* 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.

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