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New Year’s Eve: The final fling of the year that some view with anticipation and excitement, others with a growing sense of dread. Go out or stay in? Jeans or black tie? Find a date or watch Dick Clark? Many hotels, restaurants and bars around Philadelphia are offering up fancy bashes with package deals and prix fixes. Fireworks will explode over the Delaware River to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” and the familiar pop of champagne corks. But chances are, you’ve been there, done that. When you consider the scarcity of baby sitters and the hefty price tags of most New Year’s celebrations, however, staying home becomes a much easier and more attractive way to ring in the new year. There are, of course, the traditional alternatives. Invite your neighbors over for a potluck dinner. Choose a festive theme and design your d�cor and food and drink menus around it. Pull out the board games or poker table and have a game night. Host a movie marathon. If the idea of planning a house party just when the holidays are winding down doesn’t appeal to you, there is still another option. Why not stay home, but let someone else do all the work? Hire a caterer. It’s not as complicated or costly as you might think. A number of catering companies and restaurants stay open late on Dec. 31, and many of them are more than happy to deliver food and drink services to private residences. The size and scale of the event you’re planning will determine the type of service you choose, as well as the price tag. In cases of smaller parties — up to 20 people — you may want to keep it as simple as possible. Many caterers and restaurants will deliver hors d’oeuvres or sandwich platters that suit a smaller group for a smaller price. For example, Raymond’s Catering in Montgomery County offers a foccacia platter with eight varieties of sandwiches for $7.99 per person, along with a choice of two salads from the salad menu. Almost every caterer will throw in paper products, plastic ware and any instructions for serving the food, with no extra cost. If sandwiches are too everyday or you’re planning a larger gathering, there are several other options. Kelly Snavely of Saffron Fine Catering in Chadds Ford said her company will come to your home and do a walk-through with you to determine what kind of service will work best with your space. If you’re planning a mid-sized party of between 20 and 40 people, she recommends hiring a server, which will add a little to the cost but take a load off your mind as host. A server will, of course, pass food, but also keep drinks filled, clean up after guests, mind the kitchen and generally allow you as host to stay with your guests, not in the kitchen. If a server is too grand for you, a buffet is another practical option for a larger group. A buffet allows guests to mingle, and you don’t have to worry about setting a table or putting together seating arrangements. Many caterers in the city have a variety of buffet packages to choose from, ranging from antipasto tables to full dinners with coffee and desserts. For example, the buffet packages from Raymond’s Catering include salad, rolls, choice of two vegetables, all condiments, freshly brewed coffee, paper products and plastic ware, free delivery and setup. Hosts and hostesses can offer their guests a choice of two pasta, seafood, meat or chicken entrees for $13.99 per person, three entrees for $15.99, or four for $18.99. If a buffet isn’t your style either, stations can be placed around the house for guests to visit. Christine Marie’s in Glenn Mills offers a Holiday Open House package that includes two stations, one of appetizers and one of entrees, plus a dessert and coffee station set up by professionals in your own home. Stations encourage movement of guests and give the gathering a more glamorous feel. Keep in mind, though, that stations require extra space, extra serving personnel and added cost. Finding the right caterer for your gathering is a lot easier than you might think. The most reliable option is to ask friends or colleagues for recommendations, and think of contacting the company your firm uses for meetings and gatherings. If you need to start searching from scratch, however, you can always check the Internet. Web sites like www.localcatering.com and www.directcatering.com will provide you with free estimates from multiple caterers if you fill out an online form about your event. Local caterers contact you, either by phone or e-mail, and you can receive estimates and sample menus based on how many people you are having, what kind of meal service you want (coffee and dessert only, sit-down dinner, buffet), what kind of drink service you prefer and how long the party will last. You save time and energy making phone calls, and only those companies that are interested will contact you. So this year, invite your friends and neighbors over, pop in a video for the kids and let someone else do the cooking for you. Try to book a caterer as far in advance as you can, as openings fill up as fast as the end of the year approaches. Chances are you’ll look forward to 2004 a lot more if you start it off with a fun and relaxed evening.

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