How you can pay away the Christmas party worries

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The Independent Online
THE CHRISTMAS season is upon us. With luck, you'll be invited to plenty of parties. But what if you are the host? How much will it all cost?

No children's party is complete without an entertainer, but many are booked up already. If you are really stuck, it is probably worth going to an agency; although it will charge a booking fee, usually between 10 to 25 per cent, it will have call on a large selection of entertainers.

Wally Custard, aka Peter Foster, for example, is based in Barnsley, covering Yorkshire and the nearby parts of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. Foster does not do magic, so he brings dressing-up clothes, face paint and encourages the children to participate. He charges £45 for an hour.

Smarty Arty, based in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, will cover the whole country and do a two-hour show with magic, prizes and pass-the-parcel included. For this, you would pay £90 around London, extra outside.

Mr. Walligog, for example, who is booked solid up to Christmas, except for Sunday mornings and a very few hours here and there, charges £95 for two hours - 45 minutes of games, half an hour for tea, and then 45 minutes of magic, including real rabbits and birds. Prizes are included.

Carolyn Parties, which is a duo of Carolyn James and Cindy Peters, will travel anywhere in England in their clown's costumes. They do an under-fives show of puppet and games, a themed one for over-fives (and they bring dressing-up clothes) and for older children they do historical shows. Here they come as King Arthur, Queen Elizabeth or Queen Victoria.

For grown-ups, dinner and drinks parties can be a nightmare to arrange and prepare, especially if you are busy earning the money to pay for them. The trick is to delegate everything. Party Planners, run by Lady Elizabeth Anson, will do anything from printing and sending out the invitations to organising the caterers.

The company will take commissions from all round the country and says it can cater for any sort of party or entertainment on any day, even during a busy time such as Christmas. Sometimes it is just asked to provide a table and chairs. Other clients want the whole party organised from fresh flowers to the equipment and staff. The pair will prepare the room, cook the food, serve it and clean up afterwards.

A grand dinner party for 10 people with everything supplied - including butler and cook, drink, and place and menu cards - might cost around £1,145 including VAT. A three-course meal, plus coffee and petits fours, would cost £35 per head.

For a children's tea-party, the company suggests it might charge £30-£40 to prepare the food, on top of its cost, and for a magician charging £85 an hour, it would add an extra £25 fee. The company can also provide mini-zoos to be taken to someone's homeor arrange for older children to be taught how to rock'n'roll, for example, or create their own play.

There are many individual cooks, or smaller catering companies, who will cook meals, either in their own homes to bring to your house, or in your kitchen. They will even provide the crockery, cutlery and glassware if needed.

Some people prefer the food just to be brought in, so that they can serve it up and pretend it was all their own work; others like to own up, and sit back and enjoy the meal with their guests, leaving the serving to someone else.

Prices for a full-blown five-course meal might be around £25 per head, with waitressess at £30 each for the evening. If you don't want to give a dinner party, a simple cocktail party would cost from around £8 a head.

Smarty Arty, 0582 461588; Carolyn Parties, 081-940 8407; Party Planners, 071-229 9666