If there’s one tried and true tip to hosting a successful soirée, it’s this: “Outsource what you don’t enjoy,” says Heather Bullard, owner of Tuxedo Park Events in Tuxedo Park. If you don’t like to bake, Bullard suggests ordering dessert from a local bakery. If you want to focus on your entrée, pick up premade apps. Don’t feel like you have to do everything yourself.
That said, unless you’ve hired a caterer or an event planner, there are several tasks you’ll need to take on. We asked professional party planners for ideas on how to organize a fete that friends and family (and even you!) will love.
“The stress happens when you leave too much to do on the day of your party,” says Bullard, who starts making lists 4–6 weeks before an event and spreads the work out over that time. It also helps to create a theme right away, which will give your get together a clear direction. As you begin gathering décor, set aside a designated area to stow it, suggests Michaele Lehman, innkeeper at Elmrock Inn and events manager at Harvest Real Food Catering in Stone Ridge, so everything is easily accessible when you need it.
Once you have a theme, it should be easy to select tunes to compliment it, using Spotify or Apple Music. (Or for fancier events, go for live music and hire a duo, like a singer and guitar player.)
“A lot of great meals begin at the farmers market,” says Shawn Hubbell, a chef and owner of Amuzae Local Harvest Catering in Campbell Hall, Orange County. Also, keep a tight edit on the menu, he advises. “Instead of having a dozen dishes that are all over the place, concentrate on three to four that are knockouts.” Bullard suggests creating a big “farm board” filled with local cheeses, dips, breads, and produce, simply garnished with fresh herbs and flowers. “It’s a one-dish hors d’oeuvre that will keep your guests happy.”
Another smart menu move is a make-ahead main dish. “Shrimp, chicken, salmon, or even sliced steak are great served room temperature, and in the summer it’s lovely to eat a cool meal on a hot day,” says Bullard. Or, if your guests are foodies, make your party a potluck and ask everyone to contribute a dish, says Lehman.
As the host, you don’t want to bartend all night so choose a summery cocktail (bonus points if it includes local ingredients) and make pitchers of it. Just be sure it’s chilled and ready to pour when your guests arrive, which helps signal that the party has begun.
Arrange a centerpiece using flowers from your garden (or from the farmers market) or place fruit or other seasonal produce in a row down the center of your table to act as a runner, suggests Bullard. Elegant signage also helps elevate an event, says Lehman. Canva.com is a fun, free resource to design graphics, and Minted.com allows you to streamline the look of all your stationery—such as invitations and place cards. Consider printing up a menu to avoid having to answer, “What’s in this salad?” repeatedly throughout your evening.
If you’re having a lot of people over and can’t swing a caterer or event planner, consider asking a teenage neighbor or waiter from your favorite local restaurant if they’d like to make a little extra cash. They can handle everything from serving to cleanup to making sure guests have whatever they need, so that you can relax and have fun.