Party advice for the host

By David Hagedorn
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 4:55 PM

Here's host advice from party experts Susan Gage, owner of Susan Gage Caterers; Steve Dunn, owner of Well Dunn Catering; Eric Michael, co-owner of Occasions Catering; and David Hagedorn, former chef and Real Entertaining columnist:

- Limit the time of your party to two hours. Offer 6 to 8 items (6 for a pre-dinnertime party, say, 5:30 to 7:30 pm); 8 for a later party, say, 7 to 9 pm.

- Offer variety; some items hot, some cold. Include something with meat, poultry, seafood and cheese, as well as something vegetarian and gluten-free. Six pieces per person per hour is a safe formula to use.

- Offer one or two miniature sweet items, either on the buffet or passed toward the end of the party.

- Passed hors d'oeuvres must be one-biters. Use a quarter as a benchmark for size.

- Have some anchor items on a buffet that don't require a lot of replenishing, such as crudites, a cheese and fruit display and whole meats or fish, such as a tenderloin, a side of poached or smoked salmon, a smoked turkey or ham.

- Keep a journal or take notes on your cellphone to record good ideas you see at restaurants or at other parties.

- Invest in a set of at least 100 plain white luncheon-size plates and 12-ounce, all-purpose goblets.

- Count on two plates per person for a buffet (2 1/2 to 3 if you have set up a separate dessert table) and two glasses per person per hour.

- Include some products on your menu that are locally produced and use them as points of conversation.

- Hire help: For 25 guests, it's good to have a kitchen person, a bartender and a waiter, or a someone tending bar and one general-purpose helper.

- Have the host stand at the front door or, if you are a part of a couple, one of you can be at the front door while the other is talking with guests.

- Include in your food offerings items you have purchased from outside sources. Caterers sell hors d'oeuvres by the dozen that you can pick up and reheat.

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