"I Melted a Chocolate Fountain" + Other Relatable Hosting Stories
Real hosts share the details that make (and sometimes break) their parties.
My husband and I were having cocktails at a local bar last fall when tendrils of glamorous smoke began to creep across the floor to the DJ's turntable. (Fog machines: Not just for glam rock shows and haunted houses!) We decided our celebrations needed that kind of atmosphere, and I hopped on my phone and purchased a tiny unit of our own right then and there. It’s been the centerpiece of every gathering we’ve had since — holidays, birthdays, political-debate-watching — and it’s always a hit. (It probably helps that our friends are fond of glam rock and haunted houses, too.)
For this season's inspiration — and, you know, cautionary tales — I asked friends to share the highs (and lows) of their gatherings.
The Punch Bowl
My friend, Hilary, treasures a vintage silver punch bowl she inherited from her grandmother; "I didn’t buy it, but it does make my famous not-for-kids punch a little classier." If your nana’s not interested in sharing, I would note that eBay's a fine place to find barware to set off one's signature drink.
At the sportier end of the spectrum, my friend, Sarah, was inspired to acquire a stainless-steel chafer as baseball season kicked off one spring: "We wanted to be able to house hot dogs, nacho cheese and chicken fingers in its three warming compartments to simulate authentic ballpark food."
The Chocolate Fountain
I am informed that following instructions is no guarantee of a happy ending when it comes to chocolate fountains, which friends mentioned as both the finest and lousiest party gadgets they'd ever had. "A champagne brunch at a local restaurant had [a chocolate fountain], and after the experience I decided our household would be blessed by its presence," says Gabe. "Alas, despite the claims on the box, the parts were not dishwasher safe. They melted during a fateful load of dishes. I miss it so!"
My friend, Kim, experienced a similar triumph and defeat. "We bought one for my brother's graduation from college. I think it required 10 pounds of a specific kind of chocolate, and it was awesome! But it was death if you let it cool down at all before cleaning it."
Her chocolate fountain did a number on her kitchen, as well: "We actually boiled a pot of water to re-melt the chocolate off the sink and drain. We used it once more for my sister's wedding, then handed it off to a cousin for a high-school graduation party. No one thought it was worth the cleanup after that."
The Raclette Grill
My sister, Joanna, delights her guests in Los Angeles with a raclette grill, a contraption the rest of the family mocked her for adding to her wedding registry. "We've used it for traditional raclette — you melt the cut side of a big wheel of cheese and scrape it off onto bread — but also for brunch a few times. People love DIY melted cheese and tiny omelettes. Who knew?"
Best of luck with your next gathering, all. May your relatives be generous, your proportions appropriate and your specialty products truly special.
Instead of a Chip Bowl, Use a Colander
Upgrade a bag of chips without upgrading your party arsenal by filling your colander with snacks, instead. Bonus: The handles make it easy to transport to your party space. Just add a plate or piece of newspaper underneath to catch crumbs.
Instead of Plates, Use a DIY Paper Snack Server
Instead of serving your guests out of standard plastic bowls, use our free printable to turn inexpensive card stock into decorative paper cones. To create them, enlarge this template by 50 percent, then print onto legal-size copier paper. Transfer the template to 12x12 card stock and cut out. Use a craft knife to cut a slit opposite the tab. Once assembled, further secure them with tape.
Instead of an Ice Bucket, Try a Planter
Dump out the plant you tried to keep alive last summer and turn it into something you'll really tend to: A bucket to keep drinks cold at your next outdoor party. If the planter has drainage holes, be sure to place it on the ground to avoid a mess.
Instead of a Vase, Use a Tin Can
Tin cans have seemingly endless party uses: They can be transformed into lanterns, used to hold utensils, transformed into games, and more. One of the easiest uses is also one of the prettiest: Save a can with a pretty label (try tomatoes from the international section of your grocery) and fill it with flowers. It's an almost-instant centerpiece!
Instead of a Dessert Dish, Use a Mug
Instead of Bowls, Use Shot Glasses
Serve soup as an appetizer (yes, those boxes of pre-made soup totally count) by breaking out your shot glass collection and adding in a shooter-size serving. Bonus points if you add some chopped herbs or sour cream to garnish.
Instead of a Dessert Dish, Use an Edible Bowl
Adorable, right? These are also smart: Serving ice cream or fruit salad in hollowed-out citrus fruits adds citrusy flavor and doesn't dirty any dishes.
Make This: Frozen Clementine Sorbet
Instead of Ramekins, Use a Muffin Tin
You don't need fancy baking ramekins to make individual-sized foods — just turn to your trusty muffin tin to do the pre-portioning.
Instead of...Pretty Much Anything, Use a Mason Jar
Ah, the trusty mason jar. It can stand in for almost anything at a party, from drinking glass to utensil holder to salad dressing server. Here, pumpkin s'mores are stacked in pint-sized jars to create individual desserts. Yeah, you're going to want to keep a bunch of these around.
Make This: Pumpkin S'mores in a Jar
Instead of a Dessert Stand, Use Upcycled Stacked Plates
No cake stand? No problem! Create a makeshift cake server by updating a six- to eight-inch-wide can with non-toxic paint. Place the can on top of an upside-down plate, then stack another plate on top. This can be made permanent by adding industrial-strength adhesive along the top and bottom rims of the can. Or, make the arrangement temporary by connecting the pieces with poster putty.
Instead of Chairs, Use Pillows + a Low Table
Instead of a Bar Cart, Clear Off a Bookshelf
Bar carts are fun and trendy, but if you don't have one, you can still create a dedicated bar just for the party. Clear off a bookcase, side table or coffee table and add the essentials and some fun extras.
DIY This: Create a Bar, the Lazy Way