The experts' guide to throwing a party

Mini hot dogs, 'Boom Shake the Room' and the Princess of Wales: just three essential party ingredients from the people who know. By Julie Aschkenasy

When people say that they don't like parties they mean that they don't like bad parties. But there is all the difference in the world between the boozy rugby scrum often entitled "The Office Party", and one of those evenings that whizz by in a haze of fun and tasty drinks. But what are the actual ingredients that will make your party memorable? We asked professional party planners for some tips.

All agreed that the main ingredient of a good party is the people. Mr Chance, of The Chance Organisation, says "the best party is when people have something in common. They might work for the same company or have common goals." Philip Sallon, organiser of some of London's most hip parties, says you should think carefully about age groups: "People in their twenties don't want to see little kids at a party".

Mr Party-goer himself, Peter Stringfellow, believes that the Christmas party carries a special burden: "People have expectations because they might only go to a party once or twice a year," he says. "You can get problems with people who can't hold their drink. You also get what I call 'accountant guys' who play at being Rambo with the doormen [at Stringfellows]." But despite this, you must keep the drink flowing. "You have to start with champagne, there isn't really anything else."

Louise Campbell of Bentley's Entertainments agrees that wines are important but thinks that soft drinks should not be forgotten: "Using elderflower juice instead of orange juice is far classier and looks just like champers". Think carefully before serving punch as guests are rightly wary of its alcoholic content. Lady Elizabeth Anson of Party Planners suggests something warming and festive like mulled wine and roast chestnuts.

Food is also a priority. It must be easy to eat with fingers, but this doesn't have to mean cheese on sticks and Twiglets. For a smallish Christmas gathering, Kevin Gould, caterer and owner of The Realfood Store, suggests freshly roasted hot almonds splashed with lemon juice and baked aubergines with their insides mashed with garlic, olive oil and sesame paste, served with pitta bread. A big bowl of shiny clematines with green leaves would provide extra decoration.

"The size of the venue is extremely important," says Sophy Morgan- Jones of party planners Shortcut. "If you have a place to fit 300 and only have 40 guests the ambience won't be right." Another consideration, often overlooked, is warmth, warns Louise Campbell. "The place must not be cold or all the guests will just want to go home. It is an absolute recipe for disaster, they will report back years later about that freezing party."

But the acid test of a good party is good music. Susie Parish from the Jonathan Seaward Organisation warns: "The worst thing you can do is hire a dance band that can just do covers ... if at the end of the day you want the Rolling Stones, having some old guy just not quite making it is awful." Peter Stringfellow recommends "a fun mix of classic and dance music so there is something for all ages. I had the best-looking Elvis once, but he had an Oldham accent".

The Realfood Store, 14 Clifton Road, London W9 (0171-266 1162). For party planners' details, see right

SIX PARTY VENUES

Around the country

Recommended by Charlotte Atkins, author of the Kronenbourg 1664 "Party Venue Guide" (pounds 5.99, Good Books)

The Atrium, Edinburgh (0131-228 8882). Atmospheric restaurant with railway sleepers for tables and the orange glow of oil lamps. A vast calico sheet is the "ceiling".

The Hydrogen, Topsail Charters, Essex (01621 857567). One of only a handful of surviving traditional East Coast vessels with huge sails. Operates along the Thames estuary. Holds 50 people moving, 100 if moored.

Granada Studios, Manchester (0161-828 5241). If three nights a week of "the Street" isn't enough, why not stage your party in the Rover's Return?

Huntsham Court Hotel, Huntsham, Devon (01398 361365). Gothic country house hotel with baronial candle-lit dining room. The place is filled with antiques and stuffed animals, the bar never closes - it even has a marriage licence.

Naworth Castle, Brampton, Cumbria (01697 73229). Within its fortified walls the Great Hall boasts a wooden vaulted ceiling, four heraldic beasts and Gobelins tapestries.

Kew Bridge Steam Museum, Brentford, Middlesex (0181-568 4757). A train spotter's dream venue centres around five Cornish Beam Engines set in a Victorian pumping station.

London

Bombay Brasserie Courtfield Road, SW7 (0171-370 4040). Grand colonial- effect conservatory with exuberant greenery and wicker chairs.

ICA The Mall, SW1 (0171-930 0493). Wooden floored party spaces in classic Nash building.

London Zoo, Regent's Park, NW1 (0171-586 3339) Will serve drinks in the insect house, reptile house, elephant house or on the lion terrace.

Queen's House, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, SE10 (0181-858 4422). No finer place for a masked ball than this opulent Palladian mansion.

Blackheath Concert Halls, 23 Lee Road, Blackheath, SE3 (0181-318 9758). Offers a choice of rooms, from the Victorian splendour of the great hall to a smaller recital room.

Mermaid Theatre, Puddle Dock, Blackfriars, London EC4 (0171-236 1919). Views over the Thames from the River Room and the Blackfriars Room.

SIX PARTY DRINKS

Cocktails suggested by Harvey Nichols, Fifth Floor Restaurant

The Fifth Floor Smash Fresh strawberries blended with fraise liqueur and Cointreau, topped up with champagne and garnished with a strawberry.

Cordiglieri Campari, Cinzano Bianco, Vodka Citron and Cointreau garnished with a twist of orange.

Mistletoe Hennessey cognac shaken with orange juice and Blue Curacao with a dash of egg white, garnished with mistletoe.

L'Aird Bells whisky, Kahlua, ginger wine, shaken and strained into a Martini glass. Float with double cream and grate a coffee bean on top.

For the morning after:

Absolutely Fabulous Champagne, orange juice, a shot of Stolichnaya.

Virgin Mary Tomato juice, lemon juice, Lea & Perrins, salt, pepper, celery salt, Tabasco.

SIX PARTY EATS

Shortcut suggest their best and worst party food. Mini is in, and warm where possible. Out goes anything crumbly or greasy.

In: Mini hot dogs and hamburgers; mini croissants filled with scrambled eggs; baby mince pies; baby baked potatoes with sour cream; sushi

Out: Sandwiches with curled edges; chicken legs; spare ribs; sausage rolls with flaky pastry; vol au vents; Christmas cake

SIX PARTY RECORDS

Richard Allinson, Early Breakfast voice of Capital FM, suggests these "guaranteed floor fillers"

"Jump Around" - House of Pain

"Boom Shake the Room" - Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince

"The Bomb" - The Bucketheads

"Jingo" - F K W

"Let me be your fantasy" - Baby D

"U Sure Do" - Strike

SIX PARTY TOYS

The most popular Christmas party buys at The Non-Stop Party Shop, 214- 216 Kensington High Street, London W8

Party bombs Shower guests with gifts and jokes (from pounds 6.99)

Rocket balloons Four-foot long balloon screeches round the room (15p)

Santa hats (pounds 1.99), curly wigs (pounds 5.99) and beards (pounds 6.99)

Santa costumes (Hire or buy, from pounds 25)

Airwalker balloons Metallic Santa-shaped balloons with arms and legs that walk around the room (pounds 14.99)

Christmas flashing light earrings (pounds 6.99)

SIX PARTY ORGANISERS All prices by application

Party Planners (0171-229 9666) Lady Elizabeth Anson and co dream up tasteful, up-market parties. They can do as little or as much as required, from sending out invites to master-minding a themed pounds 100,000 corporate bash.

The Jonathan Seaward Organisation (0171-386 0066) Can deal with any party request, from recreating Christmas on the moon (the dance floor was turned into a massive crater) to the popular Arabian nights theme. At the moment elegance is in, for example masked balls.

Shortcut (0171-352 4448)

Sophy Morgan-Jones and her team will arrange anything from two tequilla girls and a magician to a Christmas party featuring 4,000 Father Christmases. Can provide inspiration for themes, venues, food.

Bentley's Entertainments (0171-223 7900). Themed parties are a speciality of Bentley's. They once recreated the Orient Express in a hotel - each room was a carriage representing a different destination. Entertainers can be arranged: such as Santa strippers, magicians (Fay Presto is on the books) and hypnotist Paul McKenna.

The Admirable Crichton (0171-733 8113) Organised the Goldeneye bash last week: the party took place in a vast red tent erected inside the Imperial War Museum; lookalike Russian soldiers were posted outside with Kalashnikovs. They also did the Rob Roy film launch in a marquee on 10 levels set over a river. Glass cut-outs on the floor revealed fishes swimming underneath and a waterfall cascaded on each level. They will also turn their hand to smaller parties.

Chance Entertainment (0171-376 5995)

Will organise a drinks party for 30 people, a corporate Christmas party for thousands or simply provide you with a band. Mr Chance plays drums with their own The Chance Band. Past party themes have included creating an Indian palace or the Big Top, which incorporates circus acts.

SIX PARTY BANDS

The six most booked bands at Jonathan Seaward Organisation party planners (0171 386 0066)

Too Darn Hot Latin-American style band with female singer. Brings Southern feel to a mix of Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties hits, with bongos and sax.

As Is Rock and roll-ish band led by husky-voiced female singer plays covers.

Lord Colwyn's Band Well established dance band.

Alpha Connection Young well choreographed dance band with shirt-ripping finale.

The Big Town Players Energetic jive-jump band.

The Grahamophones Very English nostalgia band playing songs from the Twenties and Thirties.

SIX PARTY GUESTS

We asked 'Hello!' magazine for their six dream party guests

The Princess of Wales "because of her ultimate glamour, major crowd pulling power and top ticket price potential".

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson "friend of above, young and glamorous".

Ned Ryan "everybody's favourite Irishman and good friend of Princess Margaret".

Joan Collins "the ultimate movie queen"

David Hockney "For his genius, charm and consummate craftsmanship".

Mick and Jerry Jagger "Grandfather of rock, glam couple".

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