- Have a budget in mind. Know what you want to spend. Hors d’oeuvres or a buffet can be more cost-effective than a full sit-down dinner.
- Establish priorities. What does your budget need to cover (food, beverage, entertainment, etc.)? Prioritizing will dictate how you spend your budget.
- Locate a venue for your event. Consider who will be attending and convenience of the location. Make sure the parking can accommodate your guests, handicap access, set-up times, finishing times, cleanup times, cooking facilities, electricity and restroom facilities. Consider using a valet service. If it is in your home, include a map on the invitation.
- A caterer can act as a coordinator and have lots of experience to draw from. Give them your budget up front and let them know what needs to come out of that budget. A caterer will appreciate knowing in advance what you have to spend on food and beverage and what you are expecting.
- Limit the size of your gathering to fit the venue you are using. You want your guests to be comfortable. If it is a sit-down dinner, take the time to do seating arrangements; it will be worth the effort.
- Send out invitations 3-4 weeks in advance. During the social season, check the social calendar in town before deciding on a date. Your invitation should include: The date of the event; the theme, if any; attire; food to be served, e.g., hors d’oeuvres, dinner, lunch, brunch – whatever; arrival time, if applicable; whether gifts are appropriate; RSVP number and cut-off date for response; directions to party. Your guests will appreciate knowing what to expect in advance.
- Entertainment — If you do not personally know the entertainment and have not contracted with them in the past, use an agent. An agent will make certain they show up on time, are dressed properly and have the agenda for the evening. Remember to feed the entertainment! It might mean an extra song or two at the end of the evening!
- When planning the menu, consider the people that will be attending. Choose dishes that will complement each other in flavor, color and texture. Combine temperatures, flavors, textures and colors to keep it interesting. There is usually a vegetarian or two in the crowd or guests with dietary restrictions — be sensitive to their needs.
- Always overestimate the food and drink. Be generous. It is a sin to run out of food! Scrimping on food is not the place to save money. It is the first thing that guests will notice.
- Consider a theme for the party! Be creative. Tie the food, beverage and decor together into the theme. Come up with a special drink. For instance, a special martini – if it is Christmas, it could be a “Mistletoe Martini” or if it is a birthday celebration, consider naming a themed drink after the guest of honor or maybe the bride and groom. If you have the resources to do so, have a menu printed and place it at the bar so your guests can see the food they will be served. Sometimes caterers will provide this service along with signs to label your foods on a buffet.
- Put together an itinerary for the evening and give it to the caterer and/or entertainer. It will help with the timing of food service.
- If using a caterer and you are not familiar with their reputation, sample the food if possible, so there are no surprises.
- Make sure you have enough help. Whether you are doing the party yourself or hiring a caterer, the party should be staffed sufficiently. Do not try to save on cost by cutting your help — there is nothing worse than people running around stressed out because there is too much to do. It will definitely affect your guests.
- If you are considering using a caterer, make sure they have the experience catering events similar to the one you are planning. Ask for references. If you are having a large party, be sure they can handle quality in quantity. Small caterers may be less expensive but may be better suited to handle a dinner party for 20 people than a gala for 200 people.
- If budget allows, treat your guests to a small favor that they can take home with them, a memento of the evening.
- Last but certainly not least, enjoy yourself — you’ve earned it!!
Tips provided by the Executive Chef of AJ’s Fine Foods