9 Secrets to Hosting a Better Party

Partying should help you blow off steam and enjoy life, but hosting can be a huge source of anxiety. Avoid getting cold feet before the next big get-together with these perfect party tips.

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1. Pinch Pennies With Pasta

1. Pinch Pennies With Pasta

Pasta will stretch a dinner like no other food-both in terms of cost and quantity, says catering expert Vivaldo. One cooked pound of pasta mixed with grilled vegetables and chicken will serve six to eight guests for just $5 or $10. Compare that to $50 and up for a leg of lamb or other higher-end meat dishes.

To hide the fact that you've chosen pasta to cut costs, give your dinner party an Italian theme. Serve Italian wine and bread, throw some red-and-white-checked tablecloths on your tables, and make a tiramisu (or other Italian dessert) to top it off.

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2. Opt for Mixed Drinks over Wine

2. Opt for Mixed Drinks over Wine

Most people think that wine is cheaper than liquor. The truth is, serving mixed drinks instead of wine will actually save you money on your booze tab. "A bottle of wine yields only five glasses, which will serve only three to five guests at best," says Denise Vivaldo, author of Do It for Less! Parties. At an average cost of $15 a bottle, a fairly decent wine adds up if you're having a lot of people over.

Here are a few less expensive options: For easy, frothy daiquiris, mix a litre of rum with frozen limeade; for a new twist on the classic Cape Codder, combine sparkling cranberry juice with a liter of vodka. (Use one part liquor to three parts juice for both cocktails.) You will get about 30 cocktails out of a litre of liquor, which costs roughly the same as a bottle of wine.

If you don't want to spend the night with a cocktail shaker in your hand, opt for a champagne punch so that guests can serve themselves. A punch made of inexpensive sparkling wine, fruit juice, and soda is cheap, easy, and a real crowd pleaser. Here's how you do it: In a punch bowl, combine a bottle of sparkling wine or champagne with a 355-ml can of frozen juice and 355-ml cans of a light-coloured soda such as ginger ale or Sprite. Stir and serve!

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3. Make One Showstopper

3. Make One Showstopper

When you are trying to be the perfect host or hostess, there is a natural tendency to overdo it, to try too hard. And when it comes to a formal sit-down dinner or even a buffet, you want every course or dish to be extra special and perfect. In the process, you can not only bust your budget, but also drive yourself into a frenzy.

The solution is simple: Make one dish the star of the meal and spend your extra effort and money on that one course. Iif the other parts of the meal are straightforward and simple-but made with fresh, tasty ingredients-they will set off the prize dish rather than compete with it, letting it shine like a diva with a fine but unobtrusive supporting cast. And you'll garner more compliments. That never hurts.

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4. Play Musical Plates

4. Play Musical Plates

Worried that your party guests will clean out your buffet? Use smaller, 23-cm plates instead of the standard 30-cm size. By shrinking the size of the plates, you will trick your guests into thinking that they're putting more food away than they are. On the flip side, if your dinner is winding down and you don't want leftovers, switch over to larger, 30- or 36-cm plates and hope that your guests pile them high!

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5. Rent the Dishes

5. Rent the Dishes

If you're hosting a catered party, ask the catering company to itemize all charges. When you get the figure you'll be charged for accessories like dishware, silverware, and tablecloths, use it to do some comparison shopping. Chances are, the caterer is renting these accoutrements himself and is just marking up the rental fees.

Call several party suppliers to see if you can beat the figure your caterer is charging you. The caterer may stamp his feet, but you're in charge.

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6. Invite an Interesting Mix of Friends

6. Invite an Interesting Mix of Friends

You may think a dozen guests with similar interests equals one successful dinner party. Not so-the secret to a rollicking evening is usually a quirky collection of opposites. If you want a dynamic, delightful dinner, mix it up a bit. Invite both your conservative neighbour and your bohemian acquaintances, for starters, and see what happens.

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7. Don't Get Stuck With the Blowhard

7. Don't Get Stuck With the Blowhard

If you find yourself stuck with the most boring blowhard you've ever met, excuse yourself to get a drink refill and offer to get him something as well. If he says no to the drink, you are off the hook and can depart with grace. If he says yes, it's still okay if you get the drink, hand it over, and then walk away.

Another way to escape? Introduce chatty Charlie to a passing friend and remark on the interest or hobby they might have in common. Then leave. Come on! Your friendly probably owes you one anyways.

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8. Master the Art of the Empty Invitation

8. Master the Art of the Empty Invitation

Learn when to give an empty invitation and learn when an invitation is empty, Scofield says. Few people would admit to giving one, but there are some invitations that are offered purely out of social grace, not out of a genuine desire to see someone again. These "empty invitations" are particularly prevalent at the close of a social event such as a dinner party.

"For instance, if you just met someone at a dinner party and they offer to let you stay at their home the next time you come into town, that's an empty invitation," she says. "If you tried to take the person up on it, they would likely tell you their house was full that weekend."

Similar to the empty invitation is the empty parting comment, such as "Let's have lunch" or "I'll call you." These comments really mean, "I like you as a person, but I probably won't call." To avoid confusion, if you are the one giving the empty invitation or parting comment, substitute it with a more general phrase, such as "It was good to see you."

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9. Bring a Non-Edible Hostess Gift

9. Bring a Non-Edible Hostess Gift

If you're the one attending a party, know the key to choosing the perfect hostess gift: Choose something that will please the hostess without disrupting the flow of the party, says etiquette instructor Liz Scofield. Don't bring flowers-she'll have to leave her guests and go searching for a vase. Don't bring a dessert-she probably already has every crumb of the meal planned out, and she'll feel obligated to serve what you brought in addition to what she already had planned.

Instead, present her with something fresh and delightful, such as homemade chocolate, gourmet teas, cocktail napkins, or candles. Better yet, send something ahead of time that will add to the festivities, such as a floral arrangement. If you are on the receiving end of a disruptive hostess gift, tell the gift giver, "This is great-I will save it for the next special occasion when it can be appreciated on its own."

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