Want to throw a great party without going broke? Veteran hostess Marlene Gualtieri shares her favorite tips:
Pick a theme: Whether it's a Hawaiian luau or a Renaissance feast, a theme adds festivity and focus to your gathering. "A theme gives you a tangent to go off on. It's more fun," Gualtieri said.
Sweat the details: It's the little things -- party favors, decorations, fun activities -- that make your party unique and memorable, she said. "People don't remember the food, but they do remember the details."
Plan ahead: Gualtieri spends months, sometimes up to a year, planning and stockpiling items and craft materials for her parties. "By planning in advance, I'm able to take advantage of things coming on sale," she said. (Two of her favorite bargain websites: www.linentablecloth.com and www.sav-on-closeouts.com.)
Get crafty: Gualtieri makes all her own decorations, using inexpensive materials. For her Moroccan dinner party, for example, her centerpieces were thrift-shop vases and palm fronds, spray-painted gold. For the Olympics party, she made Greek "columns," using plastic buckets, duct-taped end-to-end, then wrapped with white cardboard.
Get guests involved: Activities that make guests interact are good ice-breakers, plus they help spread the hostess chores around. At her Moroccan dinner party, for example, Gualtieri worked out an elaborate system by which guests switched table assignments, took turns serving courses and passed wet cloths and dry napkins for a Moroccan-style hand-washing ritual.
Plan a surprise: Many of Gualtieri's parties feature an unexpected twist for her guests' amusement. Her Moroccan dinner party, for example, concluded with a troupe of belly dancers, recruited from a community education class, who performed -- coin belts and all -- after dessert and then gave guests lessons.