"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.

The Chafer



Buffet at a banquet featuring indian food.

Photo by: Reptile8488/iStock


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



Vibrant Picture of Chocolate Fountain Fontain on childen kids birthday party with a kids playing around and marshmallows and fruits dip dipping into fountain

Photo by: Tsuguliev/iStock


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



raclette trays

Photo by: margouillatphotos/iStock


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.

Don't Have These Party Essentials? No Worries, Just Improvise It

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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. 

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

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. 

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Instead of Bowls, Use Fruit Baskets

Here's a reason to feel good about hoarding those berry baskets from farmers' market purchases: They can stand in as cute serving dishes for your party when bowls aren't an option. 

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

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. 

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

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

It's the perfect server for your late-night cake fix, so why not use it mugs to create easy-to-serve desserts, too? Guests can grab their own, meaning you don't need a large baking dish, serving utensils or dessert plates — just a great recipe.

Make This: Individual Berry Cobbers

  1. cobbler

©Cheyenne Mojica Photography

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. 

(They're Great For Salads, Too.)

Glassware can stand in for plates when serving bite-sized salads and desserts, too. 

  1. bacon
  2. salad

Photo By: ALX Creatives

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. 

Make This: 8 Muffin Tin Brunch Recipes (Muffins Not Included!) 

Photo By: Savour Imagery LLC

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

Photo By: Hortus Ltd.

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. 

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Instead of Chairs, Use Pillows + a Low Table

Don't shy away from inviting guests over just because you have a studio apartment, small back yard or dining room that isn't as large as you’d like. Here, pillows and a low coffee table stand in for the usual tables and chairs. 

Photo By: Cheyenne Mojica Photography

Instead of a Party-Sized Table, Add Plywood to Your Everyday Table

How to you turn a small dining table into a table that will fit all of your friends? Add a piece of plywood or an unhinged hollow-core door on top of a smaller table. Cover it with a tablecloth or a piece of fabric. 

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

Photo By: Brklyn View Photography LLC

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