Lessons in Party Planning

Having thrown more than a few parties in my life- both personally and professional- I've been able to pick up some tips and tricks that help set the tone for smooth sailing! I'm well adept at creating a fun atmosphere, mouth-watering menu, and sticking to a budget. Here are my top 10 simple rules for throwing an unforgettable bash:

Write Down a Menu

Parties are all about planning, and the first step is to write down the menu in advance. Make sure there’s enough variety to please the masses and avoid redundancy. In other words: have a few protein options, a couple starches, something light, and something vegetarian. Dishes that can be served at room temperature are always a hit- and will keep you from stressing out!

Be Wary of Your Audience

Before my little man came along, a threw a party and neglected to accommodate the children. Not realizing they would refuse to eat imported buffalo mozzarella and aged prosciutto (crazy kids) I was met with acquiring minds: “where are the chicken fingers and french fries?” I had to run out to McDonald’s- a restaurant I don't typically frequent- and order 100 chicken nuggets for the kids. Now, I makes sure to serve organic chicken tenders, chips, and gourmet hot dogs that both kids and adults can enjoy.

Don’t Throw a “Potluck”

If you want help, assign guests to bring specific items. Otherwise, you’ll end up with 10 varieties of potato salad or nothing by desserts, and no one wants that. My father is always assigned his signature focaccia bread, while Zia Donata brings 2 trays of lasagna and her famous ricotta cheesecake.

Stay True to You

I always embrace my Italian roots, serving antipasti meat and cheese plate with tomatoes, roasted peppers, olives, and bread for appetizers. Even if the occasion calls for something else (Cinco De Mayo parties, Christmas, or Fourth of July) I always throw in a little Italian influence!

Keep it Simple, Then Jazz it Up

Start with what the people are expecting, then add something special. For my July 4th party, I served corn on the cob (an American favorite and key element to July 4th) and added unique spin: a side of clarified chipotle butter.

Presentation is Key

Paper plates and plastic cutlery are fine, but when it comes to presentation you should opt for something better. Instead of a typical shrimp ring served on ugly black plastic, put together your own shrimp cocktail platter. Find a large, shallow serving tray, fill it with ice, toss fresh shrimp and sliced lemon on top. Then, use a decorative ramekin to hold store-bought or freshly-made cocktail sauce.

Buy Better

Spend a few extra bucks investing in the best version of your favorite foods. For my July 4th party, I purchased hot dogs from Esposito’s: a New York staple when it comes to butcher shops. In addition, I served home-made kettle chips from a nearby mom and pop shop. If you spend 70% of your efforts on quality products, you’ll spend less time in the kitchen and more time schmoozing with guests.

Mix Your Drinks Ahead of Time

Probably the worst clean-up project is the bar. It gets sticky, slippery, and down-right disgusting. To avoid a big mess, come up with 2-3 mixed drink options for your crowd and serve them in big drink dispensers. My husband aka- the mixologist- choose a red wine-based sangria, tequila-based margarita, and vodka-based pomegranate cosmo. In addition, we filled large buckets with ice for beer, water, and juice. Everything is pre-mixed and self-serve. Easy peasy!

Empty Your Trash Cans

Not the most glamorous of tips, but a very important step none-the-less! It might sound silly, but I always empty the trash cans before guests arrive. If it fills up during the party, you're not going to want to pause conversations to take it out. Especially not in a fancy dress and heels! When the party starts, the trash cans should be empty and clearly visible for all guests to see and use.

Be A Good Guest

Finally, one tip for the guests: Remember that your host has a lot of prepping, cleaning, cooking, entertaining, and serving to do. It’s customary to bring a gift, and you have two options. A) If you opt to bring something during the day of the party, make sure it doesn’t require any effort. Flowers are acceptable if they come in a vase, but if not- the host will be pulled away from her tasks and required to find a vase in a probably-disorganized kitchen. I suggest a nice candle or bottle of wine instead. B) Send your thank-you cards and presents a few days after the party. The host will appreciate it much more when she’s in a relaxed state of mind!

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