Mad About ... Parties
(This is a continuation of the Tiki Party post. I decided to break it up into several posts to make it a little more manageable. The original post was dated December 14 and can, quickly, be found in Labels under "Parties.")
This is another fun way to express yourself; consider whatever your theme is and emphasis it with your supplies. This also cuts down on expenses - there's no reason to blow your budget on tons of pricey decorations, if you don't have a lot to spend. Let the little details speak for you.
You can use regular china if you like, especially if it's a smaller gathering, but it's recommended that you go for paper plates. Try to find the sturdiest plates available and match the color/pattern to your theme. As for size, it's always better to err on the side of smaller; if you are doing a buffet, you can opt for regular sized plates, but if it's just nibbles and canapés, stick with smaller cocktail plates. And always buy extra - people like to throw away their plates or forget them somewhere.
Cloth napkins are an elegant option but, again, reserve those for smaller gatherings. Simple and sturdy is all you really need. If you like, you can match the color or design. If your plates match the theme, you napkins don't really need to - and visa verse. However, if you want to go all out, then by all means - do so! Going over-board is perfect for something like a "Tiki Party." Sizing is the same as plates - make sure they are equal to each other. And, yes, buy more than you think you'll need.
While glass sounds like it could be fun, it's not. You don't want to be washing every glass you own for hours after the party - and you don't want to clean up the inevitable broken glasses. So, even for smaller gatherings, opt for plastic. Not those horrible red plastic cups - those just scream "frat party/date rape." No, a nice clear plastic is just fine. Most craft or party supply stores offer a wide variety of styles, including cocktail and champagne flutes. Again, how crazy you want to get is up to you, but it's always good to have some simple 4-6 ounce glasses.
This all depends on if you are actually going to need it. As I suggested above, finger foods are the best choice for parties. So consider toothpicks as part of "cutlery." You can find all sorts of fun toothpicks at party supply stores, boutiques (like Cost Plus) and even your grocery store. Look for some with different colors, designs carved into them, and some that are made of unique material, like bamboo. Buy tons - and I mean tons. You will never have enough. Now, if you do need cutlery, get plastic - it's easy and disposable. There are a lot of options when it comes to plastic - clear, plain white and a variety of colors. I suggest clear since it goes with anything. Even if you are serving with toothpicks, have a box of plastic cutlery on hand just in case someone asks for a fork, knife or spoon.
Essential. The last thing you want to worry about is cleaning your own table cloth or the table beneath it, later on. Stash your everyday table cloth and use one purchased specifically for the party; if it gets ruined you can throw it out and be done with it. Basic white is always nice, same with a crisp black - but do whatever you like, especially if there is a specific theme. Pick up a plastic table cover as well and tape it to your table, then cover with the cloth.
These are totally optional. They look nice and are pretty fancy but are hardly essential. If you do get one, they are best for more elegant gatherings and should be in solid colors.
Serving Accessories (bowls, trays, utensils, doilies)
If you have your own selection of serving accessories, by all means, break them out! Now is the time to show off your wears. And even though you may not think you do, you probably have some stuff that will suffice. The important thing is to take stock of what you need. Think about the dishes and how you want to serve them, then look at what you have. If your cupboards are bare, then go shopping. But I don't suggest buying disposable here - instead, go to your local Goodwill store or a second-hand shop and find something fun. It's also perfectly acceptable to ask friends if you can borrow things.
A word on doilies: they are, as a rule, terrible. But they serve a purpose; lay down a doily, place mat, etc. and you instantly add flair to your table. They help with spills, too. Just know that, here, "doily" is an all-purpose word and can mean any sort of place mat.
I will elaborate more on including nuts, candies, fruit, etc. on your menu, but for now you should just remember that they will be served. Have enough small-ish bowls to set around your space, so people can reach out and grab a snack. They can be simple white or really fun and creative - matching the theme of your party. A fun alternative to basic bowls are vintage ash trays. When my grandmother gave up smoking, she had a fantastic collection of these weird, colorful, metal ash trays and she would put candy in them.
Place Cards (optional)
These may seem a little formal, but they are actually very helpful. A basic card stock is more than fine, in white, with the name of the dish neatly printed on it. You can add a fun little design to the side, but keep it simple; people will be reading the card to see what the name of the dish is and if they can't see the name then what's the point? They are also helpful because it keeps guests from asking you repeatedly what's on the table. Making some notation of whether or not the dish is vegetarian, Kosher, etc. is a nice touch.
If you think of anything else that you may need, make sure to write it down so you don't forget to pick it up.
Buy everything you need a week before the party, but leave it in it's packaging. If you happen to see something else that you like in the mean time, you can always buy that and return it's original. Check off everything once you buy it, so you know what you have and what you still may need to buy. Keep in mind: the more organized you are, the easier things will go for you. Besides, it hardly takes more than a few minutes to jot down a list and check things off of it.