GOOD PLANNING MAKES a party easier for the hosts. Use these party planning and organization tips and you'll have as much fun as your guests this holiday, or any, season.
Keep things manageable:
* When making your guest list, consider how many people you feel comfortable cooking for and how many you can fit in your home. Hosting a couple of smaller gatherings may be easier than planning one large affair.
* If time or money is a factor, keep your gathering simple. Consider an appetizer and dessert buffet, late-night cookies and coffee, a weekend brunch or a dinner to which everyone brings a course.
* When you plan your party budget, try to think of all expenses: food, beverages, decorations and flowers, any rentals required, and a baby sitter, if necessary. It's a good idea to add 10 percent to your estimate for unforeseen expenses.
* Dress up serving platters and plates with such simple yet special garnishes as sprigs of fresh herbs, tropical fruits, baby vegetables, edible flowers and sauces ladled onto each plate under the food.
* Decide on your menu well in advance when possible and choose recipes that can be made ahead and frozen or refrigerated. Make extras of recipes that can be frozen to keep on hand for impromptu entertaining.
* To speed preparation time, also plan quick-to-fix foods and recipes that start with such convenience foods as deli meats, frozen bread dough, purchased sauces and pre-shredded cheese.
* Stock your cupboard with a few easy munchies such as mixed nuts, pretzels, dried fruit, or chocolates to serve as filler foods along with your star recipes.
* Keep an emergency supply of cookies, baked goods or finger foods in the freezer that can easily be thawed for last-minute entertaining and unexpected guests.
* When you're looking to buy serving dishes and other entertaining supplies, check a restaurant supply store. The quality is top-notch and you'll be amazed at the variety.
* You can rent many party supplies, such as tables, punch bowls and bar glassware. It's often less hassle to obtain all the items you need at a rental shop than to borrow a few at a time from friends.
When the party's over:
* Remove party beverages and appetizers from serving centers and replace with dessert and coffee.
* Serve your favorite brunch foods for an early breakfast.
* Be a responsible host. If you question a guest's ability to drive home, don't let him or her attempt it. Call a cab, arrange for a ride home with another guest, or provide transportation yourself.