Decades of experience in the hospitality industry, as a caterer, event planner and lifestyle consultant, have helped me develop some tried and true hacks for creating memorable parties. I love to entertain, but what I really love is creating the magic that my guests remember long after the last bite of flourless chocolate cake.
Entertaining does not have to be expensive, take a zillion hours or mean you need to slave away in the kitchen. The best hosts know that a little planning goes a long way and that having a shock and awe feature will take their event to the next level. I have a friend who throws the best parties and never cooks, but she always does something unexpected and her guests arrive ready to have fun. Take your party game up by following these simple and effective tips for hosting great events.
PICK A THEME A theme will set the tone for your party from the minute your guests receive their invitation. Theme parties get everyone on the same sheet of music and give you a framework for food, drinks, music, attire and decorations. I just got an invitation for an Apres Ski party (minus the skis). I can tell the event will be casual, there might be some chili and charcuterie, possible hot drinks and maybe some sort of outside games. This makes me happy because I can start thinking about a fun outfit and arrive prepared.
TELL YOUR GUESTS WHAT TO EXPECT Guests love to anticipate fun and are happiest when you tell them what to expect. So, along with the basic details of the event, like who is hosting, a description of the theme, where the event is, what time and how to RSVP, be sure to specify important details like: Come Hungry if there will be a lot of food, or Dress Warmly for marshmallow toasting by the bonfire, or Prizes for Best Holiday Sweaters.
PLAN AHEAD You never want to be scrambling at the last minute. Everything always takes longer than anticipated so the time to get ready and provisioned is the week before. Buy your drinks, get your paper goods and start decorating and arranging your space. Order or outline your schedule for cooking or assembling food. I always build in a little me time before my guests arrive so that I can be relaxed and present as a host.
CREATE YOUR VIBE I am a huge fan of moving your furniture and creating a party space. I like to create my theme ahead of time so I can live with it and perfect before the party. Setting up the bar ahead of time is simple and getting the lighting right is really important. No one wants to be in an overly lit room. Get a bunch of votive candles, use twinkle lights on branches, get ideas on Pinterest, but make sure you have flattering lighting for your guests. Create a play list to go with your theme, make sure your sound system is in good working order. If you are going to have a special drink, try it out and work out any kinks. Get fun glasses or use an ink stamp to brand your party cocktail napkins and paper goods. Party games are always good, adult versions of Pin The Tail On The Donkey or get creative and customize a party Jenga. Decorations can be as simple as lighting and flowers or as fantastic as your budget and imagination allow.
HAVE GREAT FOOD & DRINKS You do not have to cook to be a great host, you only have to be a great assembler. If you love to cook, great, but do not overlook the advantages of buying some of the best goodies your neighborhood has to offer. Having your local wine and cheese shop do all the planning with food and wine stations is an excellent way to wow your guests, without doing much more than creating a great place to enjoy the food and drink. You are simply creating an environment for people to enjoy themselves while they are being feted by you. Nothing kills the mood faster than a bottle of 3 Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s or party platters from Costco. You can certainly take advantage of great food and beverage values, just put in a little effort so your guests can’t tell where it came from if you are cutting corners. And nothing gets a party off the ground faster than top shelf treats.
SHOCK AND AWE FACTORS Surprise your guests with a wow! There are all sorts of ways to capture your guests attention and imagination. When your guests arrive tell them this is a cell phone free party zone and have them turn their phones off and put them in a shoe box. I have little initial stickers that I have my guests mark their phones with to avoid any phone confusion. You would be amazed at how much they hate to hand them over and then how great your party is because everyone is really present. Hire an oyster bar and serve champagne and oysters, take photos of each guest as they arrive and send party pictures to your guests, have a Karaoke machine and a team singing competition (OMG do people get in to this!) be creative and find ways to divide up the evening to create interaction between your guests. Over the holidays I make a flaming punch that really gets a wow or there is the ever popular ice luge for various beverages and one year we had a huge tree trunk delivered to our drive way and played the ax game (it’s a long story).
GOODY BAGS I always have a little something for my guests to take home and enjoy after my parties. I can be as simple as a bag of spicy holiday Chex Mix or some homemade treats or it can be more elaborate like a 1/4 pound of your favorite coffee and a couple of scones. I love to prowl thrift stores for my favorite books and cookbooks, which I pick up for a couple of bucks each and I also collect holiday ornaments at yard sales which make a nice inexpensive, but memorable, gift.
PRO TIPS Buy an inexpensive coat rack to avoid the “where is my coat” scramble. Have plenty of ice. Hire help if you can afford it…its totally worth it.
And don’t forget to give your guests their phones back!
Using bell peppers as a substitute for bread is simply a delicious way to trade bad carbohydrates for a crunchy delicious vitamin C filled veggie bun. Bell peppers are cholesterol lowering vegetables that pair perfectly with grilled foods or can be used to make sandwiches like chicken and tuna salads. Using a bell pepper adds nutrients and at 24 calories per pepper is a great way to just carbs and calories.
I love to grill a portobello mushroom, brushed with herb infused olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper, and enjoy it on bell pepper bun with all the fixings!
Bell pepper buns are easy to make and are as beautiful as they are delicious.
- 1 bell pepper per person
- Remove stem and core pepper
- Cut pepper in half and gently flatten
- Fill with your favorite sandwich filling
One of the simplest ways to make a healthy swap and reduce the bad carbohydrates in your diet, is by swapping out bread products for vegetables. Sweet potatoes are not only delicious, think sweet potato fries, but loaded with nutrients like B6 and potassium. Including sweet potatoes in your diet can be helpful in regulating blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health and maintaining a strong immune system.
This easy, and delicious, bread or bun substitute is perfect with a grilled burger or sliced roast pork.
- 1 large sweet potato as large in circumference as the burgers or filling you are cooking. scrubbed and peeled if desired(skin is loaded with nutrients).Sliced in ¼” rounds
- Olive oil
- Salt & Pepper
- Scrub and thickly slice the sweet potato.
- Brush lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper.
- Toast 3-4 cycles in toaster or toaster oven or grill/broil 2-3 minutes a side.
Eggplant really shines as a substitute for bread, pita or a burger bun. The texture resembles bread holds up well to juicy toppings and the preparation couldn’t be easier. Eggplant is a rich source of fiber, thiamine and copper. This is my go to bun for grilled items like burgers, chicken and kabobs. Eggplant pita is a family favorite.
- 1 large eggplant peeled and sliced into ¼” rounds
- olive oil
- salt & pepper
- Slice and peel eggplant
- Brush lightly with olive oil
- Season rounds with salt & pepper
- Toast in toaster 2-3 rounds on highest setting/or grill/broil 2 minutes a side
- Cool on a rack until ready to serve
Be sure to peel the eggplant as the skin is tough and can be bitter. Use a minimal amount of olive oil because eggplant is porous and will absorb as much oil as you apply. Don’t want a toaster fire!
Portobello mushrooms are delicious and versatile, they can easily be substituted for the burger or the bun at the cookout. Portobello mushrooms are loaded with a photochemical that has anticancer properties, they are also an excellent source of B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, B6 and B12. And they contain cholesterol reducing compounds as well as being anti-inflammatory.
You really can have your burger and eat it too!
- 1 portobello mushroom per person if having as a grilled entree, 2 per person if using as a bun. I trim the bottom of the mushroom to get a flatter surface for toasting grilling.
- Olive oil
- Salt &pepper
- Brush mushroom top clean with a moist paper towel. Remove stem and trim bottom.
- Lightly brush mushroom with oil and season with salt & pepper
- Grill 1-2 minutes a side on a grill or pre-heated grill pan. You can also toast in a toaster.
As a bun, 2 portobellos makes one hefty sandwich serving, perfect for cutting in half and sharing. Each portobello has only about 20 calories per cap!
Cucumber is a convenient and super low calorie way to substitute vegetables for bread. Zero fats or cholesterol, high in vitamin K, potassium and other anti-oxidants cucumber is a delicious way to cut calories, add health benefits and make your sandwich rock with wellness!
- 1 cucumber per sandwich
- Scrub cucumber skin of any residue
- Slice cucumber in half
- Using a melon baller remove cucumber seeds
- Roll up sandwich fillings lengthwise and place in one half of the cucumber
- Top with other half of the cucumber
I also like to use cucumber rolls for tuna fish and chicken salads. Remember the cucumber is moist so you do not need a lot of mayo or other dressings.
Asian restaurants have long served lettuce leaves and leafy herbs as a wrap for grilled and sautéed foods. A nice leaf of romaine or Boston lettuce works, as does any hearty green like swiss chard, Tuscan kale or collard greens. Greens work particularly well with seafood and I love putting a grilled shrimp skewer in a lettuce leaf and topping with guacamole, the perfect tortilla swap.
- Wash and dry your leaves of choice.
- When wrapping foods place them at the thickest part of the leaf and wrap around it.
In a pinch apple slices can be used and a healthy bread substitute. Apples are a rich source of prebiotic fiber, contain phytonutrients and antioxidants that help prevent disease and contribute to optimal health.
I particularly like apple slices with roast turkey and cheddar cheese. Other favorites include apple slices with nut butters and apple slices with chicken salad.
- Wash and dry apple
- Slice from the outside into circles, you can get about 5-6 slices per side.