Among the things that I fail at are party maven-ness. I do parties wrong, and more practice would, indeed, improve my skills. In the meantime, however, my approach is casual and attempts to be a no- or low-waste affair. Surveying the scene after any formidable fete can make you feel bloated. If you are interested in shedding a few party pounds from your waste, it is more do-able than you might imagine.
The trick? Give up on attaining perfection. (See New Year’s Resolution: Do Stuff Wrong.) A slipshod effort at theme, invitations, decorations, goodie bags, games, etc. is really all you’ll get from me. And, yet, I don’t want my lack of perfection to keep me from celebrating relationships. Relax. Say, “It is what it is,” and move on with life. If the hostess is comfortable in her own imperfections, she subconsciously allows others to follow suit. We all breathe a collective sigh of relief.
(The following suggestions are for average do-it-yourselfers—the ones whose parties are *not* found in magazines, television or the movies.)
Plates. There are several no-waste options, depending on the mood you intend to have. Use the good china that hardly gets any action. Keep it cozy and family-style with everyday ware. Make it eclectic with second-hand store mismatched dishes. Salad plates are sized large enough for a variety of samples, and small enough to help avoid over-serving and subsequently, food waste.
Flatware. A finger food party would cut down on your flatware needs. Or, if you have a dish that requires something more than hands (i.e. slice of pie), most party fare can be eaten with either a spoon or a fork. This essentially doubles your available flatware. (Perhaps save soup for a sit-down affair, or make sure to borrow enough spoons. I suppose you COULD eat tomato soup with a fork as well, but keep a camera handy in case someone tries.)
Drinking Vessels.—Not long ago it hit me. I was brainstorming alternatives to paper/plastic cups. For my inspiration I turned to a cherished symbol of good Utah womanhood: the humble, yet versatile canning jar. I bought 3 dozen straight-sided, plain 8 oz. jars. The jars are useful for storing leftovers, sending yogurt in the kids’ lunches, keeping homemade condiments (i.e. salad dressings, dips), and, yes, as drinking glasses for party guests. It’s kind of funny, but it works. (The thought, however, of serving wine in a canning jar—though I do not personally imbibe—seems a smidge odd. Could it at least be equivalent, etiquettally-speaking, to wine in a paper/plastic cup? It’s a thought.) Guests can use crayons—another unexpected element of humor—directly on the jars to differentiate beverages; the marks will come clean in the dishwasher. The whimsical combination of sturdy jars and crayons makes it not only kid-friendly, but encourages adults to not take themselves too seriously.
NOTE: One down-side to jars is that they do not stack like paper/plastic cups, so you will need room for all those jars at the serving table.
Serving Dishes. Use what you have, borrow from a friend or neighbor, or see what unique surprises you might find at a second-hand store.
Napkins. I have had gatherings in the past in which I used plain paper napkins and composted them instead of throwing them in the trash. That worked alright. I prefer cloth napkins, though. If you don’t have quite enough cloth napkins, you can use clean bandannas, handkerchiefs, washcloths or kitchen towels (borrow or sew additional napkins from fabric scraps you have on hand—18” square is a good size for dinner napkins). Again, it may not be perfectly matchy-matchy, but who cares?
This style of entertaining is an opportunity to demonstrate to others an alternative to mainstream party-throwing. It’s better on the budget (no buying “disposable” plates/cups/napkins/flatware/tablecloths) and better for the trash can and landfill. (I’ve heard it said that buying disposables is like throwing your money in the garbage; it’s an effective visual aid.) Add a container for collecting food scraps for the compost. (If you don’t have a compost bin, you may know someone who does who would welcome your contributions.) With that done you will have essentially eliminated party garbage altogether. Yes, you will have to wash the dishes and the napkins, but for moderately-sized parties, that shouldn’t be an insurmountable burden.
Thus you will avoid the post-party heaving into the trash bin.
Wait . . . uh, that came out wrong.
As did that.