Photo: © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation
The Invite: Though Evite is ubiquitous, don't count out the competition. BlackBerry users will like Socializr.com because its e-mails include all the party details—no link-clicking required. And you can add music or video to the hundreds of invitation palettes on offer. At MyPunchBowl.com, party-planning gets a democratic spin: Guests can vote on potential days and times for the shindig. You can also use the After Party feature to thank your friends and upload photos of the night's revels.
The Look: "The right light is more important than flowers or any other kind of decoration," says Jennifer Rothman of Francesca Events in New York City. To get that perfect warm glow for an at-home gathering, Rothman recommends replacing your everyday bulbs with colored compact fluorescent lights in skin-flattering tones (blue and red) and scattering battery-powered LED votive candles around the party space (FlamelessCandles.net).
The Drinks: If a full bar takes up too much of your space and budget, Rothman suggests creating a signature drink for the night. Browse the recipes at DrinkoftheWeek.com or BarSchool.com; save a trip to the liquor store by checking out the Esquire Drinks Database (Esquire.com/drinks), where you can search for cocktails that use the spirits you already have at home.
The Music: Accessorize your iPod to tap your guests' singing talents. The Griffin iKaraoke microphone ($50) fades the lead vocals on any song in your repertoire; hard-core karaoke fans will love Brookstone's Ion Portable PA System for iPod ($300), with mic, amp, and iPod dock, all on wheels.
The Aftermath: Alas, not all of us can employ an iRobot Roomba—a vacuum-cleaning 'bot shaped like a Bundt cake—to do the dirty work after the guests have left (starting at $130 with a 30-day guarantee; iRobot.com ). But for happier proof of a night well spent, there are always (crisp, clean!) party pictures. The Smile Shutter Mode on the sleek Sony Cyber-shot (starting at $180) detects exactly when your subject is saying cheese; GE's line of affordable cameras (starting at $90) can pick up on a smile and an ill-timed blink.