Party Rules – Party Fouls

“One cannot have too large a party.” – Jane Austen, Emma
Brock’s perspective on parties:

Growing up in a small town, everyone loved to go to parties, but nobody wanted to throw them (except the teenagers).  The mere mention of  “party” would cause my mother to go into a panic and the inevatable “who is going to clean the house?” (it would never be clean enough) “What are you going to feed them?” “What are they going to do when they get here?” “Who is coming?”  questions would grow and grow until they became a full fledge migraine and the party would turn into a few friends over for a movie.  The only “parties” I remember (besides my rediculously large family getting together and the typical teenage get togethers) are the firework parties a group of 4-5 families would always have together where we ate hamburger and then blew things up.

Over the past 5 years we have a found a love and a passion for the art of entertaining.  We are far from Party Planners, but I have outgrown the fears of planning a party installed by my rural upbringing.

John’s Perspective on parties:

My parents have always been natural entertainers and have hosted many a party… from backyard blow outs to formal dinners. I grew up looking forward to having people over and the chance to visit with friends and family. Even at a young age I would endeavor to have a perfect get together.  In the early years my contributions were limited to table settings, cleaning and washing dishes.  During parties I loved to play “waiter” by ensuring guests’glasses were always full, dirty plates were removed from the table when they were done eating and I would help my parents transition from one phase of the party to another however I could.  My mother was kind enough to endulge my interest in entertaining by purchasing me Southern Living Entertainment, an illustrated how-to giude to entertaining, table settings, napkin folding, etc.

Over time I learned the finer points to hosting a get together including guest list choice for optimal conversation, room/food layout, seating, lighting, music and those subtle little touches that, while often unnoticed, help the overal ambiance of the party.  Brock and I have since expanded our entertaining tips and tricks with parties we’ve hosted over the past four+ years and now have an arsinal of casual and formal tableware, serving dishes, candle holders, decorations and other tools we use regularly to ensure a successful event; be it casual game night or a sit down brunch for 25.  There’s always new tips to be had and we strive to best ourselves with each party to keep our skills fresh and our friends/family entertained.


Here are some of our tips:

First steps: Pick a theme

First decide what is the point of the party.  From casually hanging out to a formal affair, the choice should be made from the start and will help set the tone for the remainder of the get together.

A few friends over for games or to “hang out” is the easiest.

For dinner parties it is important that you build around the theme of the dinner: BBQ, finger foods, Indian, Italian, multiple course, etc.


Be sure to make it formal

Party Foul:  Paper or plastic during a formal dinner. Have you seen any of that on Downton Abbey?

For informal

Have fun, be informal!

Keep the energy moving. Try serving seperate courses in different locations (this is why we have four dinning tables).

Be outdoors.  We love our fall/spring brunches because it is the perfect weather to eat outside (rare opportunities in Phoenix).

Fall Brunch – Diamonds and Glass
Spring Brunch – Flowers and Colors



Halloween themed lighting.


Lighting is fairly simple, as with everything go back to your theme.  Lights should be brightest around the areas where people will be congregating  such as centerpieces and tables and dim on the outside of the space.  Use a mixture of both uplighting and downlighting, but do so wisely.  Many (such as Oprah’s webpage) say no overhead lighting, but some can help with a party.  The majority of lights should come from below, mainly because it makes everyone look better.    For most themed parties lights should be a statement and help to create a feeling and an atmosphere.

Party foul: Turning on every light in the house.


Less is more for 90 percent of parties.  If you do decide to go big, then GO BIG.  We pick one party a year to go big on, and that is Halloween.

Dinner Parties:  Focus on the centerpiece and make sure you will still be able to talk around it. Be sure to incorporate elements from the centerpiece elsewhere in the house for a cohesive look and feel.

Party Foul:  Too many paper centerpieces.  We have yet to find a great centerpiece from a party supply store. 
Valentines Day Party

When decorating for small groups we would recommend two things; Flowers and Fruit.  These two natural elements tend to give a setting a sense of beauty and elegance.  Sometimes simple is the most elegant.

Food and Drink:

Here are some general rules for food and drinks thanks to our friends at Real Simple Magazine:

Main Dishes: 1 1/2 servings per person.

Side Dishes: 1 1/2 cups per person

Fuit and vegetables:  2 platers (large dishes) for every 25 people.

Alcohol:  1 1/2 drinks per person per hour + 2 gallons of non-alcoholic drinks for every 25 people.

Non-Alcoholic drinks:  4 gallons of drinks per 25 people, better make it 6 if it is hot.

Ice:  1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person, double this if you will be in 85 + weather.  You will also need approximately 40 pounds for each tub or cooler.

When we have dinner parties, wine groups, etc. and the food or drink assignments are shared the general rule is 1 food item per couple and 1 bottle of wine or other drink per person.

Food safety for long parties:  Serve vinegar based salads as the vinegar will help protect against bacteria.  In 85 + weather 2 hours is the max for anything to be out (except snacks).


The only party we have had set activities with the entire group is on Christmas Eve.  The rule of thumb here is to know your group.  Generally, if you provide the right atmosphere people will have a great time.  We will often have small games or activities for people to play such as write down the correct answer and win a prize.  At Halloween we place a large canvas in the hallway with red fingerpaint for people to leave a “blood” handprint for us to remember the party by.

Party foul:  Remember the Friends episode with the two parties, one of which was ran by Monica and had a very detailed activities and game rules.  If things are too structured you will have people trying to make their escape and sneak out of the windows.


Don’t blast the music. Just like decorations, when considering volume levels, less is more.  Four speakers are all you need, set up high (not at ear level) and turned towards a wall so the sound will spread.

For large parties, plan on 4-5 hours worth of music.  The general rule of music selection is five classics (80s and beyond) to every one modern. All choices should be upbeat.

For smaller parties we tend to stick to 30s and 40s music, or modern remakes of selections of that era, along with some fun, off-the-wall choices from Paris, Brazil and other parts of the world. By keeping a selection of tunes that are not common and upbeat, it unconsciously gives people a vacation-like experience.

Party foul:  Music so loud that people cannot communicate in a normal tone. It is easy: if you have to yell at your partner to pass the bottle of wine then chances are the music is way too loud.


Be sure to provide ample seating throughout your entertaining space. For a large party, plan on seating for 2/3 of the people at any one time.  For smaller parties, plan on a chair for everyone.

We recommend mixed seating in various parts of the entertaining space so your guests have variety and a choice of where they want to sit.  For a large party, be sure to provide a flat surface (think end table or coffee table) for every three chairs so your guests have a safe space to place their glasses and plates.

The number one rule:

Relax, it is a party!

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