“If Surrealism is not quite your bag, consider other themes. Although not exactly groundbreaking, I do love the idea of a murder mystery dinner…Or pick a decade from history to celebrate. Even better – invite your guests to come as a work of art. A friend hosted a swamp-based party once, complete with acid-green lighting. Why not?”Luke Edward Hall, in The Financial Times
A couple of times a year we’ll have a house party and over time I’ve identified factors which seem to work towards a successful weekend – even for the hosts! These are the actions which I’ve found help towards both memorability for all concerned, and lack of histrionics on the part of the organiser. And further below is a sample menu for the weekend with links to the recipes.
Have a theme
A theme involves everyone and makes an event. The idea is that everyone enjoys themselves, don’t try and be sophisticated about this. Favourite colours seem to make good themes – we’ve had red parties, in-the-pink parties… even a Colourful Life party. We’ve had a Champagne Party, a Gilbert and Sullivan party, and an Old Nick party. Guests dress in red, as artists, as devils… fancy dress should be more about imagination than effort. There is red food, or music based on colours…. the Old Nick party involved children in red tights, stuffed crows and dry ice.
Get as much done as you possibly can before:
organise help both before and over the weekend, if you can afford it, paid help which will (hopefully) be more focussed and less distractable.
- empty the fridge and freezer of the unnecessary and unidentified a week or so before
- put away every possible unnecessary item the morning before the guests arrive
- check that the heating works!
- empty the rubbish
- empty the dishwasher
- fill the kettles
- fill your salt and pepper grinders
- decant your wine in good time
- Plan things for people to do: sporty – walks, croquet, super-soaker fights…..; sedentary – Sunday newspapers, blowing up balloons….; Scottish dancing gets people of all generations mixing in well
- Well before make sure everyone knows what they should bring: wellingtons? Tennis racquet?
- You can broadcast the theme, and give everyone a list of what they need to bring in the invitations – design yourself, or use Paperless Post or Papier for some of the most gorgeous, ready-made, customisable designs. Other sources of invitations are honeytree, and Mount Street Printers.
Plan food which can be:
- plan a mix of types of meal – one formal, black tie evening; a lunch picnic; an outdoor barbeque…
- made ahead of time
- served out by the guests themselves
- doesn’t need to be heated or cooled – go for a cold starter, and a main course which can be accompanied by a salad, otherwise you will put serious strain on your oven capacity
- A cheeseboard is a good idea – the traditional approach is to choose a hard, a soft, a blue and a goats’ cheese, but these days there is such a variety of different cheeses – live dangerously and go for your four favourite. Allow 70g – 100g of cheese per person. Make sure you remember to leave the cheese (especially soft cheeses) out of the fridge for at least 24 hours, if you have to put them in there at all.
Here’s a sample menu for a country house weekend in May – there were about thirty guests so the whole thing had to be carefully planned well ahead. There are links to the recipes where they have been published, with more recipes to come.
dips and crisps (because you are serving the crisps with the dips you will need to get man-enough kettle crisps)
chicken lasagne with a green salad
birthday cake – make something appropriate – artist’s palette for an artist; racing car for a driving enthusiast….for more inspiration about cakes go to my pinterest page
gorgonzola with volcanic polenta
pineapple stuffed with lychees
cottage pie or shepherds’ pie and a green salad