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After learning again the hard way last year just how much work goes into hosting my daughter’s birthday party at home, I was determined to go another route this time around. Following much discussion, we agreed to invite no more than 10 teens and five adults to lunch at California Pizza Kitchen (CPK).

Whether you host an event at your house or opt for an outside venue, it helps to talk to the experts during the planning phase. I learned a lot from the phone conversations I had with one of the managers who suggested we consider the restaurant’s catering menu for a more cost-effective approach for feeding a group.

This was an option I didn’t even know existed and it turned out to be the perfect fit for our affair. We ended up with a variety of dishes to please everyone, from the picky eaters and vegetarians, to those trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

A combination of pizzas, pastas and salads came first, followed by a few portions of my daughter’s favorite CPK dessert as a fun alternative to the more traditional birthday cake.

It’s OK to ask for substitutions, like mac and cheese, which was the right choice for this particular crowd.

While the plan was to gather on the outdoor patio that provides some privacy, an unexpected heat wave made us shift to an indoor setting. This confirmed that it’s a good idea to have a backup plan for any al fresco event in Michigan given the unpredictable weather.

Keeping it simple was the motto running through my mind the entire time. When the manager asked if I had a tablecloth, which I didn’t, we both agreed that it isn’t always necessary.

All we needed was a handful of party decorations purchased at the last minute to create a festive atmosphere. Once again, asking an expert for help at the party supply store not only yielded an easy-to-assemble kit, but got us a discount, too.

You can never go wrong with white plates and a glass of cold water at every setting, which goes a long way on a hot day.

Dividing the food into smaller portions meant we didn’t have to pass the dishes all the way around the table. This is definitely something I plan to try at home when entertaining.

We even kept the birthday candles simple, with two number candles that represent my daughter’s age.

It’s amazing how stress-free a celebration can be when someone else takes over. When my daughter and I arrived early to decorate the tables, our thoughtful waiter brought us bread and water which was an unexpected treat.

I can definitely learn a few lessons from the excellent service when hosting in my home.

So, the next time I invite people over, I’ll take some pointers from the positive experience we had that day like keep it simple and listen to the pros. That should help me to relax and enjoy the company.

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at jeaninematlow@earthlink.net.

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