I’m a rules girl. I like structure everywhere but my bras. I like menus and time tables and responsibility charts, and if you give me a walkie-talkie to use I will never try hard drugs. I love rules because I know what works. I’ve thrown parties for five and soirees for 20,000 (in all kinds of absurd settings), and in the end, the rules all stay the same.
This one trick will make your food Insta-ready
Yes, I want people to eat the food I make them, but it’s 2021. Someone whipping out their phone to take a pic is a more meaningful compliment than a verbal thanks. Taking the extra time to garnish and make things look pretty has a huge impact, so I’m going to share my secret.
It’s leaves. Effin’ leaves. Or, just one effin’ leaf. Why does this work? I don’t know. Editing? Conditioning? Leaves layer colour and give your food that extra little boop. They’re also… you know…free (or nearly free). Here are some of my favourite leaves and how to use them.
Grape leaves or nasturtium leaves
Weirdly, both are often still available in winter; just look outside your door and peek into your neighbours’ yard. Use them as a base layer for charcuterie boards or to anchor a grouping of bites (like I did with the goat cheese you see at the top of this article).
Plate your stuffed mushroom caps, your cheese-filled cherry tomatoes, or your polenta bites, then take two inch-long pieces of chives and stand them at attention by sticking them into the food just enough to stand up. It’s mind-boggling effective.
A crisped sage leaf or single parsley or coriander leaf
Why does this look so polished, so finished, so fancy? I don’t know. But you can achieve a high-end look by inserting a deep fried (or air fried) sage leaf or a single parsley leaf into any bite-sized appetizer.
This one hack will make sure your food is eaten
All of the food you serve should be able to be eaten with one hand. It’s obvious if you’ve studied party behaviour, and yet, almost no one subscribes to this theory. Plates suck. They’re wasteful, and they encourage people to pick up more food than they’ll eat, causing a line of bodies to bunch in one area. (You’re also left with dirty plates all over the place.) Instead, make food that doesn’t require a plate — something you can grab and eat with one hand.
A one-bite food gets popped in the mouth on demand, no waste, allowing the other hand to hold a glass of booze. Or a person. Or a phone. People don’t grab many too many bites, because they can’t.
Don’t try to sneak around this rule–skewers are out. Where do those skewers and toothpicks go when people are done with them? That’s right: into your house plants. I’d also discourage dips, sauces and anything that can drip onto someone’s clothes. Your guests will thank you.
If you find the lack of plates, skewers, and flatware limiting, please do not fret. There are plenty of things to choose from.
Cut sushi rolls are dry, perfect for one-handed pops in the mouth, and easy to customise to fit a million different tastes and dietary needs. Sushi is also colourful, and lays a decent base of carbs for boozy parties. You can buy it ready-made from a local joint, or make it on your own if you are feeling aspirational. You can serve multiple options, from vegetarian to gluten-free, as well as your standard fare like California rolls.
Think about all of the dumplings you have access to: empanadas, gyoza, wontons, arancini, and, yes, pizza rolls. If it’s something enclosed in another something, it counts. Here, I err for items that are fried or baked instead of steamed, because you’re looking for foods that won’t drip or slide out of your hand and across the floor.
If you’re making them, make them small. Two-bite dumplings can break apart and spill their innards onto your blouse or into your cleavage, and that is what we’re trying to avoid. (Do I seem obsessed with this notion of drippy food? All event planners are.)
Wings are forbidden from my events. They’re messy, and require both hands (and a place to put bones). They’re like a tidal wave of bad event decisions. But carnivores must be fed, so consider small tea sandwiches, cut to perfect squares, and filled with things like roast beef or turkey. Even a micro burger would be delightful. The rules remain the same: You must be able to eat it with one hand, not require a plate, and have no extra parts or pieces to toss or clean up later.
This will make sure your party is adulting
We’re all thrilled to see our friends and family that have survived the last two years, even if it means rapid testing every 24 hours. Your shindig could take place in a bunker, and it’d still be a blast (especially when compared to the rest of 2021).
Bunker or not, there are some concrete truths you can use to make people more comfortable at events. It may seem like pomp and circumstance, but there’s a reason these ideas work.
Use varying levels of height
Keeping everything flat and at one level doesn’t invite people into the scene. Use height to add depth and create nice little moments. For instance: On your hors d’oeuvres table, use risers and display food at different heights. You don’t even need to buy proper risers: Just stack books under your tablecloth. Use glasses of varying height for vegetable sticks, and cake stands to present groupings of apps to build an edible play land for people to reach into and explore.
But beware of the places that height can bite back — namely sit-down dinners. Ensure there’s nothing on the table so tall it blocks people from having conversation. (Tall flowers, vases, and towers of appetizers are impossible to see through and/or pass food around.)
Use height beyond the snack table and throughout the event — offer seating on couches, on the floor with floor pillows, and standing at bistro tables. This allows more movement at the party, encouraging people to float from one space to another rather than all bunch around a sofa.
Use texture and layers
Have you ever thrown a tablecloth on the table only to realise you liked the look of the bare table better? That’s probably because your table had some texture and character, and a single, plain tablecloth does not. But many tablecloths, layered, can create lots of depth, and any fabric you own can be a tablecloth.
The same goes for your couch or seating. This is not the time to take the throw blankets away, it’s the time to fold and place them so they add to the environment. Consider hanging sheer drapes from the light fixtures or ceiling to add even more texture to the room. The same is true for dishes and silverware and glasses. Don’t shy away from mixing and matching.
Consider the texture of your party food, too, and offer a wide variety of mouthfeels–serve soft cheeses or creamy soups, as well as crunchy crudités or pretzel sticks, and chewy caramels or meaty sliders.
Quit it with the monotone
Throwing monochrome parties only works when you can really commit (which usually requires a lot of money). Instead, consider a palette of colours, and treat it like a guide, rather than a hard and fast rule. Don’t worry about a tableful of matching plateware. Keep it to a colour theme, such as blues, greens, and purple, or use different china patterns or materials (glass, metal, ceramic) but all in varying shades of taupe or pink.
Extend this to candles, glassware, and linens. People tend to rent and buy paper party accessories in the same colour, shade, and tone. Instead, mix it up. Think of autumn leaves and choose from oranges, ambers, and browns, or use a colour wheel and choose contrasting colours like a cornflower blue and a butternut yellow. It will look intentional, but also intelligent.
No matter the event, these are the checks I go through beforehand. These manoeuvres make your guests more comfortable, and leave you free to enjoy the party.
- Always walk through the space as if you were a guest to consider traffic patterns. Yes, even in your own house. It’s worth moving a plant or coat rack to improve a traffic pattern. Obviously kid gates and dog gates have to go for the night.
- Consider the bathroom. Where will people line up for it? Is another one accessible? Are things like extra toilet paper, extra hand towels, tampons, Tylenol, Band-Aids, and a plunger in easily accessible spots?
- The trash hidden discreetly under your sink will be inaccessible. Make trash and recycling easy to see in each room, and make sure to change it out as necessary throughout the party.
- Where will coats, shoes, and purses go? What spaces are off limits and how will you indicate that? Make these decisions now and make them clear to your guests.
- Remove anything you can’t live without from the space people will be in. Not because they’ll steal it (I mean, I assume these are your friends), but because it could get broken or stained.
- Have a charger station. At least a few people will inevitably arrive in front of you with a charger in their hands and a helpless look on their face. Choose an outlet someplace that makes sense and put a few chargers there for people to use. Obviously it should not be near food or drink stations.
In closing, let me leave you with the memory of an event I think of often. It was the early aughts, and I was in my twenties. I was running a gigantic Lobster Festival in Scottsdale, Ariz. It was the end of the weekend, late on day three, and we needed someone to go on stage and announce the fire sale of the remaining crustaceans. There was some debate over who would have to do it. Using the hand that wasn’t holding my fourth vodka of the night, I grabbed the King Triton crown off of the really bad comic someone had hired to emcee, ran on stage, and grabbed the mic. After announcing to all that I was the new Queen of the Undersea, I welcomed my constituents to take home one of my lobster children for immediate consumption to sparkling applause. At least, so I’m told, as my memory is delightfully clean of the event.
It is with this spirit, my baby merpeople, that I welcome you to ask all your party planning questions below. As a benevolent Sea Queen who has overseen a wide range of events, shindigs, and the occasional rager, I am here to serve, and want you to have the best party possible — even if it’s in a bunker.