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updated: 4/22/2013 6:24 AM

Planning key to successful party -- with less stress

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  • Hot dogs, ice cream and other carnival fare are popular go-to items for parties. Uniformed servers add a touch of authenticity.

      Hot dogs, ice cream and other carnival fare are popular go-to items for parties. Uniformed servers add a touch of authenticity.

  • Hula hooping games and other fun tasks are a cool ways for party guests to win prizes that they can take home as favors.

      Hula hooping games and other fun tasks are a cool ways for party guests to win prizes that they can take home as favors.

  • Include favors that fit the theme of your party.

      Include favors that fit the theme of your party.

  • Face and body painting will definitely be a draw. Consider having at least two attractions, or different stations, going at the same time if your party will have several attendees.

      Face and body painting will definitely be a draw. Consider having at least two attractions, or different stations, going at the same time if your party will have several attendees.

  • Inflatable jumping castles are all the rage for many party guests. These are specifically popular among the tweener crowd and younger.

      Inflatable jumping castles are all the rage for many party guests. These are specifically popular among the tweener crowd and younger.

  • Have a variety of food options at your event, as many guests will have special diets and allergy concerns.

      Have a variety of food options at your event, as many guests will have special diets and allergy concerns.

 
By Lisa Jones Townsel

Exciting, well-executed parties don't happen by chance. Big or small, they usually must be planned to get great results. But you don't have to be a perfect party host to throw an incredible bash (even for a big bunch). Really, all you need are a few key tips from area planning pros to help your soiree rise to the top.

Timing

Before determining the guest list for your son's birthday party or daughter's graduation get together, pick a date and time for the big event. Consider your schedule and availability and also the times likely to work best for the attendees.

Solidify a date as soon as possible, in order to round out food and entertainment plans, suggests Steve Moran, owner of Buddy's Special Events in Deer Park. Moran's company provides sandwich and dessert options, ranging from hot dogs to cotton candy on vintage vendor carts. "You only have so many Saturdays and Saturday nights," he says of the season's available weekend dates.

As for party times, Moran says kid parties tend to be early afternoon. Toddler gatherings may need to be even earlier since they may tire more quickly. Parties for teens, however, often will go into the early evening hours, he says.

Remember to leave time at the end of your party schedule for cleanup, Moran says, because "you're likely to still have some cleaning to do" afterward.

Where

About the same time you pin down a time and date, you will need to determine where the party will be held. For some, if the guest list is larger than 10 people, they assume that their homes must be ruled out. But the pros say do not forget that the party can spill into many rooms of your home and onto the lawn or deck, if necessary.

"Any space can be turned into an event space, including the backyard or living room," notes Martin Andras, who co-owns Ultimate Rental Services in Willowbrook with Allen Deutscher.

Making use of rented chairs, tables and even tents can help to extend those spaces. "A birthday celebration or graduation is a time to remember," says Andras, so "why not spend a little money to make it nicer, a memorable event?"

Need more room?

If your party outgrows your home, consider another site. The possibilities are endless. You can rent a hotel ballroom, a room or gym in a community center or rent a room in a restaurant. Your only limits may be your budget, timing and the ambience you want to achieve.

"Look at a park district, an inflatable center or bowling alley where they have large rooms," advises Maureen Curran of Around the Town Entertainment in South Elgin. Park districts often offer indoor locations that accommodate groups up to 20, 50 or 100 people per space, she explains. Such places may allow guests to bring food or offer food choices of their own.

Yet, if you are interested in booking an outdoor park pavilion, Curran says act early as this popular seasonal choice is often "booked a year in advance."

Other indoor party locales, like inflatable jumping centers, restaurants, pizza play centers and other kid-friendly eateries may be a little more flexible. Yet, Katina Williams of Signature Details Event Planning in Alsip says it's still best to book "a minimum of three months in advance."

Invitees

Once you have locked down a time and place, decide exactly who you will invite. Remember that young ones are likely to be accompanied by a parent and possibly even siblings. Graduation parties are likely to only include those you invite, but family-based parties may grow depending on how close relatives are to you at the time of the get-together.

While most party invitations offer an RSVP line, the pros say you may not get an overwhelming response. "No one RSVPs anymore," says Around the Town's Curran. "You might get 15 percent back that you send out."

Personal contact is key, others say. "Personally call guests," says Signature Details' Williams. "People receive millions of texts and emails a day. Call at least seven days in advance. They will remember that."

And lastly, select a reasonable number of guests to invite.

"Don't plan a party for the world," says Williams. "If your child is turning 8, invite eight kids. Kids won't remember 27 kids being there."

Good eats

The beverage and food offerings at a party are a matter of personal choice. Yet, be mindful that some guests may have food allergies (peanuts and seafood are common) or require special diets (like diabetic diets or gluten-free diets). You are not likely to go wrong if you have a choice of fruits and vegetables, along with whatever favorite party items you decide on.

Once you have a good idea of how many people are attending, you can make a more informed decision about how much food to have on hand. A good rule of thumb is two to three servings per guest.

For larger gatherings, you may want to save on stress by hiring a catering service.

"You want to enjoy the party and not run around hosting," says Buddy's Moran. Companies like his not only provide a fun, carnival-like atmosphere but also uniformed servers to boot.

If your event is catered, the servicing company can help determine how much food is wise to have on hand. "Our catering staff is able to help," says Meggie Lindberg, marketing manager of the Malnati Organization, Inc. "Their job is not only to take the order, but offer guidance."

Lindberg says that includes determining how much food will be needed based on your guest count and your guests' ages. Staffers can also accommodate requested delivery times and may in fact suggest multiple deliveries to ensure that food is hot and ready to serve for guests upon arrival.

Budget

You can have a creative, low-cost party or an over-the-top luxurious one. Yet, you will want to determine the budget early on to keep everything from ballooning out of control.

"Having a budget going in is helpful," says Lindberg of Malnati's pizza chain. "It allows our staff to identify items within your price point. If you have certain items on the menu you are set on serving that is also good information to share up front."

If you only want a few items to supplement homemade ones, Lindberg says that is fine also.

"If people will be nibbling on additional items prepared at home or brought by guests, we can adjust the order to reflect sample sizes," she adds.

Experts say expect to spend about $8 to $10 a person for food.

Other costs should be expected as well. Around the Town's Curran says, on average, expect the following: park district room rental, $125; decorations, $30 to $50; entertainment (magic, clown character, etc.), $165; and all-day (at-home) inflatable rental, $200.

Thinking about hiring an event planner to help with your party plans? If so, be realistic about the budget and expectations. Oftentimes, Williams of Signature Details says, people want David Tutera-grade work on a shoe-string budget.

"They see his work, which is beautiful," says Williams of the renowned event planner to the stars. "But they do not realize that his services cost about $65,000. Hot dogs, chips, decorations, mailings, gas, cake -- little things add up, and before you know it you're well past your $50 budget."

Don't downplay partytime fun

Besides munching, chatting and sharing gifts, how will partygoers remain entertained? This might seem like a minor topic, but the weight of it can grow depending on the party size.

Be sure that if your party will include 50 to 100 guests that there two or more games for everyone to enjoy. Focusing a party around one activity could kill the party mood quickly.

"If you have only one face painter, there's going to be a very long line," says Curran, whose business provides costumed characters and entertainment for parties. "Have two or three activities going on."

Popular party attractions, she and others say, include: having a DJ (even for small children), caricature drawings, face painting, inflatable rentals, magic shows, clowns, storytelling and puppet shows, waterpark excursions, spa parties for all-girl groups and laser tag and on-site videogame trucks for boys.

Unlike in decades past, opening gifts does not have to be a part of your affair. In fact, some advise against it. "Don't open presents in front of everyone," insists Signature Details' Williams. "It takes too much time and may embarrass guests who couldn't bring a gift."

Call in the troops, and chill

Embrace party season by being a prepared host. The pros say develop a schedule, a budget, a menu and a guest list, but keep your cool and ask your friends and family members to help out.

Pass out favors that will be memorable, creative and fit in with your party theme.

But above all, "don't stress out or over think it," Ultimate Rental's Andras adds. "Keep it simple."

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