Prep for Parties
When you know best basics to stock up on, you can shop at your convenience and take advantage of finding items on sale. Here is a list of categories and items to consider, along with tips for building your own party pantry.
Some gatherings call for a set table while others just require space to set out drinks or hors d’oeuvres. When choosing which items you need, consider whether you host more intimate dinner parties or if you prefer more casual settings.
•Neutral Tablecloths: This can be a simple length of fabric or an actual linen tablecloth. Take your table measurements to the store, and shop sales for the best deal.
• Long and Rectangular Vinyl Table Covers: These are very inexpensive, easy to find at party stores, and come in a variety of colors. Rectangular ones fit long tables and can be folded down for smaller square or round tables. If you only buy one color, choose red—it works for the most holidays (Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, Christmas). Green and black are good second choices (New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving).
• Clothespins or Double-Faced Tape: These work great to secure tablecloths outdoors.
Simple is the way to go when you’re hosting at a moment’s notice—and even when you’ve got plenty of time to prepare. If you’re serving a seated dinner, make sure guests can see each other over the centerpiece. Be creative with materials and containers; the centerpieces are usually what guests remember most about a party.
• A Few Large Glass Containers: Go big for high impact: a few cylinders in different sizes, a big fishbowl, maybe a box-shaped vase. When they’re all glass, you can use as many or as few as the party calls for, and they always look coordinated.
• A Pretty Tub: Pop in a few potted plants. Or fill it with ice and drinks. Or pile it up with Christmas ornaments.
• Candles: Several white or cream pillar candles do well alone or in glass containers. Keep both an assortment of votive candles and tea lights for adding nuance to any setting. White or cream votives in simple glass holders go a long way. Group them for impact or scatter them between vases.
•Filler: Think marbles, vase gems (smooth glass stones), rice, split peas, seashells, garden pebbles, sand. These look pretty in glass containers and work well to anchor and lift candles.
• Rolls of Neutral and/or Metallic Ribbon: Tie these around vases, swirl them along the table, or use small pieces as napkin rings.
• A Lighter or Matches: For the candles, of course!
It’s always great to have fine china for 16, but entertaining trends today have our guests too busy mingling or watching the big game to worry about how nice their plates and utensils are.
• A Basic Set or Two of White Dishes: If you’re just setting up house or have the opportunity to buy a new set, white is the most versatile style and makes your food look fresh and colorful. You can easily mix and match white dishware patterns as the guest list grows from 8 to 16.
•Nice Disposable Plates: Dinner and dessert sizes are the best choice to keep on hand. Choose plain white again for versatility. Go for the best quality to help guests keep their food on their plates, especially if your parties are casual with guests moving about.
• A Set of Cloth Napkins: Mismatched sets make things more interesting. If you’re shopping, choose white or neutral colors that will work for any holiday or gathering. It’s nice to have 12, even better to have 16 or more if you tend to host large dinner parties.
•Disposable Napkins: Stock up on dinner and cocktail sizes. Again, pick white, but if you hit after-season sales, grab some fun themed ones for various holidays.
•A Basic Set of Silverware (Stainless or Sterling): For dinner parties, have a fork, knife, and spoon for 12 or 16 as the bare minimum.
• Disposable Cutlery: Splurge on the nice ones, especially if your guests will be eating a full meal.
• A Few Large Serving Pieces: If you don’t have any, stick with simple white or cream styles. A couple of large platters, some serving bowls, and perhaps a pretty cake stand (which you can use for much more than a cake) will do for most parties. A couple of large glass pitchers are also good to have.
• A Couple of Sets of Good Glasses: Basic glass tumblers will do fine for most any drink along with some basic wine glasses. Stemless wine glasses are becoming more and more popular and are easier to store.
• Disposable Cups: If you serve hot drinks, keep foam cups as well as the plastic ones for cold drinks.
From place cards to party favors, details often do make the difference. Keep these miscellaneous items in your party closet for quick finishing touches.
• Printable Place Cards or Cardstock in a Few Colors: Run these through your printer or just fold them and write names with a permanent marker.
• A Hole Punch: A quick punch and you can tie place cards onto chairs, vases, or around candle holders.
• An Assortment of Ribbon and Scissors
• Small Cellophane Bags and/or Small Treat Boxes: Fill these with candies (or tiny soaps or wrapped chocolates) and tie them with a ribbon for party favors.
• A Box of Birthday Candles: Choose a box suitable for all ages.