HOW TO BE A MIGHTY SWELL PARTY HOST

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The cover illustration of a 1960 Hydro pamphlet

You’ve happily invited all of your friends to your first big dinner party at your place and now with the date fast approaching you’re second guessing your party plans. Is your home large enough to fit your guests? What meal are you going to serve? And what about appetizers? Music? Can you really pull off a party your guests will rave about?

Of course you can! Just call on your inner 1950s host. Take a look at the illustration above and it’s clear to see that this mid century hostess has everything under control; she’s not the least bit concerned. She’s confident and relaxed, and perfectly polished. She knows her guests in the background are having a swell time, admiring her hosting skills and  wondering ‘how does she do it?’

people are so busy these days and don’t always realize how important it is to make time to socialize and gather with friends and family like they did back in the fifties. Back then people entertained on a very regular basis. Most families had the perfect space for entertaining including a fully stocked bar in their basement and some key ingredients in their pantry so they could whip up some food on a moments notice. Their parties often included a few fun after dinner cocktails and a game of cards or charades ensured every guest had a mighty swell time indeed.

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photo found on ELLEdecor.com

They likely didn’t have as much pressure on them to pull off THE latest, greatest gathering. They didn’t scour Pinterest for appetizer ideas or check their Facebook event page constantly to see who  bothered to rsvp. They simply invited their guests in person on the spot, sent out an invitation by mail or made a telephone call…on a rotary phone…attached to a wall.

So if you are a bit unsure how well you can throw off your own party, read on as I’ve compiled a few FAQs and some pointers I got from some vintage party books that may help you feel more at ease with your upcoming soiree.

What if your home isn’t big or fancy? You see all the glamorous looking homes and elaborate party settings in magazines and online and then you look around at your own modest home and wonder if it is good enough for a party. Stop worrying about keeping up with the Jones’s. Take  author and newspaper columnist Polly Kramer’s advice from her 1965 book ‘Polly’s Homemaking Pointers’. In it, she suggests that you don’t need to strive for party perfection in the appearances of your house, garden, or the food for a party. She says ‘n0 one should apologize for HOME no matter how humble it may be IF she has made it as comfortable and charming as possible.’ So no worries if your home isn’t a sprawling mansion – just work with your home to make it comfortable for your guests and add a little charm with a few simple touches or decorations.

Do you have to decorate? You don’t have to decorate for every gathering but it can be a nice touch. You can keep decorations to a minimum though and keep it simple. A colourful bunch of flowers in a vase adds a nice party feel and makes for a pretty centerpiece. For an outdoor soiree, add a string of fun inexpensive patio lanterns to add some mood lighting and colour.

How thorough a cleaning do you have to do before your party? If you are like me you probably feel the need to clean your home for three days in preparation for your party. But I have come to the conclusion that this is unnecessary…especially since you’ll just have to clean it all over again after. A quick tidy is sufficient in most rooms with the exception being the bathrooms. Definitely give the toilet, sink, countertop and mirror in your bathroom a good cleaning and make sure to hang a fresh hand towel and have lots of extra toilet paper on hand. Polly had a suggestion in her book that if your home isn’t as spic and span as you’d like simply adjust the lighting. Turn down the main lights and light some candles and ‘this glamorous lighting will hide any imperfections.’ I think that is some good advice. People won’t notice a bit of dust on your shelves or care if your floor isn’t shining so spend less time cleaning and more time thinking about the party itself, like the menu perhaps.

You are not much of a cook and are worried about what to serve. I can relate. I love planning a party, coming up with the decorations and putting together the perfect music play list, but sadly, I am not much of a cook. At my last Christmas open house I was busy making my first batch of deviled eggs (ever) and I underestimated the time it would take to throw three dozen deviled eggs together. My kitchen was both messy and smelly when my first guests arrived a bit early – oops! So I definitely agree with Polly when she suggests that we shouldn’t make something we’re not accustomed to ‘or it could end in disaster.’ Even though we now have Pinterest and YouTube videos showing us step by step instructions on how to make any party food you can imagine, I wouldn’t recommend trying to make something like cheese gougeres (or deviled eggs) for the first time, an hour before your guests arrive. Stick to something you’ve made before or try new recipes at least once before just to be on the safe side.

And although it was likely unheard of at a mid century party, I’m going to suggest you may want to consider ordering some or all of your food from your favorite restaurant or catering company if you are a) truly a really bad cook,  or b) the thought of preparing a meal for your guests makes you so nervous and stressed you won’t have any fun at all. Do what is right for you.

How can you make sure all of your guests get along and have a good time? You don’t have to worry about this much with smaller gatherings when everyone knows each other but with larger parties where people might not be acquainted you may wonder if everyone is having fun. One way to get the crowd mingling and loosening up is to play a game. I know, I know – most people roll their eyes at the thought of having to play party games these days, but they were once very popular at dinner parties. Personally I think it’s about time they made a comeback. Games can be as simple as charades, trivia or you can even create your party around a game like a murder mystery (I will be posting a list of fun dinner party games soon.) And for an outdoor party, some friendly competition with a simple game of croquet or horse shoes can do the trick.

What type of music should you play? I’m guessing that in the fifties, record players were stacked with go-to party favorites ready to spin – maybe some Sinatra perhaps? If you own a record player I would suggest you use it rather than playing your computer or iPod’s playlist…at least over dinner. There is just something about a record – the crackling and coziness that gives a more personal feel. Regardless of whether you’re playing music on a record player or the music on your iTunes, choose some lighter jazzy background music to play during dinner and then let the music get more upbeat as the night goes on. But be ready to switch it up. If your guests want to dance right after dessert, then be prepared to get the dance music going.

How do you ensure your guests leave happy and safely? At the end of the night make sure to thank your guests for coming. If they have a bit of a drive home, send them off with some water and even a small snack pack of leftovers for their travels. Also, you should be ready with some options for guests who have had too many cocktails to drive home. Call them a cab or offer them a place to sleep in a spare room or even just on your couch.

I think the main thing to remember when throwing a party is to relax and make sure you have some fun yourself. Don’t stress about the little details because like Polly said, as long as you make your home comfortable and charming for your guests, everyone will have a great time. The friends, family or co-workers you invited won’t judge you on your party choices, they’ll just be so happy you invited them!

 

 

 

 

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