Entertaining expert Jennifer Sbranti of Hostesswiththemostess.com shows us how to throw a New Year's Eve gala full of glitz and glam.
1. Pick a theme. It'll help guide your choices for everything from the invitations and decor to the food and drinks. "Your theme can be as simple as a favorite color to as specific as an 'Old Hollywood Glamour Cocktail Party,'" Sbranti says. "Having something in mind will help make the planning process much easier."
2. Make a guest list. The number of guests you invite depends on how much space you have, your budget, and the amount time you have for party planning. Sbranti suggests eight to 16 guests for an intimate, full-course dinner party. For cocktail parties, she recommends inviting 25 to 50 people. "Fifty to 100 guests will create a full-on, blow-out bash."
3. Plan in advance. Get decor ordered and purchased by the second week of December to avoid shipping delays due to the Christmas holiday. Send invitations five or six weeks in advance. "The holidays are always a busy time and calendars fill up fast, so it's important to give your guests ample notice," Sbranti says.
4. Time it right. The most important part of a New Year's party is when the clock strikes midnight, so don't start the party too early. If you're hosting a sit-down dinner, start the party at around 8 p.m. with drinks and very light appetizers, and serve dinner around 9 p.m. For a cocktail party, ask guests to start arriving around nine and serve heavy appetizers and finger foods throughout the night.
5. Think bright and bold. Pick a dramatic, high-contrast color palette to liven up the night. Bring in a little sparkle with a metallic accent. Sbranti suggests combining deep red and shimmery silver, or mixing copper tones with a vibrant aqua color.
6. Pop the cork. "Champagne is a must on New Year's Eve, but be sure to include sparkling cider or another alcohol-free alternative for non-drinkers," Sbranti says. In addition to liquor, stock up on mixers (think club soda, pop, and juice) and drink garnishes (don't forget lemons, limes, olives, and cherries). For a budget-friendly bar, stick to wine, beer, and champagne, and serve one signature cocktail.
7. Opt for appetizers. Focus on creative presentation to give the food table a festive look. "Serve sweet potato fries in mini Chinese takeout boxes, for example," Sbranti says, "or offer bite-size grilled cheese sandwiches along with tiny tomato soups served in espresso cups.
8. Crank up the tunes. "Create a playlist ahead of time, set the iPod to shuffle, and let it do its thing!" Sbranti says. Mix up the styles and eras of the songs, but make the tunes in your mix mesh well -- and avoid ballads and somber songs.
9. Dress it up. Forget standard balloons and streamers. Create a chic party atmosphere with festive white lights (the more the merrier!), lots of candles, and unique, contemporary decor. Fill large bowls and vases with shiny ball ornaments, colorful vase gems, or mini disco balls.
10. Celebrate. Create a "celebration buffet" area full of party hats, noisemakers, feather boas, and costume beads for guests to dress up in. Stack piles of glittery hats in neat rows and hang paper tiaras from the rim of a tall vase. Fill bowls and other containers with different styles of noisemakers, horn blowers, and confetti poppers.
11. Say cheers! Since the toast is the most important event of the night, don't scrimp on stemware. If you don't have enough wineglasses or champagne flutes to accommodate all of your guests, borrow extras from friends or purchase inexpensive additional sets at discount department stores. "Keep things stress-free with stylish disposable plates, napkins, and utensils that coordinate with your party decor," Sbranti says.