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Here's how to party!

If you love to party, now's the best time to have one. Yes, it's Diwali today, and the joy of Diwali is that it opens the party season. Read on for tips on how to plan a perfect party for your guests.

india Updated: Oct 16, 2009 16:52 IST
Mignonne Dsouza

It always happens at this time of year. Somewhere between Diwali and New Year, I get the urge to rearrange my furniture, get in lots of food and booze, figure out how to hook my laptop to speakers, and start calling friends home to talk loudly, bump into my furniture, spill food and drink all over the house and litter the balcony with cigarette butts. And every year, after clearing up the mess, and handing over four bulging garbage bags to the cleaners, I wonder - Why do I do this?

The answer's the same every time - because I love to party. And if you love to party too, now's the best time to have one. Yes, it's Diwali today, and the joy of Diwali is that it opens the party season. With friends and relatives from abroad winging their way home over the next few months, the weather clearing up (no chance of rain now, but a good chance of bracing cold evenings), and plenty of reasons to celebrate on the horizon, there are many weekends, and even weekdays to host your own bash.

Of course, you may not want to throw a party at home because: you have no furniture / you have too much furniture / the house is not fit to be seen / the house is too perfect for people to mess it up. Or you never want to go out and party because: you are too busy at work / too tired to meet up / it's too expensive to go to a restaurant / the discs are too crowded /the lounges are too noisy.

In short, there are many excuses to not party. So here's rule number one: before you throw a party, you have to want to throw a party. Otherwise, forget it.

That said, once you do decide to throw a party, know that it will involve some work. Sure, you can always call friends over last minute and then start working the phones for food and booze, but that's what you do every time, isn't it? So, this time, make an effort to make things a bit more special.

The best laid plans
Before planning any kind of party, there are always a few things to be considered - venue, date, guest list and budget. Once you've frozen on all these, you can get on with your preparations. Fashion designer James Ferreira, who holds at least one party at his Mumbai home every month, advises giving yourself three days' notice to plan a party.

It's easiest to throw a party at home, particularly if you just want to call over some friends. But if you need to entertain on a larger scale, you may want to consider a party hall or taking over part of a restaurant or bar. If you're unsure about what option to select, Rahul Akerkar, managing director and director, cuisine, deGustibus Hospitality Pvt. Ltd, which runs Mumbai restaurants Indigo and Tote on the Turf and also a catering service called Moveable Feast, puts things in perspective.

"It's a common misconception that catering at home is easier and cheaper than catering at a restaurant or banqueting space," he says. "It's important to realise that catering in an 'outside' location requires lots of infrastructure to be moved to the venue. As the caterer, you have to provide for ovens, burners, gas, refrigeration, blenders, mixers, cutlery, crockery, banquetware, linen, etc. Then you also have to worry about electricity, water, waste removal, transport and other issues. Depending on the remoteness of the venue, these costs can mount substantially."

If you do decide to hold a party outside the home, start by calling party halls and banquet rooms for rates. Make sure you get (and budget for) all required permits such as music, DJ and liquor licences. For a restaurant party, book in advance and ask if you can get a special menu. Nevil Timabdia, a partner at bonobo, Mumbai, explains, "At bonobo, for up to 30 to 40 guests, we reserve a space in our dining area or one of the two bars in the A/C section."

Try and taste the menu beforehand, and message invitees with the exact address (if you haven't sent out an invite). Also include a number that isn't yours as you may be busy or talking to guests, and because basement spaces sometimes don't get cell phone reception.

Even if you decide to have a home party, consider hiring outside help to serve food - e.g. ask your maid to stay late to serve (or wash glasses and plates or mop up spilled food and drink). For food, remember that many restaurants and caterers will deliver, while hiring a DJ or bartender will ensure you don't spend hours changing CDs or mixing drinks rather than being with your guests.

Next, choose a date that works for you. Saturday night is always good, but sometimes Friday night is also a good option, and all of Sunday also works for a lot of people as most people have the day off.

Once you've selected a location, finalise a theme, and come up with ideas for food, booze, entertainment and music. Get all your alcohol in advance, and mixers as well. If you are cooking at home, see if you can make some stuff in advance - marinate meats, make dips, sauces, etc. Wash all the glasses and plates you plan to use. If you are using plastic, thermocol or paper plates and glasses, buy at least twice as many as you think you will need, as well as enough napkins and tissues, and also toothpicks (for finger food), and buy or fill enough water. Akerkar also advises making enough ice - roughly one pound per guest.

What's your theme?
These days, for any party to be a party, you need a theme. That's the opinion of Priti Sidhwani, partner at Dreamz Kraft, who's been organising events like film shoots, weddings, parties and other events for 10 years now. "Having a theme is a must," she explains. "And it's trendier to have a simple and elegant theme. For clients now, the theme is as important as the food, whereas earlier, the food was the most important aspect of an event."

Coordinating things according to a theme needn't bust your budget. Says Sidhwani, "There are many themes that are simple and easy to organise. In my opinion, there can be no party flavour till the right ambience is created. Consider a red Moulin Rouge theme for instance, with masks for guests, flowers, candles, cushion covers, napkins and some red lights. If you collect hats, consider a Mad Hatter theme - strew the hats around the home, and ask your guests to wear hats too. It's also a good theme for a bachelor's party. Butterflies are another popular theme, for both adults (make the theme social butterfly) and kids. Another popular adult theme is Pirates, complete with rum-based drinks and chocolates."

Other suggestions from Anway Bhoite, creative head, Dreamz Kraft, include: "If you or a friend has a Buddha statue, then consider a Buddha bar theme - set up the idol in a niche with candles and flowers. For a jungle theme, ask guests to wear something animal-related, and decorate the house with lots of green and flowers. A Cuban theme should involve lots of flowers and ribbons."

To personalise parties for family, Bhoite suggests, "If you have a corridor leading to a venue, hang photos of a person all the way down. Or blow up a picture of a couple to life-size."

He also advises, "Push all your furniture towards the walls. To give your sofa and chairs a different look, throw bright stoles and dupattas over them. For another different look, get in a few baby power cans and use them to spotlight different areas of the house."

James Ferreira once draped his windows with marigolds, and once covered his ceiling with white fabric to add to the ambience. Another time, "I told everybody to bring gifts worth from Rs 25 to Rs 50, put them all in a sack, and had people pulling out gifts," he recalls.

If you are holding a party at a venue, Sidhwani suggests, "Carry candles, lamps and cushions to the venue so you can personalise it." There's also other basic stuff you can do, like covering flaking paint with posters, or tacking white or colourful paper up and painting on it. Stock up your bathroom with enough towels and tissue paper, and keep it smelling sweet, and if you have a problem, like a stubborn flush, inform guests about it. Finally, move your breakable items, even if only adults are coming.

Who's coming to dinner?
When compiling a guest list, bear in mind that rather than trying to jam everyone you know into your apartment, the people you call over should "add up to an interesting mix," as designer James Ferreira suggests. "The people you invite keep the party going,? adds Ferreira, who either hosts small parties of 20 or larger dos of 60. ?So make sure that each guest knows at least three to four more guests."

If you are planning to introduce new friends to an older group, ensure you introduce those friends to other guests a little ahead of the party. Or ask them and a few other friends to come early so that they can bond before the party kicks off.

If a friend calls up to ask if he or she can bring over unexpected guests, be flexible and say yes. If you worry about running out of food, call a local restaurant, or explain the situation to a friend and ask him or her to bring along some munchies. If you are a guest and find you need to bring a friend / relative along to a party they haven?t been invited to, it?s polite to call your hosts and inform them of the fact, so they are not caught out.

All child's play
There's a different set of rules to go by when you have kids over. First, childproof the house. If you are going to have kids over, and have no kids of your own, buy pencils and drawing paper so that the kids will be able to occupy themselves. Or set up a TV or computer to play a movie in another room. Or ask guests to bring along some of their kids' small toys.

If you have kids, make sure you put out a selection of toys for both them and your friends' kids. Don't put out brand new toys if you are afraid of them being damaged, and don't expect your kid to share his or her favourite toys, so make sure those are out of sight.

When serving kids food, make sure you have bland food on hand, since not all kids eat spicy food. Also, rather than serve children just wafers and fizzy colas, make sure you also have some healthful snacks and food on hand - fruit juice, noodles, microwave popcorn, boiled chana and corn, a cucumber and tomato salad, etc. Also remember that most kids will want to eat dinner way before the adults, so their food should be ready at that time.

Food for thought
This is one of the most important aspects of hosting a party, so pay due attention to it. If you are having a theme, make sure that at least some of the food corresponds to it, like sunflower seeds for a Mexican theme, or kababs and hookahs for a Moroccan party. The other thing to remember is that there should be lots of food. As Rahul Akerkar suggests, "Make sure you have enough for invitees plus one. It?s always okay if you have leftovers, but you never want your guests going home on an empty stomach."

As a precaution, buy some frozen food and ready mix foods, so there's some backup if you run out. The other thing to do is review your food situation half an hour before local restaurants stop taking orders, so you can order in if you feel you'll run out. If you are ordering in food, try and taste it in advance. Priti Sidhwani suggests having some starters at home if food is being ordered in so that if the food is delayed, you still have something to serve guests. Consider microwave popcorn, ears of corn microwaved for six minutes and served with masala and lime, sausages, lollipops and the like.

Also, consider just serving starters. Says Akerkar, "At a lot of parties these days, we are asked to only serve cocktails and appetizers. Since everyone will be eating only little tastes, if they don?t like something, you can be confident that there will be other choices for them."

Don't ignore the vegetarians, and vice versa if you are vegetarian yourself. If you are serving a yummy veggie starter, remember that non-veg people can and will eat these, so ensure then that you have enough of that starter for everyone.

When you start to serve the food, make sure you instruct servers in advance when sending out starter platters. One neat way to identify veggie starters is to outline a V on the side of the plate in sauce or chutney. One way to ensure veg and non-veg eaters don't munch on each other's starters is to not order both chicken and vegetarian pattice, for instance. It's difficult to distinguish between similar-looking food.

Raise the bar
These days, it's worth it to consider hiring a professional bartender. Francis Gonsalves of Myst, which offers a dial-a-bar concept for home parties and counts Zayed Khan among his clients, explains how this works. "We offer the services of a qualified bartender and will also supply alcohol for parties. I usually go to the client?s home and do a recce before the party. On the day, the bar is set up an hour before, and the bartender stays for a maximum of six hours, making cocktails and mocktails," says Gonsalves.

He also offers tips for setting up your own bar. "A basic set up is whisky, vodka, Cointreau, Tequila, beer (all pints), orange, cranberry and pineapple juice, and sweet and sour mix (lime juice and sugar syrup in a 1: 2 ratio). With this, you can create seven to eight basic cocktails like a cosmopolitan, margarita, daiquiri, screwdriver, tequila sunrise, mojito, caprioshka, etc. Remember that a 750 ml bottle usually has 12.5 large pegs or 25 small pegs."

Other tricks include: freezing vodka in ice cubes, dropping a slit green chili in a peg of vodka or whisky and dropping a cinnamon stick in a vodka bottle for a couple of months before serving it up. Also, remember that guests who do not drink will be filling their glasses with fizzy drinks and juices, so buy lots of these.

Just beat it According to Nevil Timbadia of bonobo, music sets the mood for every party.

"Usually, people stick to retro rock, lounge or house," says Nevil. "But if you are hosting a day party, or brunch, experiment with jazz and blues." Rahul Akerkar's suggestions include: "Cuban is a safe bet, as is any Café Del Mar album. If you aren't a music person, ask your hippest chums to bring along their iPods."