5 party essentials

By Felicia D. Pinkney

The RSVPs are in, the menu is set, and drinks are chilling in the fridge. It’s official: You are hosting a party. But before you usher in your first guests, do a quick inventory to see if you have these five indispensable party essentials.

1. Dimmer switches or candles.

Ikea Glimma unscented tealightsLighting is one of the most important elements of your soirée. Dimmer switches are ideal, says celebrity event planner and designer David Stark, author of David Stark Design. “Whether over the dining table or in the bathroom, the dimmer switch takes you halfway there to hosting a party with the right vibe,” Stark says.

Another lighting solution is candles — the more the better. “I keep cases of the IKEA Glimma votive lights for instantaneous party ambiance,” Stark says. And don’t forget a long-handled utility lighter; it’s a candle lighter’s best friend.

2. Serving plates, platters, or bowls.

Transfer chips, nuts, and other snacks from their containers into pretty serving dishes. Get a unified look with coordinating serve ware, says Bonnie Kaar, co-owner of First City Events, a special events production company in Savannah, Georgia.

Her advice on color? White is timeless, because it coordinates well with other colors and can be dressed up or down to fit any occasion. Serving dishes can also do double duty as part of a centerpiece if, for instance, you toss fresh flowers or fruit into one of them.

3. White linen napkins.

Real cloth napkins add elegance to a table, plus are more eco-friendly than disposable paper. “I can’t stand disposable napkins for their waste,” Stark says.

Again, classic white works well with any theme. You can fold them into fancy shapes or simply tuck them into decorative napkin rings.

“I grew up believing that the linen napkins were only for special occasions, but why not make every time you sit down for a meal special?” Stark says.

4. A good icebreaker.

No, not the tool for chipping away at a block of ice — the folks who aren’t afraid to start a conversation with a complete stranger.

“Making sure that your party has great conversation begins with your guest list,” says author Deborah Ford in Puttin’ On The Grits: A Guide to Southern Entertaining. So think about whom you’re inviting before the party starts, she says.

As soon as your guests enter, introduce them to others who share a common interest. Otherwise, your shy guests may become wallflowers or leave before they’ve had a chance to enjoy themselves.

5. An extra pair of hands.

It’s hard to have a great party without good help, Kaar says.

As the host or hostess, you’ll be busy mingling with guests and tending to other things. So unless you’re using hired help, ask reliable friends or family members to lend a hand.

Designate someone to run to the store, if needed, and another helper to keep the food and beverages flowing, Kaar advises. When the party is over, these friends can help with cleanup.

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