Rent your way to a holiday party

LOS ANGELES — Need to cook a huge holiday dinner for 35 people but have only one oven? Perhaps you can rent a second.

Worried that not all of your guests will fit in your too-small home? Maybe create an inviting room for guests outside with some rented modular sofas, comfy canopy chairs, colorful end tables and a modern Kindle space heater.

Design snobs in your midst? No problem. Sculptural Verner Panton dining chairs can be yours for just a few days.

Consumers' options in party rentals keep expanding, and even the most seasoned holiday host might be surprised by the variety of designs and gear available. And when it comes to basics such as tables, chairs, plates and glasses, renting just might be easier than borrowing and less expensive than buying.

Key things you need to know:

1. Don't presume your party is too small. Many rental companies — even at the high end — have no minimum order requirement, and if they do, it might be less than you might guess — as low as $65 at one popular rental spot.

2. Get it delivered. Having your order dropped off at home saves time and sanity. Delivery fees generally include setup of equipment and pickup and can range from $65 to about $100, depending upon how much your order costs.

3. Get it delivered. For those of you who didn't pay attention to No. 2, remember: You cannot show up at the rental warehouse expecting to fit an 8-foot-long banquet table in your Prius. Dishes and glasses are packed in wide boxes and large plastic crates. Some of the nicer dining chairs cannot be picked up because of concerns about scratches. Plan accordingly.

4. Most companies take orders only by phone or in person, during business hours. Peruse offerings online first. Some have prices on their website. Even if you don't have an exact guest count, place a preliminary order and make adjustments later. When renting for the holidays, people often go for the more inexpensive items first, so late customers may have no choice but to go with more expensive options.

5. Count tables carefully. An 8-foot-long table can seat 10, but it likely won't be wide enough to set down serving dishes. When the cost is about $9 per table, why not just order an extra to use as a buffet? The other issue: room planning. Figure out if you need to rearrange a room, and note that most delivery people are not allowed to move furniture.

6. Rent extra glasses — three glasses per person — because guests tend to drink different wines or lose track of their glass. (Face it, those wineglass charms don't work once the party starts rolling.) Yes, you could buy cheap glassware from Ikea, but then what? Renting gives you the option of one all-purpose glass or different sizes and shapes for red wine, white wine, Champagne or water. The breakage fee for a wine glass is usually about $2.50. The rent-extras rule also applies to place settings.

7. Claim your gravy boat. If you know you'll need one, get moving. Again, you could buy or borrow one, but the point here is to reduce the amount of work for yourself. A ladle and boat set rents for $10 or so.

8. Mix and match. Mismatched place settings are a trend, so consider renting multiple styles of dishes and bowls and incorporating the china you have on hand.

9. Rent, don't buy, linens. Some of your biggest savings can come from renting tablecloths and napkins. They're usually available in dozens of colors with prices starting around $1 for napkins and $8.50 for tablecloths.

10. Rent an extra oven. You can agonize over the kitchen remodel that never happened, or you can simply rent the kind of professional equipment that catering services use. An oven large enough to cook a turkey runs about $200. Also available: tabletop burners, convection ovens, even pizza ovens and deep-fat fryers. Large appliances come on casters (ovens often go in the garage) and work on propane. Delivery fees cover the setup and installation.

11. Don't make a knee-jerk decision about dining chairs. A lot of design-savvy choices are available, including modern Victoria Ghost chairs by Phillipe Starck and classic Verner Panton chairs, which will cost about $15 apiece. At the other end of the budget spectrum: Some customers forgo the ubiquitous plastic Samsonite folding chairs because they are often the cheapest (starting at about $1), but rental companies say they are actually quite comfortable.

12. Make a final check. Go down your menu and walk through the entire event. Ask yourself: Do I really have time to polish my grandmother's silver? Do I need a coffee maker? Do I have enough spoons for soup and dessert? If flatware costs just 50 cents to $1.60 a piece, perhaps it makes sense to order more.

13. Leave the dishes for someone else. Perhaps the best part of renting is that plates, glasses, cutlery and linens do not have to be washed before they are returned. When the party's over and the last guest has left, simply rinse tableware, put it back in the plastic crates for pickup and savor your smart planning.

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