Be an Event Planner (Dinner Party Edition)
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Many people think of parties in terms of themes; a Halloween party, a bridal shower, an anniversary. While this is an important component, there are a multitude of details that are just as pertinent to the feel of your party. Event planning requires both right and left brain thinking, fusing logistical and critical thinking with creativity. You can't think in terms of just creating a pretty party, you must put yourself in the position of chef, server, bartender, DJ, lighting technician, rental company, venue coordinator, valet, and last but not least, guest. While you have been living and breathing this event, most of the vendors, sub-contractors and especially the guests, have not. It is your responsibility to envision every scenario that may come up, and find ways to make the experience an enjoyable one for those present. In some ways, this seems to me a bit like baby-proofing a home. You want them to enjoy themselves and yet you want to take measures to prevent your guests from encountering something that will deter from their enjoyment.
While you may be just starting on a career to event planning, or perhaps looking for insight for your next celebration, I think a great place to familiarize yourself with the inner workings of any event is to plan a dinner party. This micro-version of a bigger fête gives us a chance to really explore ways to make a celebration wonderful, and what things to look out for as your guest list grows.
Here are a few examples of things to think about for the main components of a dinner party. This list is not complete, but hopefully it will give you insight into thinking like an event planner, and help make your next event a glorious one.
Planning a Dinner Party
* What will they be eating? Are there any dietary restrictions? Do you have all of the necessary kitchen equipment, as well as the flatware, china, salt and pepper shakers, bread baskets, linens, glasses, etc. that your guests will require to enjoy the food being served?
* When will they be eating? If you've opted out of dinner and are just serving appetizers, but your party is near dinner time, should you move the time of the event or plan on having more food (crudités, assorted foreign and domestic cheese, meats and fruits, small plated appetizers, etc.)? How much time does each course take to prepare and when will each course need to be started to insure a smooth flow between courses (and if you're hosting, give you time to enjoy dinner with your guests?)
* What will they drink? Is there specific glassware that is expected with the types of drinks you're offering? Do they pair well with what you're serving? What temperature should the wines be served at, and do you need to decant the red wines? Have you created a fun drink to complement your event, perhaps one that is seasonal or a guest of honor's favorite? How much beverage product will you need to have on hand, and oh, did you pick up the ice and mixers?
* Where will used plates, glasses and garbage go? Do you have a designated area where items can be put so they're out of sight until after the party? Stacks of dishes on the kitchen counter where many guests like to congregate will be an eyesore and may cause some overly kind guests to start helping you clean up. Perhaps a table right outside around the side of the house where things can be set until later would be a better option.
* Is your home party-friendly? Is there parking for guests? Is the bathroom fully stocked? If you have pets, have you made sure they are safe and will not feel encroached upon, nor bother guests? Do you have a phone number for a taxi service for guests that over imbibe or do you have an extra pair of jammies in case someone needs to stay the night?
* What are your guests doing besides eating? Even among the most well-meaning crowds, it is still inevitable that guests will arrive at different times, so you need to have a way to entertain them prior to dinner. Light food and drink stations for those arriving with an appetite (and trust me, people like having something to hold in their hands such as a glass of wine) or a fun ice breaker activity. There are a multitude of options online, so find one that is tailored to your crowd and the type of celebration. When dinner's over, have something to keep the party going such as a playful game of charades or Pictionary, or transform your backyard into a make-shift late night venue such as a lounge with soft lighting and music or a drive-thru theater with a projector, cozy blankets and pillows, and popcorn.
My final words of advice are from Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project which is "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." You can get things as right as you could imagine, but there's a good chance something won't go as planned. If, and when, that crazy thing happens, take a deep breath and remember the spirit in which you decided to host this celebration. Your guests are grateful for your efforts, and you should be proud of yourself for taking on a task that most people find incredibly daunting. Learn from it, then let it go.
If you have any questions about your party, feel free to post them below, and I will reply as soon as I can. Happy planning!