeze. We use the 30-MP rule, which we invented and states that you should have nothing left to do 30 minutes prior to your guest’s arriving except to pour yourself a drink.

Make sure you have made and or tried the dishes before. We have been known to make the entire menu a few days before to make sure it’s delicious. You’d be surprised how often we have needed to make adjustments which are far easier to make than apologies for a bad meal.

Have all necessary ingredients available. Find out when your local market gets deliveries. When we are in Hawaii that really matters. We planned on making a signature cocktail called a Vodka Cucumber Cumbia and then realized that nobody on the Island sells Effen Cucumber Vodka, thank you to our dear friend Daniel Braun from the Princeville Wine Market who special ordered it for us!

Follow-up on R.S.V.P’s, stock the bar and or create signature cocktails and a playlist, we used Pandora and created several latin stations containing, cumbia’s, mariachi music etc.. Make sure you have enough candles everywhere and that your house is nice and tidy. Have plenty of water, we prepared a big jug of water filled with fresh mint from our garden. People tend to crave and drink a lot of water at the end of an evening when they have been eating and drinking.

We purchased a bunch of party supplies and decorations from Oriental Trading and Party City. We used paper plates (yes you can, but only if they’re really pretty) with our own chargers underneath. Let’s just say the plates were pretty, but they were not chinet and without a charger our floor may have looked like somebody whacked a piñata filled with mexican food. We then took out serving platters and pieces. My mom labels hers with sticky notes. It’s no fun running around at the last minute because you forgot a spoon for the sauce. We created a self serve area for appetizers and drinks in the dining room and later ushered people into the garage for our fiesta feast.

Surprises are always fun and can be in the way of a special dessert, party favors, decorations, entertainment, flowers, pretty guest towels, candles etc. Walk every room that you plan to entertain in and stick notes on the to do’s so you don’t forget the details. As an example after dinner we converted the dining room into a mexican Willy Wonka-esque dessert table. We served a tower of Tres Leches Mini-Cupcakes, Paleta’s de Mango con Chile y Limon and Mexican Chocolate Bark with Pepitas.

Mexican Bark

We created mini-menu cards for each dish. I designed them in Photoshop and once printed, cut them out and laminated each card and placed one in front of every dish. Very helpful since half of our guests were vegetarian, and we served several dishes that people were not familiar with.

As luck would have it, it turned out to be a spectacular evening to light the tiki torches and fire pits and enjoy dessert on the deck and in the garden. The surprise entertainment turned out to be Pepper and me doing a mock fire dance with glow sticks. Viva Mexico!