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Co-hosting holds the key to a party with style

Originally published on December 12, 2009.

It's late in the season, but you can't shake the urge to throw a holiday or New Year's Eve party. The only solution: co-hosting with one or more of your friends.

You provide the clean house, maybe cook the dinner; they stock the bar, keep track of the RSVPs and rent the glasses. Or vice versa. Together, you pull off a bigger, better fete than any of you could have alone.

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"Many hands make light work," says Candice Best, a Toronto public-relations executive and frequent co-hoster. She is throwing a 12-person New Year's dinner party in Collingwood, Ont., with an interior decorator friend whose mom owns a chalet. "It takes the burden off and plays to people's strengths. And even before your guests come, it feels like you're having a get-ready party."

Given our culture's growing obsession with entertaining reflected everywhere in glossy books and chic DIY television shows, the revelry style bar can be intimidatingly high. At the same time, we're busier than ever before, not to mention less homogeneous when it comes to living arrangements and cash flow. Some friends have houses and condos; others have tiny apartments but lots of energy or cash. Joining forces for festivities can be a way to overcome obstacles.

A co-hosted party can easily dissolve into a catfight-filled fiasco, however, if not executed properly.

The party usually pivots around the owner of the party space. Toronto TV producer Liz Aikenhead is the oft-appointed queen bee among her sprawling group of friends, many of whom are younger, less-experienced hosts without party-ready homes or nerves.

"Entertaining doesn't phase me -- and a lot of my friends, even high-level executives, approach me to co-host a party in my home," she says, adding that she once teamed up with an out-of-town author she had just met to hold a book launch. She has the party infrastructure -- the silver, the plates, the napkins -- at the ready. And she's a pro at delegating, which all co-hosters will tell you is imperative.

Otherwise, as one friend of mine (who wishes to remain anonymous to avoid party tension) put it, "Whoever's house it's at is usually the one with the most work, i.e. cleanup and party prep and then cleanup again. The other buddy just has to do a liquor run or cook a bit and gets to invite all their friends."

But sometimes a co-host goes unheralded. Another friend is tired of spending big bucks on all that liquor and watching the homeowner collect the accolades. In a way, it is the more thankless job.

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"Obviously a good host shouldn't expect anything in return," my friend says. "But it's nice to at least be acknowledged as such in the first place. Just because you don't live in a 3,000-square-foot penthouse loft doesn't mean you shouldn't be thanked for sending out invites, arranging food and spending a mortgage payment on booze. When the co-host with the gorgeous house gets all the flowers and phone calls the following day, it stings."

The trick is for no co-host to feel overworked or undervalued. To that end, a collection of tips on the art of co-hosting.

Pick your team wisely. Ideally, one co-host will be an avid chef, another an arty type (for the invitations), another an amateur DJ. Best says usually one of the hosts takes the bull by the horns and does most of the planning and the others follow, thrilled to not be flying solo. Her most important advice: "Don't pick a newbie entertainer. Unless they're really, really high-energy. Or don't have a job."

In her book I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, author and comedian Amy Sedaris is cutting on the matter of offering to help. "Don't offer to help the hostess in a way that will slow her down. If someone calls and says, 'So for the party, I was thinking I would love to learn how to boil something. Why don't I try to bake . . .' I cut them off. Your party is not the place for others' culinary experiments."

Don't hog the credit. If the party is in your home, it's easy for people to assume you are the sole host. Make sure all co-hosts are mentioned on the invitation.

Talk it out. "Make sure your expectations are the same," Best says. "If one host wants to serve pizza and beer and the other wants to serve lobster and champagne, table it immediately." Also, be upfront about sharing responsibilities. "You don't want to wonder, 'Why didn't I just do this myself?' "

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Divide up planning and shopping. Whenever the party venue is not her own, Best instinctively kicks in a little more, knowing that the homeowner has extra, hidden duties such as cleaning and decorating. When it comes to tasks, delegate according to personality and skills. If your co-host is the tardy type, Aikenhead says, don't assign her to arrive with the appetizers. "But the hapless guy who calls while he's on his way there? Ask him to bring the ice."

Also think logistics. "I have single girlfriends without cars -- it's unfair to ask them to shop for the bar," Aikenhead says.

Be specific about cooking and potluck. Will it stress out your co-host to arrive and demand prep space and dishes? Find out. Aikenhead has learned to curb the co-host who arrives with a full grocery bag instead of a completed dish. "All of a sudden, you're looking for an extra serving dish for them when you'd rather be finishing your reduction." When she recently co-hosted a 50th-birthday party at a friend's house, she assembled baguette sandwiches in a friend's kitchen before heading over to the party spot.

Divvy up costs. Decide early whether you're splitting the cost between hosts, or shopping based on voluntary expenditure. Allow for income disparities. An executive who isn't a great cook might want to pitch in a lot of fancy cheeses, Aikenhead says, "whereas I've asked some people to buy a case of Montclair mineral water. It feels like a big gesture, but it's not expensive."

Remember, the venue owner has more on the line. "The expense is not just the raw ingredients," Aikenhead says. "It's the candles, the flowers, the cleaning, all that stuff." So for a big house party, you might include the cost of a day of professional cleaning in the budget. For her New Year's bash, Best is packing a carpet-cleaning kit.

And don't forget to discuss what to do with leftover wine: Are you sharing it, or does the owner of the house keep it? Or should the hosts have a little post-party of their own?

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More


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