The guest list is the easy bit of throwing a party. But how do you show your friends the kind of good time they will never forget? Suzanna Drew-Edwards asks the experts

The organiser

Mark Armstrong is the party organiser at the London Events Organisation. He has organised parties for the Rolling Stones, Patrick Cox, Madonna and George Michael. He is organising the Club Awards in May.

"Always invite twice as many people as you want. It's better to have a full party, even if it's slightly uncomfortable, than an empty one where people will leave early. Mind you, there are pitfalls to this approach: when the shoe designer Patrick Cox had a party, about two-thirds of the people didn't get in because he'd invited too many - and some of them had come over specially from Milan to see him - very embarrassing.

"An original, interesting venue will add to the atmosphere - the weirder the place the better. If you can't hire an interesting venue, then create one: my party for George Michael was inspired by the locations he toured - Rio, Birmingham and Tokyo. I hired a huge art gallery in Covent Garden and we did themes - a rain forest for Rio; loads of spaghetti junctions and video special effects of fast-moving cars for Tokyo. For Birmingham we just filled the room up with smoke and rubbish. It was hysterical.

"Free drinks are essential. The days of cheap wine and soggy pizzas are over. You need two spirits - vodka plus tequila, rum or bourbon - and beer for the boys and a bit of white wine for the girls. If you want to go more upmarket, then hit the champagne. Never serve sparkling wine - it's naff and tacky - I'd rather have a tequila punch or something a bit more credible. Sparkling wine is a sign that you're trying to impress. I wouldn't worry about food - when you go out you don't really think 'food'. You think 'hold a drink and smoke a cigarette'.

"Music is quite important but I wouldn't say it's an essential element to a party. I like parties where you can talk so the music becomes more of a background thing (though there are exceptions - at the World Cup party we had George Michael dee-jaying). Sometimes it's cool to have a string quartet or a jazz band on in the background.

"Themed parties are back in. For the World Cup in 1990, we covered a Mayfair art gallery in real turf and put in two goals - one for the bar and one for the DJ. A theme makes a party an event, and gives people an excuse to really dress up. I'd suggest a Seventies party with tropical shirts and a Starsky and Hutch look, or on a more sophisticated scale, you could have a Black and White Party with a Hint of Red."

The venue expert

Charlotte Atkins, author of the "Kronenbourg 1664 Party Venue Guide" has researched over 500 of Britain's more unusual and entertaining party places. The idea for the guide was formed after trying to find a venue for a huge birthday party of her own.

"The venue can make or break the ev ent, so you have to sit down and think really hard about what you actually want. The main thing is not to be afraid of asking copious questions. What is the venue's capacity? Can you have music? What time does the venue close? Will the venue provide food or can you bring your own caterers? What are the licensing arrangements - if it isn't licensed, do they charge a corkage fee for bring-your-own alcohol? If you're wanting a band or disco, are there facilities to cope with it? What time can the music go on to? Is there a garden? Can you decorate it yourself? Is it near a station? You can never ask too many questions.

"Make sure that the venue isn't too conference-orientated as this can sometimes mean less character. A venue will price a function on your requirements and a lot will help by providing caterers, decoration, waiters and so on. Some restaurants are free if you eat there and even quite grand country houses are surprisingly inexpensive - a lot are under pounds 200. It's important to make sure you've got the right place and that you begin planning it as far in advance as possible. (Venues for big parties need to be booked six months to one year in advance.) Make sure they'll fit in with what you want. If you want a band or disco and you have to be very quiet or have to stop at midnight just when things are getting going, it can absolutely ruin the party."

The caterer

Party organiser and private caterer Joanna Towler from Table Talk has organised "dos" for members of the Royal family, celebrities and "Harpers and Queen".

"Stick to food that you can pick up easily and that doesn't need the balancing ability of an acrobat. Tiny little canapes are the most popular thing nowadays. You can get lots of different, nice tasty little things which people find easy to pick up and pop in their mouths and you don't need to hire plates, knives and forks. I would say things like little tartlets filled with char-grilled vegetables with shavings of fresh parmesan, little salmon fishcakes with a lemon Hollandaise which is lovely; miniature Peking duck with spring onions, cucumber and Hoisin sauce; lots of delicious sausages with blossom honey and fresh garden mint ... that sort of thing. If it's a party-party and people are drinking lovely drinks and eating lots of different canapes and things, then what we might do at the end of the evening is have a lovely big cheeseboard with masses of different cheeses and lots of fruits, like star fruits and mangoes, so that people can pick at those when they get the munchies. It's always the way. Alternatively, we do the finger food like big baskets of crudites, chicken satay, and little croissants filled with smoked salmon. Whatever happens, don't have sausage rolls, vol au vents, cheese and pineapple on a skewer, Brie and grapes on a stick or asparagus rolls.

"Food is the fuel of a party, but often people don't notice it because they're more interested in who's there and who they have to talk to."

a drink into their hands fairly quickly and also to have a choice. Nowadays, some people don't drink and so it's polite to offer more than one kind of soft drink.

"Music is very important, but unless it's a real 'get down and boogie' type of party, the music is part of the ambience which, above all, is provided by the guests.

"It's up to the hostess to make an effort to introduce people to one another - that should really be her primary duty so she should have got all the organising side of the party out of the way so she can be free to do that. People should also be encouraged to move on through to other rooms so the entrance doesn't get clogged. Sometimes when you arrive at a party, it's so difficult to physically barge your way through, that you find yourself thinking, 'Oh, god, I just want to turn round and go home'."

The partygoer

Les Rowley works for "Loaded" and attends numerous parties.

"Free ale. That's the essential. We wouldn't go if we had to pay for it. Champagne, beer, Hooch, whatever ... it depends what's going. We're not really fussy; by the end of the night, as long as it's free and alcoholic, it goes down. It's good to know who's going to be there. We always ask who's going - not because we want to hang out with the rich and famous, but because it's always nice to know who you're going to get pissed with. The music's quite important - it's good if there's a few DJs on. And the time it starts is important. If it's an after-work party starting at seven o'clock, you don't sort of get in there, get your coat off and start dancing to "Firestarter" straight away. You get your feet under the table and have a chat and then get going."

The DJ

Dave Haslam is a DJ at The Boardwalk in Manchester.

"Don't let any of your friends do the music. They might think they're doing you a favour, but they're not. It's often better to pay people to do the job (from pounds 75 a night) because you can whinge at them if you're not happy.

"Make sure the DJ knows what sort of people are coming, it's good to have a bit of guidance, although any DJ should be able to play across the board. If you've got middle-aged media types, they're going to want different music from an 18-year-old. But generally, Seventies classic disco records such as Sister Sledge or James Brown is your basic party music for all ages. At a party, people don't necessarily want to hear lots of cutting edge up-front records, they want a few singalong tunes - people in their late twenties and early thirties generally like the music they heard at the youth club. But if you've got the right DJ, he'll mix it up so it isn't a totally uncredible night. Nobody wants a party where the next day everyone's saying, 'oh, dear, it was wall-to-wall Abba' - it might not have the kind of credibility you'd want as a party-thrower. Just make sure you avoid The Worzels, novelty and holiday camp records.

"To break the ice, you should find out what the party host's favourite record is, so that when the DJ puts it on, the host runs on to the dance floor and waves his arms in the air. I find that it's girls who are always the first on the dance floor. Boys are the ones who stand around and discuss or criticise the music, but girls just get on with it, so the music has to be aimed at them. So make sure you invite lots of girls - they'll drag everyone else on for a dance."

The bouncer

Stephen Flicker is director of Scorpion Security Services who provide security for the Limelight club in central London.

"Once the main ingredients of the party - the music and the drink - have been taken away, people tend to leave of their own accord. There might be an interim period of about 15 or 20 minutes to give people a little bit of time. But if you're working on a licensed premises, obviously you've got a time stipulation that you've got to clear to - so if you have to get people out by 11.15pm and they're still selling drinks at 11.05pm, then that creates a problem. On a private event, nine times out of 10, the key thing is to book the security to stay for at least half an hour after the party's due to finish. That way there's no pressure or problems with guards getting upset because they feel they've got to clock off because they're only going to get paid up until a certain time and the music still hasn't gone off.

"If someone tries to gatecrash it's best to politely explain that it's beyond your control to let them in. I normally ask for the name of the person who organised the party; if they can't remember, then there's no point. But if they do remember the person's name, then out of courtesy it could be that they've genuinely forgotten the invitation or they could be a close friend who's heard the event was taking place. There is a protocol, though - I would try to check their name with the organiser. You don't really want to get the host running backwards and forwards, but if the guest has given the host's name, then the likelihood is that they're a genuine person. I think it's a matter of experience and common-sense. If you see the person is dressed up in accordance to the function then you put two and two together and you come out with four. To be honest, it's very rare that you get someone so persistent that you have to think about calling the police.

"If someone starts becoming aggressive then you can't reason with them. It's best to say, 'I don't want to be rude, but I'm not going to continue the conversation. There's nothing we can do to help you' and then cut them off. Otherwise, it usually builds into an argument. If that hasn't worked, I would begin talking about calling the police."

The drinks expert David Howse of Threshers off-licences.

"Ten or 15 years ago, everyone drank spirits and beer. Wine-drinkers only drank heavy red wines (and were very boring about it) or they drank Liebfraumilch. Now, however, everything's changed - we've become the most amazing wine drinkers and we all drink Chardonnay - it pleases everyone because its full and fruity. New World wines are good for drinking on their own without food, because they taste sweet even though they're dry. Try Santa Carolina Merlot, a soft red wine from Chile with a bit of backbone (pounds 3.99) and Australian Red Cliffs Estate Riesling Traminer, a fresh aromatic white wine with an acidic edge (pounds 3.49).

"For a soft drink, make a punch out of cold tea and exotic fruit juices. The cold tea base has a more complex flavour which makes it less boring to drink. Serve chilled and topped up with soda water. And you'll also need lager and bitter of some sort. The general rule is to keep it simple. People aren't at the party for some sort of culinary experience. You'll just want gallons of the stuff to keep everyone talking. And remember that many off licences do sale or return on the drink and loan glass."


Celestria Noel is social editor of "Harpers & Queen".

"The people who go obviously make a major difference to how a party runs, but if there's one area you're going to be most generous in, it has to be the drink. It's no good having a bar in one far corner of the room which is difficult to get to, or if you have staff, having one hard- pressed waiter. People have to be able to get

Still determined to do it home? Be prepared for a nightmare and then you might enjoy it. Don't expect it to be a cheap alternative. Invite more people than your house...

Be prepared for a nightmare and then you might enjoy it.

Don't expect it to be a cheap alternative.

Invite more people than your house will hold - half of them probably won't turn up.

Buy compilation albums for the music.

Clear the house completely - your guests don't want to see yesterday's Wonderbra hanging in the bathroom. That goes for the artfully-placed Kate Moss coffee table book, too.

If you're having booze in the kitchen, clear the decks completely - unless you want everything to be sticky all over.

Buy alcohol on a sale or return basis (most off-licences throw in free glasses, too).

Warn the neighbours.

Get someone else to do the clearing up.

And, above all, enjoy yourself.

What's in, what's out

do have ...

Cocktail parties





don't have ...

Tarts and Vicars and Toga parties

Sparkling wine Soggy pizzas

Designer beers

Fairground equipment

Pick of the venues Naworth Castle

Brampton (01697 73229): The Great Hall has a wooden vaulted ceiling, four heraldic beasts, and tapestries. Other rooms are available for hire, including the old library which can host a dinner for 20. Price on application.

Ilam Hall YHA

Ashbourne, Derbyshire (01335 350212): A National Trust mansion surrounded by parkland with the river running at the bottom of the garden. The Games Room is ideal for a big bash (up to 150 people). Prices on application.

Southern Comfort Mississippi River Boat

Norwich, Norfolk (01692 630262): A genuine double-decker paddle boat, seats 100. Great for cocktails. Price on application.

Burgh Island Hotel

Bigbury-on-Sea, Devon (01548 810514): A sea-tractor will paddle you over to this art-deco hotel set on an island. The Beatles, Noel Coward and Agatha Christie have all stayed there. The Ballroom has space for 150. Price on application.

Thames Sailing Barges

Maldon, Essex (01621 857567): Traditional cargo vessels which operate along the Thames Estuary. Capacity from 50 up to 85. From pounds 270 (static) or pounds 350 (sailing) for the evening.

The Atlantic Bar and Grill

London W1 (0171 734 4888): The function room has cream and aubergine zebra-striped walls and upholstery, a bar and sound system. Cocktail parties (room hire pounds 250, canapes pounds 11.50 per head) of up to 100 people and dinner for up to 60 (pounds 22-pounds 32 per head).


Heathrow Airport, Middlesex (0181 513 0202): Concorde seats 100 and a two-hour round flight starts at pounds 43,000 plus VAT.

Royal College of Art

Kensington Gore, London SW7 4EU (0171 584 5020): Huge gallery spaces with wooden or marble floors. Great for themed parties. Prices on application.

The Snowgoose Restaurant

Fort William, Highland (01397 705825): 2,150ft up a mountain (there are lifts). Seats 200 with a further 80 on the deck. Night ski-ing is available in winter. Prices on application.

Wigan Pier

'Sausage rolls are out, canapes are in,' says party caterer Joanna Towler. 'Party-goers may not always notice the food, but it's the fuel of the party'

Wigan, Lancashire (01942 323666): A group of turn-of-the-century canalside buildings. Room hire for a Saturday night party for 100, plus dancing, starts from around pounds 210.