It’s the time of year that we begin planning and attending more parties and social gatherings.Often people let the worry of entertaining prevent them from having social gathering. Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, cell phones… do they alone help us feel closer to each other or do they add clutter to our lives? Perhaps, as we all access these innovative ways to communicate and enhance our lives, we’ll crave even more those special face-to-face gatherings that parties provide. This is the perfect time of year to enhance your party giving skills and remind ourselves how to be a good guest. To learn the ins and outs of putting on a great party, my first step was checking out OWL’s collection to get advice and ideas. Let’s get entertaining!
Kimberly Kennedy in her book, The Art and Craft of Entertaining, reminds us that parties are “about pleasure not perfection”. She advises the party-planner to not worry about being perfect or having a spotless house or the perfect decor. The point is for everyone to have a wonderful time enjoying each others’ company and in creating a memorable evening. As a hostess, she tells us to relax, have fun, and always be gracious. In her book, she provides a plethora of excellent advice and tips for entertaining. She first considers style by noting that, “Style is about expression, not imitation, and it’s not the same as fashion”. Once we have a sense of our style, this will guide us in how we develop our party plan. She recommends keeping a party planning journal where you jot down ideas over time and then use it when it’s party planning time. Kennedy’s book is full of excellent tips and ideas from planning lists, seasonal flower choices, party favors to designing your own invitations. An excellent guide!
In The Reluctant Entertainer: Every Woman’s Guide to Simple and Gracious Hospitality author Sandy Coughlin simplifies entertaining and encourages embracing the blessings of getting together with friends and family. She shares conversation tips, ideas on how to make planning and execution easier, and how to get over the need for perfection. This is a great guide for anyone new to entertaining or needs a party renewal.
In The Party Planner, David Tutera provides especially helpful information on the atmosphere of the event. Tutera gives several examples of different parties including cocktail, formal dinner, outdoor, and holiday parties. For each selection, he divides party planning into five sections: the look, the scent, the touch, the taste, and the sound. He then ends each selection with a few additional helpful hints and tips. Tutera’s book expertly guides you to elegant entertaining and decor at its best.
Another excellent guide is Emily Post’s Great Get-Togethers: Casual Gatherings and Elegant Parties at Home by Anna Post and Lizzie Post. This is an absolutely terrific and essential guide. It is full of information including how to properly address people, decoding dress codes, extra to add in your invitation, fun and game ideas, how to manage your schedule, sample menus and plans, shopping tips, and so much more! After you read this book, you’ll be looking for ways to have parties!
If decorating the house and crafting special invitations sounds too daunting for you, don’t despair! Check out Block Parties and Poker Nights by Peggy Allen. Allen gives tips, lots of simple recipes, and excellent ideas for block parties, welcome gifts, poker and other game nights, and more. All of her advice is casual with little fuss. No decorating or special invitations required!
Two more great choices for “effortless entertaining” is Seriously Simple Parties by Diane Rossen Worthington. Worthington provides recipes, menus and advice on to make your parties and holidays shine without the stress and fuss. Whether the party is intimate or for a crowd, Worthington will guide you with her tips, advice and simple yet beautifully presented meals.
At Home with Michael Chiarello is predominately a cookbook but there are a couple pages of quick tips for entertaining at the end of the book. Chiarello advises us on our dining area, kitchen needs and equipment, cleaning tips and solutions, recipe scaling, and wine basics. His advice on scaling recipes for larger or smaller crowds is especially helpful.
Happy Hour at Home: Libations and Small Plates for Easy Get-Togethers by Barbara Scott-Goodman brings the joy of happy hour to your home. Her book won’t help with planning but it does provide a great sampling of delicious little treats from simple, like a herbed bar nut mix, to more complicated, like onion and gruyere tart and Korean short rib tacos. Each recipe section concludes with suggested cocktails.
Dazzle your guests with your table setting. East Meets West Table Setting by Kuwako Takahashi is an enchanting book that offers both elaborate as well as simple ideas for setting your table with style and beauty. Takahashi says that setting the table is “like choosing a dress for my food… it is a visual treat that embraces the guest the minute they enter the room”. Even if you don’t replicate her exact pairings, I felt Takahashi provided many beautiful and delightful concepts and ideas. The decorations were often simple household items that Takahashi made elegant and appealing like using autumn leaves or setting a table for two by the fireplace. Gorgeously illustrated, I hope you have as much fun looking at and being inspired by this book as I did.
Tablescapes: Setting the Table with Style by Kimberly Schlegel Whitman is a book for sophisticated dining. If you are an experienced party-planner and the idea of decorating for a dinner party of 100 sounds fun (rather than something that seems completely unimaginable) then this book is for you. This is essentially haute couture table setting! Not for the beginner.
If you’re ready to take entertaining to the next level, then check out A Guide to Napkin Folding by James Giner. Giner presents with clear instructions, graphs and photographs forty different napkin designs! Who would have imagined that there was forty different ways to fold a napkin? I’m not sure I’m ready for this but there was a fascinating history of napkin folding. Apparently napkin folding dates back to the 15th century!
For the person with creative skills, sending hand-made cards makes your party invitations particularly unique. For help with ideas for card-making, check out Artful Cards: 60 Fresh and Fabulous Designs by Katherine Duncan Aimone or Ultimate Cardmaking by Sarah Beaman. On the flip side, if you are a guest to a dinner party, a hand-made thank you note would be a thoughtful touch.
…and if you’re not sure about the menu, don’t forget that OWL has a marvelous collection of cookbooks including books specifically about party drinks, desserts, vegetarian, and more found in the 641’s.
This holiday season, let the anxiety go and embrace the party season!
Ann Marie is the Library Director of the Oliver Wolcott Library.