(Q) When planning a party, large or small, how do I avoid feeling overwhelmed?
(A) Always start with a theme which helps you stay organized and gives your event a cohesive feel. I use a particular color scheme or incorporate items I have on-hand, such as a special tablecloth, or glassware, and create from that point. On Thanksgiving I wanted to use light pink champagne and wine bottles I had on hand as a base for the flower arrangements. I departed from a traditional fall colorscape and created a soft palette of cremes and light pinks.
Everything followed the color palette including the table decor, china, cocktails and placecards.
Oftentimes the food itself will dictate a theme. I just hosted a birthday dinner where I served barbecue – ribs, brisket, bbq chicken, corn-on-the-cob, garlic mashed potatoes and cornbread with honey butter. I used a beautiful tablecloth my mom had given me that looked like burlap and was embroidered with lemons, pears and apples.
The table was flanked by sunflowers, yellow daffodils, and fresh lemons and limes. I used an old crate to house the centerpiece and stuck a sprig of rosemary into each guest’s napkin.
When guests arrived, they were greeted with margaritas served in mason jars with a fresh lime in the bottom.
So, my number one tip in planning an event and avoid being overwhelmed is to begin by paying attention to the theme. The theme is dictated by the type of occasion and the food. Your planning will fall into place from there.
(Q) When planning a party, what do I splurge on and what do I save on to stay within my budget?
(A) Keep your menu simple and definitely splurge on quality food and drinks. Take the extra step to shop in different stores that may specialize in one item or another and don’t be afraid to see what is on sale that week. Costco always carries a Prime Filet Mignon Roast that is easy to make and elegant in presentation, especially when paired with whipped horseradish and chives.
You can save on quality drinks by shopping at Sam’s Club, Costco, Smart & Final and Cost Plus (Cost Plus offers discounted member prices on wine by signing up for their loyalty program). When your guests arrive, serve a beverage that can be made in larger quantities such as sangria, margaritas or a spiked punch. This will save on cost and allow you to splurge on a nicer wine to accompany dinner. A majority of grocery stores offer discounted pricing for the purchase of 6+ bottles of wine or more. Take advantage of deals and holidays when the discount can be 30% to 40% off retail for 6+ bottles.
Making your own flower arrangements also saves money on your party. Look for day-after specialty flowers at your local florist or grocery store. One of my local florists offers “yesterday’s” roses for $9.95 a dozen and they are always gorgeous. Take advantage of greenery, citrus or flowers that may be growing in your own garden – roses, lavender, rosemary, lemons, limes and grapefruits, etc.
Build your decor around items you already have or that you can borrow – tablecloths, chargers, placemats, napkins, napkin rings, place card holders, etc… Napkins and tablecloths can easily be changed out for a brand new look. Stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Home Goods, Marshall’s, and, of course, Amazon, have a wealth of choices for a very reasonable price.
(Q) What are your Top FIVE tips for entertaining?
1. Be a relaxed and welcoming host. If you are tense it will show. Treat yourself to a glass of wine while getting ready for your event. This will put you in a party mood and relieve any tension that may have built from planning, decorating, shopping, cleaning – haha… REMEMBER, it is a real treat to be invited to someone’s home for a special occasion. Most people are happy to go out, enjoy good company and not have to worry about one single detail.
2. Guest list and seating is key. If you want the environment to be festive, make sure you invite engaging people who are able to carry on conversation about different topics or tell entertaining anecdotes. I love to hear laughter (and lots of it) when I entertain. If it’s a sit-down affair, think about seating arrangements and put people next to each other that share commonalities. Try to seat each guest by at least one person they know.
3. Do NOT prepare a labor-intensive meal that requires you to be in the kitchen for an hour while you could be mingling with your guests. You will be sweating up a storm trying to talk while cooking and making it all look seamless- and then, there goes your carefree party attitude.
One of my favorite dinner party menus allows almost everything to be prepped ahead of time:
-grilled steak smothered with mushrooms (sauté the mushrooms once the steak has been pulled off the grill and is resting)
-twice-baked potatoes (made in advance and then popped in the oven)
-roasted asparagus (roast while the steak is resting)
-simple and fresh salad (have chilled lettuce in a bowl ready to go and then add in fresh berries, crumbled feta cheese and candied walnuts before dressing)
-crusty french bread
If a sit down dinner seems too stressful, switch it up and host an appetizer and cocktail party or a desserts and drinks party – I have done both and those two themes offer something a little bit different with ease.
4. Create an environment that will make all of your guests feel comfortable. Spend time with everyone and take photos to post and to send out after the party thanking the person(s) for coming. Soften bright lights and light the candles around your home and light your fireplace, as well, if it’s not a hot summer night. Always have music playing in the background. Whether you create a playlist just for the occasion, or turn on satellite radio, music is the ultimate stage setter and mood lifter.
5. Keep your guests mingling. Serve different courses in different rooms/locations. Greet guests with cocktails and appetizers outside on the patio, dinner in the dining room and serve dessert in the living room or buffet style from your kitchen island. It is always fun to reminisce about the evening on the way home so create a warm atmosphere where your guests feel comfortable talking with everyone – it could lead to some great stories.
I like everything to be perfect BUT, remember…red wine will be spilled. Crystal glasses will be shattered. Your special homemade potatoes will burn. In the end, it’s the people you share these special occasions with that matter. If you laugh, the world laughs with you – don’t take entertaining too seriously.
(Q) What is an appropriate hostess gift?
(A) As long as you don’t show up empty-handed, the choices are endless. A nice bottle of wine or elegant candle always make nice gifts. Go the extra mile in the presentation and include the wine in a nice bag tied with unique ribbon or top the candle box with a small bunch of fresh blooms (add roses to a rose-scented candle, a pinecone to wintergreen, gardenias to a gardenia scent, etc…).
If I have the time, I like to let creativity rule and bring a gift of thanks that is unique. If your hosts enjoy grilling, pair the latest NYT book on grilling with a grill mit, a digital thermometer or flavor rub. Wrap the gift in aluminum foil for the grill and tie with “themed” ribbon such as gingham or twine.
I have been given personalized gifts over the years and I absolutely love them. It shows a thoughtfulness and gratitude that is sure to be appreciated by the host – think monogrammed cocktail napkins, kitchen towels or a set of four cocktail glasses. If you have the time to plan ahead, monogrammed or personalized gifts are very special.
Hostess gifts aimed at pampering also go over well. A gift card for a manicure says “thank you for doing all those dishes,” and a gift card for a pedicure says, “thank you for all the time spent on your feet for us.”
The amount you spend is entirely up to you and what you can afford. You can be creative and clever and not break the bank.