25 Great Party Ideas
Recipes, menus, tips and tactics for a fete your guests won't forget.
1. housewarming potluck
hook Potluck plus—guests give pots, pans or serving dishes as gifts. menu Salsa in a Nick Munro bowl, chicken gumbo in a Calvin Klein casserole dish, apple tart in a Le Creuset pan. drink Sangria in a Simon Pearce pitcher. centerpiece Flowers in a Jonathan Adler vase. favors Mini Bundt pans.
2. tupperware party
hook An ode to ’50s entertaining. food Tuna casserole, pot roast, sloppy joes, Salisbury steak, Jell-O. drinks Gin and tonics, Tang. music Doris Day. favors None. Rather, sell some Tupperware and pocket the profit (800-366-3800).
3. graduation fete
hook A class to teach graduates about life beyond ramen noodles with lessons in basic cooking. first course “Making a Salad with a Basic Vinaigrette.” main course “Secrets to Roasting a Chicken.” dessert “How to Bake Brownies.” favors How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson or Joy of Cooking.
4. april fool’s day
hook “Fooled you!” foods. menu Chicken liver mousse served in parfait glasses, like chocolate mousse; savory cream puffs; raspberry-jam-and-white-chocolate “pizzas” with a butter-cookie crust.
5. fake wake
hook A death day instead of a birthday. In 1812, the eccentric French aristocrat Grimod de la Reynière threw a theme party: a dry run for his own funeral. The idea is still funny (and weird). menu Caviar on toast and gravlax on black bread; pasta with squid ink; blackout cake. drink Bloody Marys.
6. got milk? party
hook A tongue-in-cheek re-creation of the dairy parties thrown by aristocrats in 18th-century France who—like Marie Antoinette—loved to play at being peasants. dress code Milkmaid chic. buffet Cheese wedges, goat-cheese tarts, fondue, ice cream. drink Milk punch. decor All white. centerpiece Milk bottles filled with white flowers.
7. first date
hook A showcase for your cooking skills’even if you don’t have any. Impromptu Gourmet’s cooking kits have a recipe from a top chef and all the ingredients (often prewashed and precooked) to prepare it quickly and easily (866-467-7662).
8. engagement party
hook Ring-shaped foods. menu Sliced hard-cooked eggs topped with crème fraîche and caviar; anelli pasta, calamari salad, green salad topped with fresh onion rings; Bundt cake. drink Punch with citrus rounds. favors Napkin rings with faux jewels from Kim Seybert (212-564-7850).
9. wedding shower
hook An afternoon tea, with each guest bringing a vintage cup for the bride. menu Tea sandwiches inspired by classic salads like Caesar, Greek and Waldorf (spread with mayonnaise and filled with sliced apples, celery and walnuts); for dessert, brioche or challah tea sandwiches filled with hazelnut spread and shaved chocolate, or lemon curd, butter and sliced strawberries. centerpiece Tea roses in a pretty tea canister. favors Containers of silver jasmine or rain-forest mint tea from Mighty Leaf Tea (877-MY-T-LEAF).
10. first anniversary
hook For a first wedding anniversary (symbolized by paper), foods cooked in paper or served in a wrap. menu Spring and summer rolls; fish en papillote or guinea hen cooked in paper; fortune cookies. decor Paper lamps. centerpiece Origami flowers.
11. going-away party
hook Dishes inspired by the guests’ hometowns or their home states. menu Los Angeles chopped spa salad; Memphis barbecue ribs and Idaho mashed potatoes topped with Wisconsin Cheddar; Boston cream pie. decor Postcard place cards.
12. baby shower
hook Foods with a filling. menu Pigs in a blanket and egg rolls; stuffed capons with stuffed tomatoes and mushrooms; cream-filled cupcakes. table setting Knives, forks and spoons rolled in napkins and placed in glasses.
13. fifth birthday
hook Store-bought foods for the kids, F&W-worthy versions for the adults. kid menu Take-out pizza, supermarket hot dogs, bags of potato chips. adult menu Homemade pizzas with tomato, mozzarella and soppressata, artisanal sausages with exotic mustards, hot zucchini chips with aioli.
14. 10th birthday
hook Kid-size foods. buffet menu Little pizzas, mini quesadillas, riblets, bite-size spinach pies, tartlets. dessert Petits fours, two-bite cheesecakes, mini cupcakes and cookies.
15. 40th birthday
hook Foods from the past four decades. buffet From the ’90s, Latin-inspired ceviches; from the ’80s, chicken stuffed with goat cheese; from the ’70s, quiche; from the ’60s, lemon meringue pie. decor Photo collages of the guest of honor from each decade. music Hits from the ’90s, ’80s,...and so on.
17. literary repast
hook A meal based on the dinner at the beginning of the novel Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann. menu Herb soup with croutons; carp poached in red wine; smoked ham with vegetables; plum pudding; cheese, fruit and Madeira. favors Copies of Buddenbrooks.
18. tequila party
hook A tasting of some of the dozens of newly popular tequilas. menu Mexican classics, from empanadas to flan. drink Corralejo, Sauza Gold, Patron Anejo and Herradura Silver with chasers of sangrita (a spicy blend of tomatoes, orange and lemon juice and hot sauce) in cucumber cups. centerpiece A big flowering cactus, with tiny cacti at each place setting. favors Shot glasses from Hackman or Iittala.
RELATED: Mini Panamanian Beef Empanadas
19. ’80s nostalgia party
hook A takeoff on those salad-bar days. buffet menu Baked white and sweet potatoes with all the toppings—sour cream, caviar, cheddar cheese, salsa.
20. mount olympus party
hook An invitation to party like Athena, Zeus and the rest. dress code Fortuny-style column dresses, or bedsheets and sandals. food Spit-roasted suckling pig, bunches of grapes, a temple-shaped cake. tableware Knives, forks and spoons wrapped in grape leaves. favors Copies of the Iliad.
21. taco fest
22. cookie swap
hook A friendly give-and-take. Each person brings two dozen of his or her favorite cookie and copies of the recipe (see Butterscotch Chocolate Sandwich Cookies). Then the swapping and the snacking commence. drink Milk. favors Vintage lunchboxes, each with a Thermos of hot cocoa.
23. baby shower
hook Foods that puff up—just like the guest of honor. menu Gougères (cheese puffs) and mini meatballs; potpies and popovers; meringue cookies and cappuccino with lots of foam. centerpiece Peonies. favors Shower puffs in pink or blue with containers of bath gel.
24. garden lunch
hook Herbs, herbs, herbs: in the food, on the table, as party favors. menu Butter-lettuce salad with fresh-herb vinaigrette, herb-marinated grilled lamb chops, fresh berries with mint and cream. centerpiece A large earthenware pot of mixed herbs, with little pots of individual herbs as place-card holders and favors.
25. nautical party
hook From F&W reader Katherine Stefan, who gave this party in San Francisco, a sea-inspired fete. menu Seafood salad; stuffed shells; a seashell-shaped cake. decor Blue and white all over.