Mar 21 2012
There is so much to think about when it comes to planning parties. How do I plan a menu? What about cocktails? How many entrees? To help in answering and offering some helpful tips we have enlisted the help of one of our talented friends, Sarah Simms. She is a chef, food stylist, sommelier, and blogger who loves winemaking, studying wine, drinking wine, farmer’s markets, herb gardens, eating in, eating out, bocce, collecting dishes, and traveling. She hosted her own Spanish-themed dinner party last weekend and put into practice her five no-fail guidelines to follow when planning a party. We created menus for her guests along with place cards that worked as coasters so they could move about the party and not lose their drink! To top it off, each guest could take both home as souvenirs. So, just follow her five guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to being pro! To find out more about Sarah visit, www.lafemmeepicure.com.
1. Keep things simple
If you take nothing else away from this, just remember you MUST keep things simple. The most classy and chic parties are always extremely simple at the core. When it comes to the menu use the best quality ingredients possible and ensure that you pick dishes that you can prep in advance so you aren’t sweating in your silk blouse in the kitchen while your guests are chatting away in the other room wondering where you are.
2. Don’t forget about fresh flowers & dessert
Put fresh flowers around the room. It does what no other party décor can do; it adds brightness and life to your space. I like to mix and match different sizes of glass vases – mason jars, measuring cups, beakers, decanters, etc. If you are looking for a more masculine feel, buy bunches of fresh herbs instead and make arrangements from those. The dessert part of this tip is something I learned from Chef Ramsay. He always says, “finish with a strong dessert”. This is the last thing that your guests will eat so it will be the one item that lingers the longest. You don’t need to go crazy, once again, simple is better, but make sure it’s to-die-for delicious.
3. Pick thoughtful drink options
I’m not a fan of having a gazillion beverage options at a dinner party. Don’t just serve anything though – BE THOUGHTFUL. If you are creating an Italian feast, serve sangiovese and prosecco and maybe a campari cocktail. If you are serving Mexican dishes, create a signature margarita and offer ice-cold modelos and tecate. You get the picture, right? If you are serving wine, keep it to one white, one red, and maybe a bubbly. If you are serving just beer, offer three choices. Creating a signature cocktail for the night is always a good idea – think about something fun like an unexpected aperitif or even a palate cleansing cocktail between courses. Just don’t try to have everything for everyone unless you plan on hiring a bartender.
4. Role play
Give your guests a role to play. Nothing is more awkward than a hostess who is running around like a chicken with her head cut off while the guests are all making small talk. As your guests arrive, get them involved. Have someone play mixologist/sommelier and help to make/pour drinks. Assign music to someone else – a resident DJ can change records or playlists as the night progresses. If you haven’t set the table – ask for help. Memorable meals are always a group effort – the more involved everyone is, the better!
5. Mise en place
Pronounced [miz on plas]. Translates literally from French to mean, “putting in place” or “everything in place”. This phrase will be your best friend when planning a dinner party. Make lists and check them (twice!). Prep out all your ingredients in advance and stay organized. It sounds a whole lot simpler than it actually is but there’s no need to ever break a sweat if you can master this skill. Practice on a normal weeknight when the stakes aren’t so high. Write out your menu and create an order of attack based on the time required to make each item. Measure out your ingredients before you start cooking and clean as you go. You’ll be a pro in no time!
Photos taken by RW Simms & Paige Johnson.