Admittedly I don’t blog enough. I have an Evernote with a whole list of topics to blog about – but none really pushes me to open up my computer and start typing like NOW! (The iPad is great for consumption, rarely for content creation). But an incident that happened last night had me thinking overnight and I decided to pen this today.
Disclaimer: Some points of this post might have me come across as bashful and indulging in self-praise. My only defence is that narrating of those parts was important to set context for the post. Thank you.
My mom got back into town after a 5 month stint in the US (mostly chilling & cooking up some great food for parties in SoCal) and decided she wanted to throw herself a homecoming party. About 15 of her friends were invited and I decided to call about 7-8 of mine. That number eventually swelled to a grand total of about 40 at peak during the course of the night. One of the last minute additions was my dear Prashanth P2 Nagarajan and his group of about 10 people! Before he left for the night (around 3:45am), he repeatedly stressed on how he wanted to learn from me on how to be a perfect host. He said he was particular impressed with how I was never fazed by last minute additions to the party list and was always open to more people joining in. Prashanth is in the process of rebuilding his home and hopes to become a prominent fixture in the city’s party venue list – trust me, with a heart like his, he sure is on his way to being a great partyman.
This post is to encapsule some key elements of throwing a great party. How to come out unscathed and guests waiting for the announcement of your next one.
Throwing a party is 60% heart, 40% effort. You really have to love entertaining people to be able to throw a good party. And trust me, all those frustrating moments of putting together the perfect evening will fade when your guests come forward to graciously thank you at the end of the night.
I almost put in as much effort into planning a party as I might into wooing a woman – everything’s got to be perfect, take the person by surprise and ensure a smile. Also, if you throw a party regularly, it’s not about making EVERYTHING unique each time – it’s about that special something that’s unique THIS time.
2. Discovering & leveraging your USP
B-52 by The Sharck
Every party and every host has his or her own USP. In my case, the entire party always revolves around my bar – it is the venue as well as the centre piece. Coupled with the fact that I love serving alcohol (the finest, even if I often get ranted at because of it) and cocktails makes my bar the USP of my parties. Similarly, when Prashanth becomes party host, I think besides his awesome house to be & bar to be, the most identifiable aspect of him is his sense of humor – great timing and quick wit – he will and must learn to capitalize on the same, not necessarily always resorting to comedy of the stand up variety.
Do NOT leave anything to chance – something ignored is something definitely bound to go wrong. Here’s quick check list of what to do before the party:
- Plan the event somewhat well in advance, at least 2 weeks. People are getting increasingly social and may not be available at short notice – not necessarily putting up their price. Just respect their schedules.
- Make the guest list – Send out SMS invites and try to get confirmations to know the party size you are expecting
- Set the menu – decide if you will be cooking at home or ordering in. If you do NOT know the party well enough, ask how many Veg & Non Veg people you are expecting. Also, do note that if the group is somewhat close and booze is going to be free flowing, you can down play the food aspect. Most people will drink till late and a decent array of short eats will do the trick. Just throw in a biriyani, rotis, some paneer & a basic dessert as dinner back up.
- Try and spread the cooking (if cooking at home) between hours 36 and 12 before the event. Will give you enough time to recover from mishaps if any.
- Test your appliances – if you are living in Chennai or most other parts of India (excepting the winter months in cities up north), you will definitely want to ensure your refrigerators are defrosted and your air conditioners working. If at the slightest hint of stress in cooling properly, get your air conditioner serviced and gas re-filled (Rs. 1800-2000).
- Play List – Decide the sort of music you want to play through the evening and into the night. Go about arranging it on CDs or downloading them. GET THE SEQUENCE RIGHT! You do NOT want to welcome your guests with Mr. 305 Pitbull at 8:30pm. Start off with some easy lounge or bollywood music and then transition to something with rhythm but not necessarily very loud. Go with the (alcohol) flow and keep building up the tempo as the night goes on.
- Sound check – Check your sound system to ensure everything’s ship shape. You might think this is be being paranoid but trust me, at my uber planned last weekend party, the sound system completely let me down with my rear channels as well as the sub woofer completely refusing to work. I decided not to bother too much about it and ensured people got served more alcohol (:-p). When I checked it the next day, someone or something had caused the sub woofer’s setting on the receiver to Off instead of On! If only I had done my sound check….
- Ensure power back up is in place
- Cutlery, crockery, glasses are sufficient, cleaned and readied for use
- It’s quite easy to forget the mixes – Soda, water, Coke, 7 UP, Red Bull & Orange Juice are bare essentials. If you plan on whipping up cocktails, get their mixes sorted out – usually various types of juices, bitters, bitter lemon, ginger ale, tonic water, etc help.
- If you have pets, have a pet plan – they react very differently to different situations – loud music, people petting them, people eating around them, ignoring them, etc. Ensure you have that sorted.
4. The Bar
The not-so-secret ingredient of a great party, the alcohol requires fair planning to ensure you don’t run dry – your bar as well as your bank! It’s quite acceptable if you just have the basic whisky, vodka, rum and beer on offer with some basic mixes as said earlier. However, if you do enjoy bar tending and want to push out some cocktails, plan them up front and make a list of what cocktails you will serve. WARNING – DO NOT try and wing this. You will either miss out key ingredients (and you will realize this precisely when all the other ingredients have gone into the shaker!) or ruin the cocktail.
The key to the best drinks is ice. Ensure you buy from a reliable source to the rough thumb rule of about 100 gms per person attending. I almost always buy atleast 10 kgs. I get mine home delivered by Mr. Padmanabhan from Golden Ice (+91 9080335522). Rs. 20 per kilo and approx Rs. 150 delivery charges to most parts of Chennai.
Clean up your bar and the equipment. You do not want to be serving your guests in dirty glasses with dirty ice tongs or mixing with soiled stirrers. Also, if you are in cocktail mode, do keep in mind that you will need more than one shaker. Usually drinks with juices will dominate one shaker while save the other one for drinks with milk and cream. This will save you the hassle of constantly running to the loo to wash a shaker.
5. Liven things up
Invite to a party at B-52 in September, 2012
As passe as they may seem, setting a theme for your party almost always will get your guests excited. While some will make the effort to adhere, the others will simply not bother. Let this not deter you from livening things up with a quirky theme. Western, Retro, Polka, colors, etc have all been done to death. I particularly remember bling, silver and underwater as themes that excited me in the recent past.
I try and get some livery going around the event by putting up a specially designed invite and a curated menu for the evening. I like e-mailing this to guests, putting it up on Facebook and indulging in other such PR. Besides getting you recognition, it also adds to the ‘hep’ value of the evening where your guests are going to be that evening.
6. Ask for help
Unless you are super human, you will never be able to pull off throwing a good party for anything above ten people without help. If you are lucky, you probably have good, reliable domestic help. If not, don’t hesitate to ask your friends for help. Remember, if you are going to be captive behind the bar or DJ console or camera through the night, most guests are going to have a tough time having a good time, without access to you at your party – especially if it’s a disparate group. Let friends help you with the bar, music, taking pictures, cooking, serving & cleaning up even.
7. The smoking areas
If you live in a flat, your guests are most likely to smoke either in a verandah / balcony if your house has one attached or some other common place. Prepare the space with an ashtray and possibly some aromatic oils. Especially in the case of common areas that other apartment residents’ use, ensure your help cleans up the place immediately after most guests have gone. You are definitely going to be served a notice by the association if they discover cigarette stubs and empty beer cans in the common areas.
8. The back up plan
When things go bad, you have to be prepared. Some basic steps:
- Have spare bedding for those who have had one too many to drink
- If possible, have a driver on standby to drop people off (I always do)
- Candles in the case of a power cut – plus they look nice and cool and some dark room games could help too. Use this time for some flash photography also.
- Midnight food delivery service if people get hungry
- Some basic medicine for the over indulgent who might take sick
Finally – open up your heart and house on party day. If your friends want to bring their friends, as long as you don’t mind, encourage them to bring them over. Don’t let your preparation stop you. What’s the worst that can happen? They know when they are last minute inclusions into your friends’ lists and will not mind in case you run out of food or alcohol for them. They are over to have a good time and the music ain’t going to run out for nobody. Yes it might generally be a good idea to avoid complete strangers since remember, you will still be liable for any events / actions arising out of your party.
Good luck and tell me how your next one goes by tweeting to me @TheSharck or commenting here.