20 ways to throw a great party
1. Go nuts on the guest list
"More people is more fun. Estimate one square metre per person for a cocktail party, or half a square metre per person for a party party," says John Wilson at Sydney boutique caterers Cook and Waiter. "You get a real buzz from being up close and personal, and it stops people being caught talking to the same group all night."
2. Drink on arrival
"Get people to a merry plateau as soon as possible," suggests Christopher Thomas at Trolley'd, a hire-able mobile bar service that uses old Ansett trolleys. Whether it's a glass of champagne or sparkling, or something virgin, getting glass in hand immediately is a priority. Rodney Setter, sommelier at Sydney restaurant Sepia, suggests: "Go for a spritz. Pour a dash of Aperol in any type of glass and top up with Prosecco."
3. Soda time
"There's a real resurgence of homemade sodas. Pink lemonade syrup, made from blending raspberries, whole lemons (including skin!) and caster sugar, then strained, can be topped up with soda in an ice-filled glass as a refreshing, non-boozy welcome. Add a dash of sparkling wine for a non-virgin version," suggests Miccal Cummins, director of Sydney caterers Gastronomy.
4. Instant food hit
In the hours before they arrive, guests have been dealing with babysitters, hair dryers, ironing and frustrating GPS instructions. When they arrive, give them something to eat straight away. It needs to be something pop-in-the-mouth, says Wilson at Cook and Waiter. See our recipes for delicious one-bite trout canapés.
5. Pleased as punch
There is nothing sadder than a host so busy muddling and shaking drinks that she misses her own party. Shaking cocktails on the night is over the top. Punch, however, works. Thomas at Trolley'd explains: "The thing about a punch is that you get everything done before they turn up. It's chilled and you can relax and have a drink. It's all about mise en place with parties, so you're not chasing your tail instead of enjoying the party." See recipe.
6. Go vintage
Make a trip to local vintage markets and shops like St Vincent de Paul in the search for old glasses of different styles. There's nothing wrong with having an eclectic table filled with well-washed and polished non-matching glasses. Mixed patterns will help guests remember which one is theirs.
7. Don't be a martyr
Delegate. Whether it's getting your other half to do their famous potato salad to go with your glazed ham, or hiring paid-for experts to do the heavy (service) lifting, parties are merrier for everyone if you're prepared to divvy up the work. And if your best mate offers to bring something, accept. But be specific and tell him exactly what you want, so his wretched cheese-squares-on-crackers don't ruin your vibe.
8. Channel your inner craftiness
"Make the ordinary extraordinary," says Kate Stewart at Melbourne-based Bright Young Things Culinary Event Makers. "Days or weeks before decide on a colour or theme. Paint a trestle that will act as your drinks table. Personalise items by using stamps, handwritten menus, wrapping ribbons around jars or try paint dipping wooden and ceramic items such as spoons and pot plants. Spray paint fruits in gold or neon, dip jars in colourful paint and fill them with flowers."
9. Pay the rent
It may seem indulgent, but hiring items such as glasses, cutlery, linen and even a six-litre drink dispenser for punch is less expensive than you might think. Imagine, no washing up! Or go all out with a pressed metal bar or food station for the garden from which to serve drinks. For an elaborate affair, get a wire pergola in and decorate it with fresh flowers and balloons with silver tassel garlands.
Hire from decorofdistinction.com.au in Sydney
10. Light up
Give friends the party equivalent of air-brushing; dim the lights. Break out non-scented candles and use fairy lights outside. Richard Breatnach, the managing director of Sydney-based Workshop Events, says scented candles can work if it adds to the theme. Coconut candles work for a Hawaiian party, for example. But otherwise they shouldn't be seen outside the bathroom. "Use lighting to highlight a feature in the house, it looks sensational. Use what's already there. If you're in the garden, highlight the trees or the plants. You have a natural backdrop there."
11. Go wild
Branches can add sculpture to a table. Go into the garden with pruning scissors and bring anything budding or flowering in. Trim away shaggy leaves, stick the branches in a vase or lay across the centre of a table.