Courtesy of Kendell DeBoom, chef and co-owner of the Festive Frog Vintage Rentals.
I love entertaining, particularly when I have prepared in advance, so that I can also enjoy the party with my guests! In culinary terms, this is referred to as mise en place....or having everything in place, set-up and ready to go. Try to visualize and plan as much as possible ahead of time, so that you can enjoy the evening with your guests!
1. Come up with a theme. This might be as simple as the color choices in napkins, serving pieces and floral. Try to incorporate your decorating, the cocktail choices and menu around your theme. Think about how formal you want the event to be. A party where guests hang out in the kitchen will be less formal than something staged in the living and dining room areas.
2. Plan your menu. I always like to keep my guests well fed, especially when the cocktails are flowing. Generally a combination of hot appetizers and ambient (room temp) go over well. Don’t be afraid to make some, buy some, and delegate some to a guest that offers to bring something. Buy the things that don’t take a whole lot ofthought, but do take a lot of time, such as cutting up cheese and veggie trays. Make a few “special” appetizers - the ones that people will talk about - yourself! I always take out all the platters that I will need, and label them with a sticky note – for less to think about after guests arrive.
3. Make a list. Make a schedule. Put everything down on paper, including when to shop, when to cook, when to arrange the flowers. Dips can usually be made several days in advance, and in fact their flavors are often enhanced with a few days' time. Think about when you will pick-up and clean your home, what will happen to your pets during the party, where will guests put their coats, etc. Follow the schedule. I always make an attempt to be done by early afternoon of an evening cocktail party, so that I have time to have a rest, and leisurely get ready.
4. Plan the bar. Not only where you will set things up, but what you will serve? Will you have a theme that you are following? Vintage cocktails are the rage right now. At our last event, we served a “signature cocktail” (Manhatten) as well as red and white wine, prosecco and beer. Do you have ice or will you buy it? What will you store cold beverages in for the party? A drop of bitters in a glass of prosecco helps it taste like a fine bottle of champagne!
5. We eat and drink first with our eyes. Make the cocktails special. Prepare garnishes ahead of time – lemonand lime wedges can be cut a day ahead, olives can be stuffed with blue cheese, lemon twists made and covered.Get out the pretty stemware and plates! Don’t be afraid to use it or it will end up some day in a box at the Goodwill store!
6. Have fun with the cocktails but don’t over serve. Though we want our guests to have fun, no one wants a guest to overindulge, for many reasons. Smaller glasses keep cocktails colder longer, and help to prevent from over-indulging. Make sure to offer alternatives to alcohol – bubbly water with a lemon twist still looks festive and helps to hydrate.
7. Music, Music, Music! Take time to think about what mood you would like to create. What type of music willfit your theme? If you are not tech-savvy, have one of your children create a playlist on an iPod. Music makes people happy and will really contribute to an up-beat atmosphere.
8. And finally, Have FUN at the party! Visualizing and planning in advance will allow you to kick back and enjoyyour guests during the party. Not only will your guests be more relaxed, you will be as well!
The Festive Frog