Let me entertain you - expert tips for a New Year's Eve party
Planning a New Year's Eve party? Don't run the risk of it fizzling out before the ball drops. From what to cook to navigating the neighbours, here are the expert tips to ensure it is a night to remember…
You are cordially invited…
While there's nothing better than an old-fashioned hand-written invitation popped through the door, party planner Tara Fay warns hosts to be conscious of seasonal posting dates. To be safe, head online - but an impersonal Facebook invite's not going to cut it. She recommends the beautiful digital cards by Paperless Post. If you prefer to text, Tara advises, "Personalise it! Don't just send a mass text. Your guests may have a few invitations on the same night, so if you want your event to get to the top of people's lists, make them feel special."
Make nice with neighbours
If you're having a potentially noisy party that won't end until 5am and could interfere with your neighbours' parking, let them know the day before an event. Tara recommends dropping a note to your neighbours left and right of you, as well as the ones behind. As to whether to invite them? While it may bolster community relations, Tara says, "if you don't have a great relationship with your neighbours, inviting them to a party is just going to annoy them. Use your own common sense."
Setting the scene
Your party starts outside the front door. You want to get your guests into the party spirit before they even ring the bell, so make sure to hang a wreath, some ribbon with battery-operated lights wrapped around, or replace a hanging basket with a lantern and candle.
One of the biggest mistakes Tara sees people make when hosting a party is forgetting that guests will usually bring gifts and need a place to hang their coats. Make sure you have a plan for where the coats will go - don't just chuck them in a downstairs loo where people won't be able to grab them if it's in use. She advises keeping a Sellotape dispenser nearby so you can attach cards to gifts and keep track of what guests have brought for when you send thank you notes the next day.
It may be the last thing you want to think about, but Tara recommends making a cleaning plan. "Be conscious of what is going to happen the next day. You're trying to anticipate the worst case scenario, and to pre-empt it." Either hire glasses or buy good quality disposables that can be popped straight in the recycling bin. If you're worried about crystal or delicate objects, put them away.
"When you're surveying a room, look at the big picture - be conscious that people are going to put things down, they aren't going to like some of the food, they'll wrap it in a napkin, put it in a vase, and you're going to find it 12 months later."
If you're getting flowers, remember that supermarket flowers - especially lilies - take a few days to come into their own, so get them in advance to make the most of them.
If you have pets, see if you can leave them with a friend or neighbour for the night. While you may love your cat, the guest who finds their new pair of tights ruined by a set of sharp claws certainly won't.
As for kids? "I have children so I know what I'm talking about - the last thing you want the next day is cranky kids who are tired when you're hungover," says Tara. "Do yourself a favour and let your kids have a sleepover somewhere. If you can't, invite some friends for them to play with. You want to parade your kids around and say 'look how cute they are,' but it's not The Sound of Music!"
Get the party started
Event planner Paddy Bollard recommends answering the door and personally welcoming guests as much as you can. "It is nice to answer the door and welcome people yourself," says Paddy, who also suggests enlisting teenage nephews or neighbours to help out serving in exchange for a few bob. "It saves you a lot of hassle on the night."
To take some of the pressure off you, remember to introduce your guests to one another. "Be mindful of your guests. Just because you know everybody doesn't mean everybody else does," says Tara. Have a few of your close friends or family members doing the same, so nobody is left out.
Make sure your guests know where the bathroom is - and that you have plenty of loo roll available. Paddy advises: "Add a nice scented candle in your bathroom, and as well as towels, have a wastepaper bin and sometimes some paper napkins in case you're not able to go and change the towel often enough."
"Once you get your guests in, think about getting a drink into their hand as soon as possible. The first drink is the one they're going to remember," says Tara. Set up a self-serve bar, fill a bucket with ice for beers and leave a bottle opener close by, or prepare jugs full of drinks to make it easy for guests to refill throughout the night.
"Don't skimp on the drink," Paddy advises. "It's embarrassing to run out, or for people to have to leave and buy more."
There's no need to go overboard with inventive or quirky drinks. Stick to the old reliables, wine and beer. If you're doing cocktails, choose one that won't floor everybody after the first glass. And don't forget about options for non-drinkers. Rather than a plain sparkling water, make an effort with elderflower cordial, artisanal lemonade or a fruit punch.
Party nibbles are an essential. Dublin chef Andrew Rudd says: "To be honest, a lot of people get a bit freaked out doing the food themselves. If you're a dab hand in the kitchen and you have the confidence to cook yourself, absolutely do, but what I would suggest is support that by having a server. If you are worried, I would recommend getting a caterer. You can cater for parties as small as eight people."
For a cocktail party, you don't want anything more substantial than canapés, and you don't need to have too many of them either. If you're doing the food yourself, invite your guests into the kitchen to have a chat and a glass of wine while you cook. "The key is to have as much prepped in advance as possible. You can start at least two days beforehand, and that will save you having to do too much work, so you can just enjoy the company of your friends and family," Andrew advises.
Time to call it a day
Rather than turning everyone out on the street when you're ready to hit the hay, Paddy and Tara have a few subtle suggestions to nudge your guests on their way. To prevent awkwardness on the night, you could indicate the time the party will end on your invitation so guests know when they're expected to leave. You should also make sure you know the best way of getting people home. Familiarise yourself with local taxi services, and if you're outside a city centre, give a taxi company a call ahead of time and check what their response time is. Then you can give guests a hint by asking, "Do you want me to call you a taxi?"
"Make sure that your guests aren't putting you to bed," says Tara. "There has to be a responsible adult at the end of the night to blow out all your candles!"
A box of matches
More ice than you think you need
Stain-removal products for rugs, upholstery, your new dress
To chill the white and sparkling wines
To charge your phone and camera
To clean and tidy the refrigerator
Instagram at the table
When is the appropriate time to photograph, filter and share your meal when in the company of others (beyond your very best friends)? NEVER. Should you choose to do it anyway, make a to-do of it: announce to the group before you start snapping that you're going to take a photo and ask them to smile.
Very much, thank you
Expressing your gratitude doesn't always need to be a formal affair now that texts and emails have become socially polite. Whatever your medium, sending it sooner is best (three days or less), but better late than never. You may need to be clever with what you write, but there's no need to belabour its tardiness. Concentrate on the gift itself and of course, be sincere.
The text: An off-the-cuff message best sent to close friends and family within a few hours. Swap "dear" and "kindly" for a witty emoji, and avoid mucking up your appreciation with careless misspellings and - OMG, no digital slang.
The email: A note well-suited for day-after reminiscences, with writing space for a few more details and anecdotes.
The handwritten note: Our preferred method for wedding, birthday and shower gifts, presents from close relatives and our boss. Here, err on the side of proper. That being said, you also want to sound like yourself.
Party etiquette 101
New York fashion designer Kate Spade's new book All in Good Taste is a guide to stress-free entertaining and etiquette for hosts and guests alike
How to master the art of small talk
Wait for an opening in the conversation, then introduce yourself to the group or a person in it. If you know someone, a little tap on their shoulder or an eyebrow raise is all it’ll take for them to make room for you
Jumping into someone else’s conversation only works if you’re sitting directly next to them
The easiest conversation to join is one with one other person
When it’s time to employ an exit strategy, discreetly bow out of a larger group with an “excuse me”. If you’re talking to one other person and don’t want to leave them stranded, walk them over to another group or include someone new in yours. Once the conversation is in full swing, you can politely leave them
The person with the higher status (your boss, for example) generally dictates how long the conversation will go, so continue the conversation until they do the above or something similar to you
One easy way to tell if you’ve overstayed your verbal welcome is if the other person’s eyes begin wandering the room. And wandering… and wandering…
Dream guests are made of this
Come with a hearty appetite and a rested soul
Don’t show up early or, for a sit-down or time-sensitive event, arrive more than 15 minutes late
Arrive festively well dressed
Put your phone away
Talk to the person on your left, and on your right. Listen thoughtfully and ask questions
Always respond to an invitation within three days
If you are suddenly unable to attend, give your hostess immediate notice
Don’t arrive at a loss for words. Read the paper or a news website
Come armed with a few conversation starters… but don’t feel compelled to channel Oscar Wilde
Sit at the table at the same time as most of the other guests
Pass dishes counter-clockwise (to your right) — unless everyone is already going left
Ask if anyone would like the last piece before you take it
Be the first to make a toast and the last to say goodnight
Send a little thank-you gift, either before or after — a heartfelt thank-you note or email the morning after; flowers that arrive an hour or two before the party starts; a bottle of champagne; a classic board game; her favourite candle.
Kicking up your heels, solo
Accepting a party invitation with the notion of going on your own is exciting. Oh, the people you’ll meet! The conversations you’ll have! The outfit you’ll wear! Actually showing up to the party alone is another brave matter.
Dress to the nines, whatever your interpretation of that is. If you look good, you’ll feel good. Listen to a playlist of your favourite songs on the walk or drive there
Strike up conversations with a compliment or a question about how the other person knows the hostess
Instead of hovering around your hostess all evening, engage with the people around her. Ask her if there’s anyone particularly interesting you should seek out
And while it’s tempting to be on your phone, put it away. Chances are there’s someone else looking to start a conversation too, and they’re much more likely to start it with someone who isn’t overtly being anti-social.