Stress-free party ideas

Tricks and tips for planning and hosting a stress-free party. Whether casual or formal, remember to keep it simple.

A party is a fun event that usually marks a joyous occasion. Planning and hosting a party, however, can be stressful. The trick to enjoying your party as much as your guest do is easy. Remember to KISS. That's Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Keeping it simple usually means keeping it casual, but that's not always the case. Certain situations merit formality. The feeling of black tie can be accomplished without high stress by simply toning down the event. Instead of a full-blown, sit-down dinner party, consider cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Send elegant invitations and plan the party for the evening hours to reinforce an "after-five" feel without any extra effort on your part.

Rather than scurrying around filling guests' drink glasses, prepare punch bowls full of pre-mixed drinks. These do not have to be complicated concoctions. Some of the most popular drinks that have withstood the test of time are made with only two or three ingredients. Look for individual drink recipes online, then increase the amounts accordingly. Offer a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic choices. Use large glass punch bowls and place silver bowls of ice beside each punch bowl. Make hors d'oeuvres ahead of time, and set them out on large platters. Cover tables with white tablecloths to add a touch of class.

For a casual get-together, take it outside! Plan a picnic in a park. Many municipalities require permits for park use, and the best parks often are snagged up early, so be sure to reserve a space well in advance. In the weeks before the party, pick up vinyl tablecloths to throw over picnic tables, and buy paper plates, plastic dinnerware, packaged snacks and plenty of canned drinks. Round up some outdoor game equipment, such as volleyball or croquet sets. If you are lucky enough to have access to a swimming pool or a beach, the fun is almost guaranteed. On the day before the party, make bowls of salads and buy meat and buns. On the day of the party, buy bags of ice. At the park, set out coolers with ice and canned drinks, place bags of snacks on the tables, and encourage guests to take part in a game. When it's almost time to eat, throw the meat on the grill. Because most of the work was done in advance, you can relax and enjoy the company of your guests. Remember to not get worked up about little things like bugs or sand. It's a picnic; no one expects everything to be perfect.

A potluck also is a great way to celebrate an occasion and enjoy the company of friends and family with minimal stress. For this type of party, you must be comfortable enough with your guests to ask them to bring a dish to pass. While this is not always appropriate, usually family members and close friends are glad to help. They want to spend time with you as much as you want to be with them, and if simply bringing a dish of food will accomplish that, there are seldom objections. Invite people over the phone and explain that you are having a potluck. Be prepared for the question, "What can I bring?" Don't pin guests down to a specific item. First ask them if there is anything special they would like to contribute. Perhaps they have a tried-and-true dish that gets rave reviews. If not, suggest a type of food, such as a cold salad, hot casserole, meat dish, dessert, etc. Keep a list of what is coming so that the menu is balanced.

For the ultimate stress-free party, have your event catered and hold it somewhere other than your home. There is no cleanup involved before or after, and the only food preparation you will have to do is looking over a menu and choosing what will be served. The most stressful aspect of this type of event is opening your wallet.

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