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Mix-and-Match Cocktail Party: Tips and Tricks

Blueprint, September/October 2007

More tips and tricks for making your mix-and-match cocktail party an unqualified success.

Musical Shares
Nervous about playing DJ all night (and subjecting yourself to the silent judgment of that opinionated rock-geek coworker you invited)? Ask guests to bring along their iPods and take turns choosing the tunes. Plenty of people love to play mixmaster, and your best friend's ABBA-infused workout mix might be just the thing to bring out the dancing queen in guests better known for warming the bench.

In the event that none of your guests have iPods -- or want to play them -- arm yourself with these six surefire party albums and play them start to finish:

"Bossa n' Stones: The Electro-Bossa Songbook of the Rolling Stones," Various artists
"Blue Lines," Massive Attack
"The Cosmic Game," Thievery Corporation
"Half the Perfect World," Madeleine Peyroux
"Momento," Bebel Gilberto
"The Ultimate Collection," the Commodores

No-Sweat Small Stuff
It's easy to forget to set out an extra dish until after you see your buffet table littered with olive pits. Here are five more must-dos that are bound to slip your mind in the minutes leading up to your bash:

1. Line your main trash can with at least two extra bags: they'll catch any drips, and you won't have to hunt for spares before hauling away that first bag of garbage. (If you bag your recyclables, do the same for those bins.)

2. Have extra nibbles on hand in the kitchen so friends who are helping out -- or just hovering -- don't go hungry.

3. Make sure you have more than enough club soda and paper towels on hand to take care of spills, and stash your mop and broom in an accessible (but out-of-sight) area.

4. Don't skimp on cocktail napkins: Put a stack near each hors d'oeuvre station so guests don't have to hunt for them.

5. Encourage smokers to take it outside by placing an ashtray or two on the back porch or terrace.

Exit Strategies
There are many upsides to throwing a really great party are -- the rush of self-satisfaction, the guaranteed invites to your guests' future bashes, the matchmaking/networking/stand-up-routine-honing that you facilitate. The downside? It's 2 a.m. and your college roommate and your husband's golf buddy are still rooted to the couch, while your best friend is happily holding court in the kitchen with your dog walker and that guy from down the hall. How are you supposed to get rid of stragglers without hurting anyone's feelings? (You did invite them, after all.) Party planner Kimberly Schlegel Whitman shares her top three tricks:

1. Take a cue from concert halls and movie theaters: Turning up the lights in the main areas gets the move-along message across. (Go ahead and turn off all the lights in unoccupied rooms, too.)

2. Refrain from starting a full-fledged cleanup, but start packing away the alcohol to encourage hardcore partiers to get their next drink at another location. Consider making coffee if it looks like some might need it; the smell of brewing beans sends a subtle sense message, too.

3. Turn the music way down -- or completely off. (Blueprint alternative: Create a playlist of "closing time"-themed songs and wait for guests to get the hint.)

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