Throw a memory-making party that’ll leave guests in awe.
By Shannon Thaler
It’s a homeowner’s tale as old as time—and we’re not talking about having to fix a roof leak yourself instead of calling a landlord. We’re referring to the seemingly wonderful idea to open your home to friends and family for a dinner affair, birthday party, or just because. Yet as the host, it’s quite easy to find yourself frantic over house-cleaning tasks, managing staff or slaving away in the kitchen while laughter and glass clinking ensues in the next room over.
But just because you’re playing host doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the fun. After all, everyone loves a house party—there are no overpriced drinks, you’re greeted at the door with a warm smile rather than an ID check, and kicking off your heels is socially acceptable.
Take it from Virginia Frischkorn, a seasoned event professional who, despite owning luxury event planning company Bluebird Productions, saw a need in assisting event hosts who prefer a do-it-yourself, yet still elevated, approach to an at-home affair. Cue Partytrick, an online platform she launched in October 2022 that’s designed to assist the aspiring at-home event host along every step of the process—from helping select an event theme to reminding its users to eat four hours before guests are scheduled to arrive.
When it comes to entertaining at your home, picking a theme can be a great place to start, Frischkorn says, noting that having a motif “helps guarantee a cohesive guest experience, and thus confidence in a host as they have the piece of mind that everything goes together.” And don’t fret—there’s ways to avoid crossing over from tasteful to tacky. “A theme can be as simple as a farm-to-table dinner or ‘Italian chic,’” she says.
For Charli Penn, the executive lifestyle director of Apartment Therapy Media, writing everything down is first up, and is a must to keep organized—a trait she says “will always be your secret weapon for success.”
“Keep meticulous notes on everything, from the recipes you’ll prepare to the types of barware and serveware you’ll need on the big day.” You’ll also want to note how many guests are bringing plus-ones, plus food allergies and restrictions, and “decor that’s needed—complete with vendors you may need to book and details on setup and takedown,” Penn says.
From there, “assign a due date to each task on your party planning to-do list, and leave yourself ample time to accomplish each one” to accommodate for the inevitable hiccups that are sure to occur along the way, Penn adds.
Kabrel Geller—the founder of This Messy Table LA—always has a grazing table front-and-center as they’re not only a decor statement in and of themselves, but they’re great for inspiring the mixing and mingling (Or should we say “dipping” and “snacking”?” that are characteristic of any successful event.
Don’t just put everything flat […] don’t be afraid of combining cheeses, meats, fresh and dried fruits, and crackers with dips and even sweets, or adding in some non-edible decor elements…
“Done well, it can (also) be a topic of conversation at your event,” Geller says. Start by picking a surface to house it on, which can be anything from “kitchen islands to coffee tables to tree stumps.” And while the Messy Table founder says “there are no rules” when it comes to a grazing table, “variety” and “layers” are a great way to accommodate every palate while creating a scene that surprises and delights, yet tastes oh-so good.
“Don’t just put everything flat,” Geller advises. “Maybe put some honeycomb on top of your brie or food-friendly leaves under your meat (to) create some dimension.” And in the spirit of lawlessness, don’t be afraid of combining cheeses, meats, fresh and dried fruits, and crackers with dips and even sweets, or adding in some non-edible decor elements, like “flowers or greenery, or a found object like a vintage scale, or jars of herbs.”
For budget-friendly options that still make an impact, Geller says it’s “two words: Trader Joes. Great quality and great prices.”
Atlanta-based Bold Catering & Design’s general manager, Chris Villard, and director of sales, Martin Collins, advise to keep your grazing table to “finger- and fork-only food items” so guests can “eat, drink, and chat without being distracted by having to use a knife.”
For Frischkorn, charcuterie is a great option as it “sits well over a long period of time,” which is a great trait for rookie event hosts who may not have their timeline down pat just yet.
On a final note, “Use your imagination,” Geller says, noting that your own home or yard, as well as social media search engines, can be a great source of inspiration.
For more advanced hosts who want to show off their culinary skills with a seated dinner, family-style pasta dishes and short ribs are meals that are easy, yet can be as elevated as you desire, and are filling, says Penn. But be sure to clean as you go. (“Use the dishwasher!” Villard and Collins advise, so as to not “get too distracted by the fact that you’re hosting (and) forget to join in on conversation.”)
Looking to go all out? “Hiring a great local chef to create a custom menu and prepare the food for the event” is definitely a wow-worthy touch that’ll ensure “a custom feel,” Penn says. And, of course, Villard and Collins point to Bold Catering & Design in Atlanta as a great partner, “as private chefs are readily available” to accommodate a range of event needs.
The last piece of the puzzle—guests. “There will always be someone who arrives early, (so) set aside something ‘low lift’ for them to do so you can get over the awkwardness of the first arrival guest,” Frischkorn suggests. She also advises creating a “light itinerary”—such as keeping arrivals and cocktails within one hour and setting a time to transition into dinner—so as “to be respectful of guests’ timelines—iif they have a babysitter at home, for instance.”
To take the pressure off the ice breaker, Collins and Villard say “inviting someone that is the ‘life of the party,’” can be a great way to mitigate social stressors, while Penn is “a big fan of the murder mystery done right.”
She continues: “It’s always a great icebreaker to get guests working together on a group challenge. Find a simple ‘Who Am I/Find the Guest’-style game and incorporate it at the start of your event. These types of challenges get guests to immediately start asking each other questions, working together, and getting familiar with each other.”
However, you ultimately “can’t control when guests will arrive and how soon they’ll warm up, so trying to keep to a strict party plan will only frustrate them and you,” Penn says. On the same note, Frischkorn reminds hosts “guests will be relaxed if you are!”
Remember—when thinking about a memorable affair, it’s about fostering “memorable moments shared with friends (or family) where the ‘vibe’ is just right,” Frischkorn says. A big part of that? “A relaxed host,” rather than “decor or food or music.”