At some point Saturday morning, the gig was up.

“Hmmm,” the husband said. “Four dozen eggs in the refrigerator? Five bottles of champagne?

“What’s going on?”

I’d been planning a surprise brunch for his birthday. Twenty-some guests were arriving at 11:30 the next day. The boys and I had kept it quiet for about a month. But now, it didn’t look like it would be the “Surprise!” I’d anticipated.

Still. It was a delightful day … sunny and brisk outside; toasty and delicious within.

Here are five things that made it even better. Try them out at your next party!

1. Set up stations.


Instead of piling all your food in one place, arrange it according to theme. This keeps guests moving and helps with flow and conversation. We used the dining room for savory food (egg frittatas; mushroom tarts; bagels with salmon rillettes; a salad of greens, radishes and oranges; roasted asparagus). One corner of the living room was devoted to tea and coffee. The sideboard in another part of the living room had sweet offerings (maple bundt cakes; fresh fruit; an assortment of biscotti). A table outside was filled with juices, champagne, beer and hard cider.

2. Let guests do the mixing.


Who has time to mix separate drinks? And who knows which guests want a little kick with their mid-morning food? I like to offer a variety of juices (pomegranate, orange and tomato here, covered with plastic before my guests arrive). I put champagne in a cooler and vodka on the table. (A bottle of Baileys at the coffee station is a nice addition, too.) Guests can make their own mimosas, bloody Marys or spiked coffees, and I’m free to mingle.

3. Remember nibbles.


I love having bowls of salt-and-pepper kettle chips, smoked almonds and stuffed olives at dinner parties. But what about brunch? Try scattering dried apricots, granola chunks, yogurt-covered pretzels and dried pineapple on tiny plates and platters. It’s perfect for those guests who may not want a big meal but would like a little something with their tea.

4. Look for surprises.


The unexpected always wows. Toss your fruit salad with a touch of simple syrup that’s been infused with cinnamon sticks, star anise and whole cloves. Include sliced oranges in your vegetable salad. Wrap individual servings of asparagus with prosciutto strips, then roast with olive oil, salt and pepper. It takes a smidge more time, but your guests will feel special.

5. Break out the good stuff.


Paper plates and plastic forks are great for backyard barbecues and summer bashes. But sometimes, an occasion calls for your prettiest bowls, platters and china. Yes, you’ll have a longer cleanup time, but why let the good stuff gather dust? This is what those wedding and graduation gifts were made for!