Entertain like an expert

Plan, plan, plan
Remember the six Ps: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. So says Karen Short of By Word of Mouth, one of Jozi's premier catering companies. To make sure your party goes off without a hitch, follow these planning pointers.

  • Set the date as far in advance as possible. It'll give you the time you need to pull everything together, and you're more likely to get your first choice of venue and suppliers. (The good ones are rarely available at a moment's notice.)

  • Budget. Decide how much you can spend, and allocate most of the dosh to that which is most important to you. For some it's the food, for others the decor and entertainment. Here's a good budgeting rule: allow roughly half the cost of the food bill for the drinks.

  • Send out invitations about three weeks in advance. Remember to include a map or directions, and ask about special dietary requirements.

  • If you're having a large function and using a caterer, insist on a menu tasting beforehand. You'll also need experienced bar and waiting staff.

  • Once you've planned your party requirements (including invitations, menu, bar, hiring, flowers, decor, music), draw up a schedule for the day of the party. Arrange times for the various deliveries and work out the sequence of events for the party. Tip: don't let speeches run on... it causes major stress in the kitchen and could leave your guests with cold or dry food!

    Flower power: Turn to your garden for floral inspiration, says Gideon of Gideon's Flowers & Functions in Randburg. Instead of buying expensive blooms, pick some of your own and haul out as many glass vases (of all shapes and sizes) as you can find. Create a cluster of vases with a single flower in each. Or what about floating candles and Barberton daisies in shallow bowls? (This is especially effective if guests are seated at low tables.)

    The essentials
    Whether you're seriously into planning, or more into spontaneous partying, there are some rules of entertainment you should always stick to. We asked signature caterers, Judy Babb and Callie Hartnady, and events co-ordinator extraordinaire, Otto de Jager, for their top tips.

  • While planning is crucial, you've got to allow for some fun and spontaneity. Don't follow trends to the letter – if you set your expectations too high, you're likely to be disappointed.

  • Plan your guest list carefully. Inviting people with common interests will help conversation flow.

  • Get out of the kitchen and mingle with your guests – remember, they came to see you. If you're doing the catering yourself, hire some help or do most of the food preparation beforehand.

  • Think quality, not quantity, when it comes to food, drink and decor. By limiting variety you can amplify the items you have chosen and give much greater attention to detail.

  • Any entertainment should be supportive and interactive; guests should not passively sit and "watch" a show. Loud music is almost always disruptive and can kill a party – except, of course, when there's dancing!

  • Lighting is essential for creating ambience – think candles, fairylights and lanterns. Besides the main entertainment area, remember to have suitable lighting in the bathrooms, entrance halls and gardens too.

    What's hot (and what's not)
    Keep it simple, say those in the know. Trends come and go, but trying to pull off something hugely fashionable can end in disaster. Party queen Angela Steur of event and decor company, Party Design, and renowned Jo'burg caterers, Wakeford & Company, have the following advice.

  • Home entertaining is personal, so whatever the theme, decor should be an extension of the host's personality. Keep the focus on the host's style and character (or whoever the party is being thrown for).

  • Decor and food should match to an extent – white linen and soft flowers, for example, wouldn't work with tequila shooters and tacos.

  • Simple lines always make for a beautiful table. Give yourself time to polish the silver and set the table properly. Use exquisite base plates or place mats, and be sure to have linen napkins. It isn't essential to have flowers on the main table – they can work just as well elsewhere.

  • Keep food simple too. You can't go wrong with good quality ingredients – especially fresh, colourful herbs and spices.

  • In terms of food trends, Mediterranean, deli, fusion and Euro-African are all hot right now. That said, there's nothing like wholesome comfort food in the colder months.

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