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How to throw the perfect party including types of parties, food for parties and party themes


See also:   Entertaining - Table Settings: From Informal dining to Formal Place Settings



Jump to:-   How to Plan a Party  |  Drinks Parties  |  Themed Parties  |  Buffet Parties  |  Combination Parties  |  What Food to Serve  |  Recipes


Whether you are planning an intimate gathering for 6,  an informal party for 20 or a formal buffet for 50, if you make time to plan your event and can spend a few  hours a couple of days before for shopping and preparation, you can throw a party to rival any paid-for caterer at any time of year.


A personal note from the Publisher: The thought of throwing a party may seem daunting, however entertaining 20 people can sometimes be easier than giving a dinner party for 6 people. For a start, there some pretty good pre-prepared party foods (wash my mouth out with soap!) which just require unpacking and shoving into the oven…and yes, I have done it myself on occasion. These can however be quite expensive.

For those on a budget, the good news is that there are lots of finger foods and buffet dishes which can be easily prepared at home at a fraction of the cost.


Below are some handy tips and party ideas to set you on your way to throwing the perfect party.



Planning a party


Before deciding on having a party, it's a good idea to decide exactly what type of party best suits the occasion.  Your choice will obviously depend factors such as :-

  •  Number of guests

  •  Space available

  •  Type of party

  •  Type of food 

  •  Cost

Number of guests at a party


Whilst having lots of people can add to the general party mood, too many can cause huge problems if space is limited, especially if weather conditions won't allow for any over-spill to an outdoor area.


Take a little time to think about the space available and limit your invitations accordingly. Do also remember that it's possible that some invited guests will bring a  friend along, so make allowances for "extras" if necessary. This is especially important at holiday times such as Christmas and New Year, when people may have several invitations in one day.


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Type of party


Apart from full-blown dinner parties, there are two main types of party you can throw namely casual drinks parties or more formal buffet parties.


Drinks Parties


The term "drinks party" is really a misnomer in that it is unusual (and unwise) just to serve drinks. Most people will expect some sort of food at a party however, the term drinks party will conjure up thoughts of drinks with canapés or other finger food which doesn't involve the use of cutlery. This is a great option for a less formal party and is suitable for any number of guests.


Small china or paper plates are optional but it's important to provide napkins if serving anything other than crisps. They don't have to be linen ones or even fancy paper ones - even squares of kitchen roll will do depending on how formal the party is - but be sure to have plenty available.


These types of parties can be given an extra dimension by having a theme. Ideas for themed parties include:-


Country Themed Parties - An excellent and novel way to show off your skills - cooking wise, drinks wise and decoration wise.  For example at a Caribbean Party serve finger food using some traditional West Indian seasonings or marinades and drinks such as rum punch. Or how about a Spanish Party  where a variety of tapas can be served alongside  pitchers of sangria. 


Cheese and Wine Parties - a variety of cheeses which can be international or based on a particular country,  plus biscuits and/or breads and wine.


70's Fondue Parties - serve at least 3 different fondue dips, possibly including a sweet one, with a variety or dipping foods


Cocktail Parties  - It's generally best to limit the range of cocktails if the host is going to make them and it's ultra important to serve lots of food due to the nature of cocktails using various alcohols in one drink.  Themes like a "James Bond" party are easier to do as it consists just of one cocktail - the obligatory Dry Martini, but do have alternatives available even if it's just wine, beer and soft drinks.



Teetotal Party - To many, parties mean alcohol however, in these days of very strict drink-driving laws why not throw a non-alcohol party so no-one gets tempted. Smoothies are ideal candidates and lots of fun can be had by allowing your guests to make up their own from a selection of fresh fruit and veggies. The food can be anything you want.


Whatever type of drinks party you choose, it is a good idea to serve something sweet towards the end so that guests know (a) that there's no more savoury food and (b) the party is nearing its end.



Buffet Parties


Buffet parties enable you to serve a wider variety of dishes which can be more hearty.  Once again, space and numbers of guests will play a large part in your decision as to what to serve. Questions to be asked include is there a large enough table to set all the dishes out and how much seating is available. There's no point serving a beef wellington if there's no-where for people to sit to use a knife and fork to eat it.


Most parties  involve  people  arriving at various times throughout the evening, but if you are planning a mainly hot buffet menu, it may be wise to include the words “there’ll be a hot buffet being served at  xxx am/pm ” to encourage your guests arrive relatively promptly.


It's also a good idea (if space permits) to have the desserts and/or cheese laid out at the same time...preferably at the other end of the table. You can easily separate them by putting the crockery, cutlery and napkins between the savoury and sweet.  For more detailed information about setting up the buffet table click here.


Once again, it is a good idea to serve something sweet towards the end so that guests know (a) that there's no more savoury food and (b) the party is nearing its end. 





A combination of circulated finger food to start,  with more hearty buffet dishes laid out on a large table works very well if space allows. 


Hot and/or cold finger food offered to guests as they arrive. These can either be offered from trays by the host(s)  or be ready laid out at strategic points around the room(s).


If possible, have the main buffet table in a separate room so that you can finish putting out the hot food without interruption and people getting in the way. Once it's all laid out, simply call your guests in to help themselves.



What Food to Serve at Parties


Finger foods can range from simple bowls of crisps, nuts or olives to exotic filled vol au vent. Whatever you choose it's a good idea to have a variety of hot and cold items which can be prepared in advance and which then just need a minimum amount of last minute preparation or heating to serve. After all, you want to enjoy the party and your guests too.


It's a good idea to have some of the food already out before your guests arrive and whether your guests will be mainly in one room or floating between rooms, have “eating points” in various places around the room(s) preferably away from doorways. It keeps people circulating and avoids one area getting clogged up with folk trying to get to the eats.


Keep the foods light, bite-sized (there's nothing worse than standing around with a drink in one hand and food in the other which takes more than a couple of bites to finish leading to spills) and very importantly, as varied as possible – fish, poultry, meat, vegetarian.  


You can find lots of party food recipes in our Party Food and Cocktails section.


Buffet Foods - Choose the dishes carefully and select hot and cold to make your life easier. Hot can include chicken drumsticks (but do make them a little more exciting – easily done with a good marinade), pasta dishes (keep the pasta short – shells, spirals etc so it can be eaten with just a fork), chilli, rice or couscous Pilavs, tarts and quiches.


For something a little more exotic, tagines and curries are an excellent choice provided the ingredients are cut into bite-sized pieces - no lamb shanks unless you have plenty of side tables and chairs so people can use a knife and fork to eat their food.


Accompaniments can be included and, of course, set out on the main buffet table at the same time but once again, bear in mind that they will probably be eaten one handed, so stay away from things like baked potatoes.


For more detailed information about setting up a buffet table click here.



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