Here's how to host a smooth New Year's gathering

Sometimes the best way to ring in the New Year is having guests ring your doorbell. New Year's Eve is a perfect excuse to host a party, and it's not too late to plan an at-home affair.

Sometimes the best way to ring in the New Year is having guests ring your doorbell. New Year's Eve is a perfect excuse to host a party, and it's not too late to plan an at-home affair.

People tend to get New Year's party supplies at the last minute, says Kristie Skunberg, store manager of Party America in Fargo, N.D., which has an entire section dedicated to Dec. 31.

In addition to plates, napkins and cups, decorations and favors are common purchases. "That can include anything from hats to beads, to noisemakers," Skunberg says. "If you're looking to have a great atmosphere and create something, I think all of those equal a great party."

Because the whole idea is to count down to the midnight hour, it's probably best to start your gathering a little later, rather than a 6 p.m. dinner party, says Karen Wonderlich, who started her own business, The Party Planner, last fall.

It's also a good idea to refine your guest list to your nearest and dearest. "I've learned from experience that smaller and closer friends and family is better than trying to have a big, huge party where people don't know each other," says Maren Day-Woods, who owns an event planning business and is director of sales and private events for the Avalon Events Center and The Hub. "You don't want to force yourself to be with people at the beginning of the New Year when you'd rather be somewhere else."


While Wonderlich suggests a guest range of 12 to 20 people, the size of the party really depends on the space. You need to accommodate everyone, but you don't want the group to spread too far out.

Day-Woods suggests having seating for about three-fourths of the guests. That keeps people up and moving around.

"You want to keep things moving, keep people moving, keep people eating. You can set that up," she says.

The best bet for food is a buffet of hors d'oeuvres. The menu should include a variety, but without too many options, Day-Woods says. Food should be available throughout the evening.

Depending on the timing of the party, plan on four to eight servings per person.

"On New Year's Eve, that's the night to go on the higher end," she says. "That's not the night to skimp."

Hiring a local caterer can reduce some of the workload, Wonderlich says. But she always advises re-plating foods so they don't look like they came straight from the grocery store. Take them off the plastic trays and onto a ceramic platter.

"I just think it looks more inviting for your guests. It looks like you took some time," Wonderlich says.


Decorations are another way to make the event special for guests. Day-Woods loves the idea of fresh flowers -- a rarity in these winter months -- on the buffet table.

Wonderlich suggests black tablecloths with silver accessories. For a smaller party, rent wine or champagne glasses if you don't have enough.

Having a theme for the party -- whether a Mexican fiesta, an elegant black-tie evening or an all-sports event -- can make it easier to plan out the evening, both Wonderlich and Day-Woods say.

A theme provides a framework for the menu, decorations and any games or other activities.

Both women say it's also a good idea to have some sort of activities planned, such as a card game, "white elephant" gift exchange or asking guests to bring a baby picture of themselves to guess who's who.

"You want to keep it relaxed, but you want to have a couple ideas in mind to try," Day-Woods says.

To make sure you enjoy the party as well, do as much work ahead of time as possible, such as cleaning the house and chopping fresh veggies, Wonderlich says. But don't forget that the host is responsible for her guests. Have a bartender serve drinks to help curb excessive consumption, Wonderlich says. He can control the amount served versus guests pouring it themselves. Offer a coffee bar as the night wears on, and plenty of food. And arrange for rides home -- even if that means you're a designated driver. "I think in order for you to have a safe party, you have to be aware," she says.

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