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Laid-Back Party Planner

12 Top Entertaining Questions, Answered

With some easy planning, you can host a party and keep your cool.

By Kate Chynoweth
Flowers on a table outdoorsMinh + Wass

The Invitations

Should I mail invitations, or can I e-mail them? 
"Mailed invitations signal that an occasion is a special event, whereas an e-mail or a phone call is more casual," says Stephanie Belger, event manager at Jane Hammond Events, in San Francisco. (Guests are more likely to R.S.V.P. to a written invitation, says Belger.) Whatever your method, it's a good idea to extend invitations three to four weeks prior to the event. Remember that electronic invitations are appropriate only if your guest list consists of people who check e-mail frequently (this may not include your 80-year-old aunt Ruth).

How many people whom I invite will show up? 
Obviously, the type of occasion and the guest list will affect the numbers. But for bigger parties, when you've invited close friends and distant acquaintances, "a good rule of thumb is to expect 70 to 80 percent to show," says Laurel Szeto, owner of Laurel and Party, a Santa Monica-based event-planning company. Most people who are polite enough to R.S.V.P. are polite enough to show up (or call if they can't). If someone who hasn't R.S.V.P.'d arrives, be gracious and make room.

Do I have to tell my neighbor about our party in advance? And do I have to invite her?
It's always polite to warn the neighbors before you entertain, especially if you expect a big crowd. If your party will be outdoors and the nostalgic music will definitely carry, or if your guests will take up a lot of street parking, it's even more important to spread the word. Honore Ervin, coauthor of More Things You Need to Be Told, and one half of the Etiquette Grrls advice duo, suggests saying something like "We're having a party this Saturday, and things might get a little noisy―although we'll try to keep it down, of course. People will be driving over, so please don't have anyone towed!" (Make a joke out of this.) A few days' notice is OK―any longer, Ervin says, and they might forget. If you don't normally socialize with the neighbors, you're under no obligation to invite them.

How do I gracefully tell people that I don't want their kids at my party? 
Deal with this delicate issue in person or over the phone, rather than specifying on the invitation that kids aren't welcome, suggests Amy Nebens, author of Gracious Welcome (Chronicle Books, $20, Most guests will realize that cocktails or a Saturday-night dinner party aren't kid-friendly occasions, but if you're concerned, you can always clarify your position when guests call to R.S.V.P. Say something like "It will be so nice for all of us to have some grown-up time for a change" or "I hope you won't have any trouble finding a sitter on a Saturday night."

I've invited people for drinks, and they've expected dinner. I've invited people for dinner, and they've shown up already "having had." What time means drinks, and what time means dinner? 
For a cocktail party on a Friday night, start at 6 or 6:30, so people can come straight after work and go for dinner afterward, says Gary Arabia, a Los Angeles caterer and chef-owner of Global Cuisine. A Saturday night cocktail party can start later, Arabia says, adding that cocktail parties around the dinner hour are OK, as long as your invitation makes clear that dinner will not be served. Weekend dinner parties generally start between 7 and 8. Having drinks first allows all your guests time to arrive; let your invitation convey the details: "7 P.M. cocktails, 8 P.M. dinner."

Read More About:Etiquette

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