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Last Minute Party 

New Year's Eve in a Hurry

After much, perhaps too much, family time during the holidays, New Year's Eve is the time to relax and celebrate with friends. Even at this late date there's still time to put together a successful New Year's Eve bash.

Forget snail mail invitations at this point. Your best bet is to call or email. Make sure to tell your friends if your event is "the more the merrier" so unexpected guests won't throw off your count.

The most popular in-home New Year's Eve events are small dinner parties and heavy hors d'oeuvres cocktail parties. The latter gives people the opportunity to mingle with others, without restricting them to a designated seat at the dinner table. They're also easier to host as the food can be made, or bought, well in advance. The former are more intimate.

In either case, good food will predict the success of your party. Although having your event catered at this point is unlikely since most personal chefs and caterers were booked for New Year's Eve months ago, catering options still exist. You may be able to buy hors d'oeuvres trays and some, if not all, of a complete dinner from a caterer. You will, however, have to pick it up. The earlier you call the caterer the better.

"The best time to call a caterer is between 10am until noon," said Bruce Schlernitzauer, chef and owner of Porcupine Provisions. "Don't call at 5pm when a caterer is getting ready for an event. In the morning we have time to talk."

If you're having a cocktail party, Schlernitzauer recommends finding a good food balance. "In general try to have four, five to six different hors d'oeuvres and a balance of meat, cheese, and fish. You can usually count on four to six pieces per person. But with more variety, the less per person." Schlernitzauer also said you can't go wrong with shrimp. "Shrimp is the most popular hors d'oeuvre. Plan on a lot because everybody loves shrimp."

When planning your food choices, keep in mind that salty and greasy foods will encourage your guests to drink more while starchy and protein-intensive foods will slow the absorption of alcohol.

If you have no success with caterers, try ethnic specialty shops or your favorite restaurant. The best cheese selection in town is at Dean & Deluca in Phillips Place. However, complete parties can be bought in the freezer section of a good grocery store or membership club. The advantage of membership clubs such as Costco is the food is relatively inexpensive and is sold in party-size quantity.

You can use paper cups, plates, and plastic cutlery to avoid breakage -- and to avoid having to do the dishes in the morning. Or, you can rent what you need. Contacting a party rental company has it advantages. Rhonda Torrence, an event planner with The Main Event said, "Party rental companies can assist you for a quick last-minute fix for color and coordinating. You can waste your time at a party supply place, but rental companies can do it all from glassware to whatever you need."

If you do end up at a party supply place, New Year's Eve party packs are picked over by the day after Christmas, so shop early. These packs are filled with hats, noisemakers and leis and range in price from $10 for smaller packages for 10 people to $80 for 100 people. If you're using balloons, order those several days in advance as well. Other items to have on hand are carpet cleaner and club soda for the red wine spills.

Alcohol is part of New Year's Eve, but December 31 isn't the time to shop for it. Shop early. Champagne, or sparkling wine, is a must for New York's Eve. Plan on popping open some bubbly at midnight and have at least one glass per person. Buy champagne flutes or rent them, but do not use plastic or paper cups for Champagne. Also buy more alcohol than you need and don't forget ice and bottled water.

Most importantly, be aware that North Carolina has Social Host Liability which means that the state recognizes the liability of a social host who serves liquor to a guest who later drives drunk and causes injury to a third party. A social host may be liable for damages to the third party. Therefore it's always a good idea to monitor the alcohol intake of guests and not let your guests who've been drinking drive. Have some interesting non-alcoholic drink choices for the designated driver.

Jackie Tucker of Yellow Cab Company said that many party hosts reserve taxis in advance since New Year's Eve is so busy. "That way our drivers are aware where the parties are and can schedule the pickup."

Putting together a last minute party can successful. Just remember the most important thing is to relax and have a good time yourself.

Eater's Digest

Now open is the 100-seat TOWN at 710 West Trade Street in the Gateway Village, downtown. The restaurant features an exhibition kitchen that is glass fronted onto Trade so pedestrians can watch the chefs at work. The menu features a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach allowing diners to select from meat, seafood, and 28 side items. Prices range from $4 to $8 for the Asian-influenced conversation courses, salads, and appetizers. Entree prices range from $13 for roasted half chicken to $19 for a New York strip steak. Hours are 5pm until midnight Monday through Thursday, bar until 2am Friday and Saturday. Lunch will begin later. Call 704-379-7555.

Have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Fax information to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. Note: We need events at least 12 days in advance. To contact Tricia via email:

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