Written By Susan Fair

What are you doing New Year’s Eve? If your answer to this classic question is “throwing a party” we have you covered.

Here, a band of local experts and party people chime in with insider info on how to make your New Year’s blast one they’ll talk about for years. The countdown to your perfect New Year’s Eve party starts now:

Five: Planning for Fun
“Planning a party is a process,” said Jessica Dannettel, Director of Operations at Four Seasons Sports Complex in Hampstead, where she plans all manner of events. “It’s the same whether it’s a wedding or a New Year’s Eve party.” A good party starts with the guest list, said Dannettel, but cautions that once you work up your budget the guest count may have to be pared down.

“The idea of the party,” comes next Dannettel said; “whether it’s a theme you want, or to go formal or informal. Ask yourself: ÔWhat’s my vision?’ If you’re renting a place, do you want something that’s young and fun and active like a sports complex or more formal like a banquet hall? Once you’ve answered those questions, details start falling into place.”

Rob Johnson has been a local deejay for more than 20 years. He has had a firsthand view of scores of holiday parties and has noticed details that party planners often overlook.

“The biggest thing is getting the invitations out as early as possible. You’re competing with a lot of other parties,” said Johnson.

Another consideration: “A lot of folks nowadays are taking more precautions about what are they going to do after the New Year is rung in if guests are consuming alcohol,” he said. “Make plans for lodging or rides home ahead of time.”

Four: Budgeting Your Blast
“Expenses can be a big consideration when it comes to a New Year’s party,” said Dannettel. “It adds up. Nobody wants to go into the New Year broke.”

When she is not entertaining guests as a manager at Johansson’s Dining House in Westminster, Sarah Redding has been known to throw memorable New Year’s Eve parties at her home. She recommends shoppingat dollar and other discount stores for decorations, party hats, and horns.

Lexi Schafer, owner of Events By Lexi in Westminster, suggests, “Look for paper products on sale, and get food on sale and freeze it.” Decorating doesn’t have to blow your budget, she said: “Anything gold, silver or sparkly goes a long way toward creating a festive atmosphere.”

When it comes to budgeting for food, said Redding, “Traditionally, the host supplies most of the food.” She advises that planners should expect to spend from $12 to $25 per guest for dinner at home. Some of that cost can be defrayed by asking guests to bring a beverage or appetizer.

Celebrating away from home can bump up costs quite a bit: a party for 25 at Johansson’s, for example, will run you about $1,500 for food, alcohol, taxes and gratuity.

Hall and banquet room rentals can also vary widely. At the Four Seasons Sports Complex prices range from $50 an hour for a room to $800 and up for overnight rentals. Around the county, community hall rentals start at just a few hundred dollars for the evening, but procrastinators beware: local organizations often use their facilities for their own parties, and rentals are usually booked well before the end of the year.

Three: Entertaining Ideas
Redding recommends going old-school with charades, a game she says is a great option because it can be adapted to adults or families. Another favorite: “One of the things I find absolutely hysterical is Scattergories,” Redding said of the popular word game. She has also employed that always-reliable party-in-a-can called Silly String. “It’s fun and simple and easily cleaned up.”

Johnson believes that music can make or break an event, and recommends selecting “music that will appeal to everyone.” He said hiring a deejay can be a good move. but suggests having an exuberant friend serve as emcee; “A really good master of ceremonies will help keep the crowd involved.”

Living downtown allows Westminster council member Tony Chiavacci to include the community in his New Year’s parties. One year, his guests trooped en masse to enjoy a celebration that was being held in downtown Westminster. “And sometimes,” he said, “a little group will walk from the party to a local establishment, have a drink and come back.”

Two: Feeding Your Fun-Seekers
“Plentiful” and “simple” are key concepts when it comes to feeding your revelers. “Make sure you have more than enough food and drink,” said Chiavacci, whose party food motto is Ôbetter to have too much than not enough.’ “My wife takes that to the extreme — if we’re expecting 50 people she’ll have enough for 125. You can always send some food home with people. And of course, alcohol doesn’t go bad.”

“People always offer to bring something — take them up on it,” said Events by Lexi’s Schafer. When it comes to cooking, her advice is: “Keep it simple. The host wants to have time to mingle with the guests, not be working in the kitchen all night.”

One: Friends, Family , Fresh Starts
The final item on the countdown to the best New Year’s Eve party is not the amount of money spent, but the sense of friendship, family and community that captures the real spirit of New Year’s Eve.

“There’s no question that New Year’s Eve is all about friends and family,” said Chiavacci. “When you’re younger, New Year’s Eve is all about partying it up. But as you get a little older you realize it’s really about spending time with friends and family and celebrating the turn of the year.” For Fred Teeter, executive director of the Historical Society of Carroll County, New Year’s Eve is all about creating shared memories with loved ones:

“My sister Jenny usually invites us to her house where we join her, her husband and other select friends for dinner and drinks,” said Teeter. “At midnight we venture outside to bang on pots and pans. Because the house sits high, we also watch fireworks explode above surrounding ridges.”

Ultimately, it seems, the crucial factor is the guest list you started with. Said Redding: “The people who attend it are what really makes a party fun and memorable.”