* Plan, plan, plan.
* Take care with the invitations. (Will guests need a map to get to your house? Be specific about the type of party - barbecue? Christmas?)
* Prepare as much of the food ahead of time as you can.
* Don't be too ambitious or extravagant: the time and money spend shouldn't be something you'll resent.
* You can never have too much ice. The same goes for shrimp.
* Put the food where you want people to gather. Don't offer too many different things. Keep food items small and not too messy.
* When people ask `What can I bring?' give them a definite assignment.
* Supplement homemade food with high-quality store-bought.
* People like to "do for themselves": Let them make their own sandwiches, for example, instead of laying them out on trays in geometric designs.
* Have a backup plan (a rain date, for example).
* Plan activities for any children who might attend.
* Take note of what works and what doesn't; keep your list in mind for next time.