Farmer Nick requested a big Greek birthday party to rival the one I laid on last year, I knew I would have a job to come up with something as fun and yet original under the same theme but I love a challenge. Having said that I am not super woman and as my guest list hit 20, with still more Nick would love to have invited, I had to plan carefully to create an evening that would flow without placing undue pressure on myself.
Planning for Dinner Party Success
Think about Table Layout.
Don't let lack of space inhibit you from a party. A little imagination can overcome many space issues. I am lucky enough to have a large open plan kitchen/dining room with a huge table to seat twelve. In the past I have added extra temporary tables to extend the seating to sixteen but with twenty this wasn't going to work. I was left with a buffet option which I have done successfully in the past with a disco too for my birthday, but Nick is not a disco fan and really wanted a sit down. The answer I came up with was to take down our large table and replace it with four small tables each seating five. I took the tables and chairs from garden furniture around our little lodges. This seated everyone perfectly but could have left people not able to socialise widely had I not given plenty of thought to the seating plan.
Make a Seating Plan
It is worth taking time to consider the seating plan and not just leave it to chance. Identify your chatty and outgoing friends who you know will keep a conversation flowing and spread them amidst quieter more thoughtful people. Boy girl seating and thinking of common interests also makes it easy with people who don't know each other well. The name place is a chance to be creative; I used Greek Flags round napkins for Nick's party with the names on.
Move People Around
For our Greek Party I was conscious that people might be limited to their individual tables and so I constructed, not one but 3 plans which took some thinking through but was simple to administer on the night. By labelling my tables 1 to 4 and writing a number on everyone's name tag my plan was in place. Between courses I asked 1st the men to look at their name tag and move to the table number indicated, then the ladies after the following course. This way everyone had a fresh group to match their new dish. To make it even clearer I had a table plan drawn up which made quite a talking point over drinks before we sat down. Even if I have a large single table I often ask the men to all move two places to the right at some point to liven the evening with fresh conversation.
Maximise Your Courses
A number of small courses keeps a party moving. I reckon on four as standard. Normally a starter, main, pudding and cheese, though for my Greek night I broke with this format, though still maintaining four courses plus coffee and chocolates. Food is the focus of a Greek party and with so many unusual dishes I printed some menus; this also ensured everyone knew to pace themselves!
Theme the Evening
I find a theme a great way to coordinate a party. I have done Hollywood (with tips on a disco party), a casino night, Greek parties, Indian evenings, it really doesn't matter but it's a good idea to let people know on the invite. I like an occasion to dress up and usually make this clear too, for Nick's birthday Greek Evening I gave the option to dress smart or Greek or better still combine them both. The menu was all Greek with English translations and we made our small tables in the room look like a Greek Taverna with wine bottles for candles, the laminated menus stood between the salt and pepper pots on each table which were dressed with blue and white checked cloths. The room was surrounded with twinkle lights and dressed with sprigs of ivy while the CD player played Zorbas the Greek. I even went to town on the birthday cake with a three dimensional carrot cake to look like the Acropolis which I kept as a centrepiece until pudding. The finished effect which had the desired "wow" from our friends as they entered, immediately feeling they had been transported from windy Cornwall in February to a Greek Island taverna in summer.
Keep the Drinks Flowing
A party that rocks never sees an empty glass; people can be shy about refilling a glass so make sure someone is on drinks duty. I usually leave this to Nick and prod him from time to time when he chats for too long and neglects his job! Give your guests at least half an hour to stand and chat over a couple of drinks before seating them. This is a chance for introductions for anyone in the group who hasn't met and a catch up for friends who might not sit together. You will be surprised how quickly this time goes and how relaxed everyone is, just make sure as host you hold back on the drinking or you will forget what is going in and out of the oven!
Don't Rush the Meal
Entertaining is like going to a restaurant, it is a leisurely affair and a break between courses allows your food a chance to digest, your guests an opportunity to move around if needed and as host gives you time to eat and prepare the next course. I always ensure everything is ready in advance so that all I am doing is taking in and out of ovens (yes I'm lucky to have two) and serving on the night giving me plenty of time to enjoy the party too. I also only served the starter to the table placing subsequent courses out on our kitchen island and asking everyone to come and help themselves. This works well when there are choices for the food and some dishes which are not familiar to everyone.
Adding something unexpected is always a good idea. The Boys had a wave machine as one of their Christmas presents and I brought this into the corridor for a bit of fun after dinner. The idea came from The Mad Blog Awards last year where a larger version was a huge success. Sure enough after a few drinks the brave tested their balance with great cheers from all watching. A bit of frivolous fun always goes down well, sadly I swapped from camera to phone to instagram the action and the picture quality has suffered but the fun still shows.
My final tip is to be outright in asking for help. Along with an invite I asked if my friends would mind bringing a dish. There is so much for a Greek menu, especially if you are really going to go to town on the options. I handed out many of the side dishes, leaving largely just the main course and pudding for me which helped so much.
I also had the family to help me lift tables and chairs around, friends who arrived in the afternoon to help me create the Taverna, it became a team effort with plenty of time for everyone to return home and change for the evening. During the evening itself I was never short of offers to help between courses and I gladly accepted.
Nick's Greek Birthday Feast
The night itself ran like clockwork thanks to my advance planning. Guests arrived at 7.30pm and we didn't get to pudding until midnight. It was heading to 1.30am before our guest began to leave with everyone quite unaware of the time; even Farmer Nick who always falls asleep early was the life and soul throughout. It was such a happy evening with an amazing combined spread of food. I hate to see anyone leave hungry, the Greek way is clearly rubbing off on me!
A Feast of Four Courses
Seeing my email fill in the morning with lovely thank you notes like this I know it wasn't just Farmer Nick who enjoyed his birthday. He will be 50 next year, what am I going to do for that one?
Don't be scared of a party if you have a special occasion coming up, just remember to plan well and the night will look after itself.
Talking of the MAD Blog Awards, the 2014 awards are now up. There are so many wonderful blogs I interact with each week chosing just one per category is no easy task but please do to vote for your favourites, whoever gets to go on the night will have such an amazing time, and a few fun party ideas to copy too!