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In truth, planning a party for the Alternative Community is not unlike planning any other type of a party. There are only a couple of issues that need to be dealt with, but everything else will remain fairly standard.
For an Adult Theme, what will be your protocol for on-remise play?
There are essentially two ways of handling this…
The first is to arrange a cocktail hour for everyone to meet & get to know one another. This is often best for groups where everyone might not be familiar with each other & it gives everyone a chance to relax, unwind, & get ‘in the mood.’ In this type of format the doors will usually be closed to any new guests at a specific time.
After that a couple or two will often do a bit of a voyeur demo to kick things off, & then everyone will engage as they so desire. From that point on the whole house will be available to open play.
The second type of arrangement is to have a neutral area that is closed to nudity. A cocktail hour will usually be engaged in the same manner as above but there won’t be a time in which guests have to arrive. Instead, the general entrance area (say the formal living room, kitchen, & foyer areas) will all be off limits to nudity or play.
Designated areas are thus provided for people to engage & this may include the more private aspects of bedroom areas as well the open space of recreation rooms or other areas of the house that are removed from the main entrance (a pool or hot tub area would obviously be included).
The host should be sure that any & all equipment or such items as toys are both cleaned & sterilized. Sometimes condoms & other such necessities are provided, sometimes they are not - just be sure that you mention this in the initial invitation or confirmation. Depending on how you manage the group it is more than acceptable to request a standard door charge or simple donation for food & hospitality. Most parties are BYOB with mixers provided by the host, but if you would like a more lavish affair then an open bar is certainly not out of the question.
Guests should have a secure area to put their clothes, & usually they would be responsible for bringing their own towels (but be sure to make note of that in the confirmation as well).
These few notes aside, the rest of the party is generally run like any other. What follows is a descript & detailed Planner provided by The Private Professionals - a private party staffing firm that offers bartenders, waiters, & general party assistance for full scale events & private functions. The Party Planner essentially offers a ton of great tips & ideas to make sure your event is an absolute success. Good Luck!
And hey, don’t forget to list your event in the Member’s Calendar! We’ll look forward to seeing you - RAD
~ Your Personal Resource to Planning the Perfect Party ~Some Tips & Recommendations from the Private Professionals
We would like to offer you our essential guide to planning the perfect party - a useful resource full of helpful tips & proven insights that will come in handy as you plan your next event...
1. Overall Theme & the Guest List.
2. Look & Feel (Creating Ambiance) - Set-up, Functionality, Lighting, Décor, & Music.
3. The Bar - Set-up, Stocking the Bar, Liquor, Beer, & Wine..
4. Food Service - The Buffet, Pot-luck, a Formal Sit-down, & Safety Issues..
5. Party Supplies & Stocking Up.
6. Some Key Tips & Considerations.
7. Scheduling the Preparations.
8. Considerations for an Outdoor vs. Indoor Party.
9. Considerations for an Office Party vs. Private Party.
10. Special Considerations - Sending Invitations.
11. Special Considerations - Games & Activities.
12. The Private Professionals & How to Best Use Our Service.
The essence of putting together a successful gathering is really just a simple matter of spending the appropriate attention on a few key details. But when properly combined, the perfect setting is created for people to unwind, mingle, & fully enjoy the company of those they meet & the event as a whole. So without further adieu, let us now present some basic recommendations & key considerations…
Overall Theme & the Guest List:
The Overall Theme of a party can help to serve as a unifying factor that will bring together all other elements. And when I say theme, I’m not talking about a ‘Hawaiian Luau Party.’
In truth, EVERY party has a theme, even if it is just a simple gathering of friends. If you are having nothing more than a backyard BBQ, then your ‘theme’ is a backyard BBQ. This means a casual time with good food grilled out & fun with good buddies over a beer or coke. If on the other hand you are having a formal dinner party, then the formality of the ‘theme’ will set the tone for everything else that follows.
So in the early phases of planning consider the context of you overall theme & how that will be conveyed. This may be as well conceived as a fun 50th Wedding Anniversary: “Celebrating 50 Years of Service!” Such a theme would be carried on bev-naps, serving plates, & decorations throughout the party. Maybe a 50’s style band could bind it all together. Fun trivia elements like ’50 years ago on this day in history’ could accent the buffet. But keep in mind that a more general concept still carries an overall theme (even though it is not explicitly stated) & will work just as much to bind key elements together. The décor, music, food, & bar service all combine to create a certain ambiance that will take your guest in a certain direction & create a mood that will be carried throughout the event. In either case, such elements must be cohesive & that degree of what you are trying to create must be given its due consideration. Once derived, then that general ‘theme’ should be carried through in all other details for what you plan to accomplish.
The Guest List - in truth, the real magic for any gathering basically comes down to the individuals that make up the event. So the most important thing you can do is to give serious consideration to those you invite. I don’t mean this to sound at all elitist. Rather what I mean to say is that those in attendance should be a fairly cohesive group & appropriate to the event at hand. For example, if you are having a bachelorette party, then it is probably not a good idea to invite Aunt Suzie who just became a consecrated nun. Perhaps she would be a better fit at your bridal shower than at an event which would entail a great deal of carousing & dancers. Not only would it be uncomfortable for her, but your friends wouldn’t be able to cut loose & have a good time either. Similarly, inviting the boss to such an affair could also be bad idea.
Consider as well your guest list against the physical space you have available. You don’t want too many people in a confined area as it will just be too crowded; neither do you want an intimate gathering in a wide open space or the event will look like a dud & people will feel out of place.
In general, your guests must be able to mix & mingle, & all must share a certain degree of chemistry without anyone feeling particularly uncomfortable. That’s your first job as a host & this begins with a well conceived guest list that has been given its due consideration.
The Overall Look & Feel (creating ambiance through music, décor, & use of space):
General Set-up: The overall décor will be a key to setting the tone & mood for the event. You want to create a sense & feel that is aligned with your overall concept, & that will generate a response in your guests that is conducive to what you are trying to accomplish. The central tools you have available for this are the use of light, space, music, & general décor - which if done correctly will all come together to create a general sense of ambiance for an overall mood & sense of energy that will carry throughout your affair.
Begin with some considerations as to your general set up. Working with your available space, there are several considerations to assist in the functionality of the party. You want to both manage crowd control & at the same time create comfortable, appropriate areas for people to gather & mingle.
As to crowd control, you’ll want to situate your food service & bar area so that people can have full access & then be able to exit without causing a bottleneck. And it is always a good idea to separate the bar from the buffet, for both in the same area can cause a significant traffic jam.
Conversation areas can be created by appropriate furniture groupings. Just be sure to avoid any cluttered access (you don’t want people having to trip over each other just to sit down). A couple of couches with a chair or two around a coffee table make the perfect area to sit & mingle. Accent the area with some candles & a dessert trays or hors d’oeuvres & you’ve created the perfect gathering spot for friends to converse.
If you have the availability for it & you expect a certain degree of energy to carry things forward, then a dance floor or designated area for dancing can be a great addition. This should be a defined area specifically for dancing & should be free of general traffic.
In fact, you want to be considerate of all traffic patterns throughout the venue. The key areas of concern will be the buffet, the bar, food service coming to & from the kitchen, any common areas such as the dance floor, & fair access to restrooms.
Functionality: Fun flair or a touch of accented elegance will be a key to creating a sense of ambiance, but overall functionality should not be sacrificed. The capability for efficient food service should be made available as much as possible. This means that the buffet should be placed with relatively easy access to the main kitchen areas. Hot platters moving through a crowded room to reach a buffet is a very bad idea. For a sit down dinner, servers need room to maneuver. Trash cans are also a key element. Trash receptacles should be available in both the bar area, near the buffet, as well as in prime common areas where people will gather.
A Good Use of Lighting: this is of great importance & can work to carry a powerful impact throughout the party. Assuming that your event will be in the evening, it is better to appropriately use dimmer switches & offer more lighting through candles. A bag of 100 tea light candles can be purchased from Target for only $4 & each candle will last for about 3 hours. They can be easily placed in votives, small glassware, or singularly around on dishes of any heat resistant material. Placed on shelves, tables, or anywhere that would benefit from an accent will help to generate a mood of warmth & elegance. Just be sure that any open flame is out of the way from possibly brushing past a guest’s garment. In this line of thought, a warm fire is an excellent way to gather people into a conversation group (either in a fireplace or outside in a fire pit). Around the house, small can lights can also be used to create warm pools of light & impact. Dropped behind plants or in the corner behind a grouping of furniture they create an area of interest & project a nice unobtrusive glow over the whole room. White Christmas lights are also excellent for this - useful year-round by placing them in small house trees or along a top shelf to create a warm glow. They also look good draped under shelving behind a bar.
Decorations: for a more festive look, flowers, fun decorations, & items such as balloons can offer a great accent to the overall look & feel of a party. Especially items of intrigue & interest, say for instance a front page newspaper from the day of someone’s birthday, or an ‘on this day in history’ for an anniversary.
For something more fun & dramatic, old movies or personal videos can be projected onto a wall & serve as the backdrop to a dance-floor or set the tone for a more party hearty feel & tone. Any elements to bind your theme together are also welcome. Use your imagination; just think of the mood & tone you hope to convey.
Music (a key element): No one element to the overall venue will be more important than the music. Properly used, the right music will create & convey the exact level of energy you hope to enunciate. And keep in mind that it is actually a good idea to change up the tone as the evening progresses. During a reception or over dinner a lighter tone of Jazz or music of lower toned rhythms are preferred (something like ‘Seal’ is preferred). But as things begin to pick up you want the level of energy to build as well. So a higher pace & tempo (& actually even the volume) will soon work to create a more energetic degree of excitement. For this, a dance style of music is both appropriate & expected: Dance, Pop, Chicago style Blues, or Club mixes all carry a tone for energy, dancing, & good times had by all. Swing music also works for many parties & is readily accepted by older crowds. Just be sure that it is conducive to your crowd & the liveliness of the moment.
There are several ways to handle the issue of music. For smaller affairs you can carefully select a short stack of CD’s & load them in a player on shuffle mode (you want a cohesive quality in what you select, but in that you also want variety so generally don’t just play the music of one artist). It’s also a good idea to download your own CD’s with an appropriate party mix. You can develop several ‘sets’ of music for each relative phase of the party & which will be conducive to the particular group you’ve invited. Such music will be easy to pop in a player & will also be available for future parties.
It is important that the bar is set up in an area with easy access & preferably convenient to the main areas of congregation (it’s annoying for everyone to have to break off from the main event whenever they may want to refresh their drink). As stated earlier, it’s also important that the buffet (if a buffet is served) is separate from the bar area. And finally, the most important thing to consider is that the bar should not be set in the Kitchen! Early in the party the kitchen will serve as a war room for food service. Setting up bar service in the midst of such preparations is a very bad idea. Also, for whatever reason, the party does seem to always end up in the kitchen & having so many people mulling about can make functional bar service almost impossible.
As far as general bartending goes, our service is a self contained unit as far as shakers, strainers, etc. But there are a few things that the bar itself will need from the host…
Ø First, BE SURE THAT YOU HAVE PLENTY OF ICE!!! It’s a cliché for a reason - you can never have too much ice. Have enough first of all to ice down any & all beer &/or wine (plan on 2 bags per cooler); then plenty for your guests as a whole. It is a good idea to estimate about 1 lb. of ice per 2 guests (i.e. for 50 guests, estimate about 25 lbs. plus whatever will be needed to ice down beer & wine). This may sound like a lot, but in truth it may even be a good idea to grab an extra bag or two just in case. Depending on the drinks served you’d be amazed how fast it goes.
Ø If you’ll be having margaritas then have some coarse salt available, & for lemon drops or other shooters some standard sugar is good to have on hand as well. A small bottle of Grenadine is also good to have.
Ø Have plenty of Limes & some Lemons. Estimating a party of 50, have at least 10 or so limes ready to be cut & about half as many lemons. And if you cut the limes yourself, please do so length-wise into wedges & not across the equator into wheels (this makes it easier to squeeze & is better for the drinks).
Ø Green olives & Cherries are important to have as well. One jar of each is usually enough. If you have a big Martini/Manhattan crowd then you might consider getting 2 jars (they’ll store well).
Ø A trash can is very important. Also needed will be ready access to several additional trash can liners.
Ø If the bar isn’t an established bar w/ a sink we’ll need a ‘dump bucket’ of some type (a rubber trash w/out a liner will work just as well). This is for when you shake a martini or drink, or when someone brings you a leftover - you’ll need something available to dump the ice & to deal with any such liquids.
Ø We’ll also need about 4-5 bar rags/tea towels/kitchen towels (whatever you call them). They are very important to wipe shaker tins, keep hands clean, wipe up spills, etc.
Ø We will need a cooler or container of some type that can be used to ice the beer & wine (if served).
Ø We will need a separate cooler/container of some type for just ice. A small ice bucked won’t really cut it. We actually need a container of some type that can hold at least a whole bag of ice.
Stocking the Bar: As a rough estimate, you can count on 2-4 drinks per person for your event. Some will drink wine, some are geared more toward a martini, others will stick with just beer. You need to know your crowd & have an idea as to their preference. However, keep in mind that their habits will generally be subject to change at a private party & often they will tend to drink better. Many times a group who only drinks, say Miller-Lite, will at a private function tend to drink Amstel or Sam Adams. A group who usually drinks beer will often get turned on by a bartender’s specialty drink, & before you know it the house elixir will be pouring all night long…
Also, as to the temperament of the party itself, if you are thinking of only serving wine & beer, keep in mind that as a general stimulus wine has a very calming effect. I once was at a wedding in Napa Valley & the host wanted everyone to dance & have a great time but didn’t understand why things were so very mellow. I told him that the venue was gorgeous, but that he was only serving wine & beer with no hard alcohol (he had some 46 different labels from the region, so the whole affair served as a kind of wine tasting). Wine has a very calming effect on the individual & as a result the whole party was just extremely mellow. So for a dinner party or an intimate evening with good close friends & conversation then a really good wine & perhaps some after dinner cordials work perfectly. But for a more full blown party, hard alcohol carries a whole different reaction in the body & will have a very different effect. Just stay very clear of anything with grain alcohol! Such drinks go down very smooth but will hit you like a sledge hammer.
Special Note: a standard bottle will pour about 12-14 shots. A standard bottle of wine will serve 5 glasses…
Ø Vodka - The #1 base-alcohol for any bar is without question vodka. Plan on getting 4 times the vodka as you would any other alcohol. And keep in mind that once you reach a certain level of quality (say Stoli or Absolute vs. Chopin or Belvedere), then all brands are basically indistinguishable. Vodka is actually designed to be a ‘neutral’ alcohol as to flavor. Although some may argue this point, unless you actually work for the company in question, are drinking it straight up & warm, then I defy anyone to tell the difference. Once it hits the shaker-tin or is blended with a mixer, then one is completely indistinguishable from another. Some good brands to consider are Absolute, Absolute-Citron (lemon), Stoli, Stoli-Orang (orange), Sky, Svedka, or Smirnoff for a good mid-grade.
Ø Gin - The base liquor for the classic martini, it is also good with tonic. Good brands are Beefeaters, Bombay, or Bombay Sapphire. Tanqueray is also excellent, but keep in mind that although it is distilled in the same manner as a standard gin, it does have a flavor characteristic all its own.
Ø Rum - There are actually several different types of rum & each has its own characteristic. Light rum is light in color & smooth in taste; dark rum is amber in color & more full bodied. Bacardi is the market leader in these categories with more upscale counterparts such as Appleton offering a more polished, smooth character. ‘Dark Rum’ by the way should not be confused with a truly dark rum such as Meyer’s Dark. This rum is actually black in color with a very heavy body & strong characteristic. It is more attune to a Guinness stout vs. an amber ale such as Bass. Then there are spiced rums such as Captain Morgan - excellent as a mixer with Coke or Ginger Ale, also good in cream drinks. Finally there are flavored rums such as Parrot Bay & Malibu to offer a pina colada flair. Great in frozen drinks.
Ø Bourbon / Whiskey - It should be noted that all Bourbon IS whiskey, but not all whiskey is necessarily bourbon (the difference comes down to the percentage of corn mash used when distilled) - the same goes for scotch. Personally, you can stock your bar with bourbon & you don’t really need to stock additional whiskey, unless of course you have a crowd that has a particular desire. The #1 label for bourbon is the line of Jim Beam (the standard Jim Beam label is their base-grade product with a line of single batch bourbons offering a higher end possibility: Bookers, Knob Creek, etc.). Maker’s Mark is also a very popular upgrade. The most popular sour mash whiskey is definitely Jack Daniels.
This is one area that you absolutely don’t want to get a very low grade alcohol. Whiskey has a defined taste characteristic & the further down the scale you go, the more harsh the product becomes.
Ø Scotch - Two considerations: single malt or blended. Most scotch drinkers prefer single malt & are fairly particular to the brand. But such labels can quickly become extremely expensive for such a venue. Consult an upscale liquor store for possibilities that are within your individual budget. As to blended, Dewers is probably the most popular label out there or Chivas Regal offers an upgraded alternative. For the standard bar (for a smaller party: 50-100 people), you can usually get away without having any scotch at all. If you have a few friends that like scotch then usually no more than 1 bottle is needed. Again, you need to know your crowd.
Ø Tequila - Jose Cuervo is the market leader, but don’t be afraid to try something of a similar quality but a different label. However, the same rules apply here as with whiskey - stay clear of the low grade stuff (you’d be better served to not any tequila at all). In that, you can also get away with not having any tequila during a party in the winter or fall, but in the summer expect margarita’s to rule the day.
Ø Triple Sec - An orange flavored liquor; no single mixer will be more important than triple sec. Next to the base-alcohol it is the key ingredient in drinks such as margaritas, cosmopolitans, long island ice teas, a good deal of shooters, & a host of other possibilities. Cointreau by the way IS triple sec, just the up-scale version. For a party of about 50, plan to have at least 1 standard bottle (750 ml.).
Ø Vermouth - A small bottle of dry vermouth is generally a must have & a similar quantity of sweet vermouth is a welcome addition to any bar (the first is for martini’s & the later is for manhattans).
Ø Cognac - For a standard bar, Cognac is not really necessary. For a dinner party as an after dinner drink, a Cognac, Brandy, or Armagnac is a nice addition. Popular labels are Crovosier & Remy Martin (each offering several levels of distinction). However, an excellent alternative & a very popular addition to any bar is Grand Marnier (basically it is a Cognac that is lightly flavored with an orange overtone). Also, keep in mind that although a snifter of fine cognac is an excellent choice after dinner, as a mixer in say coffee, a brandy Alexander, or with something like eggnog, then a slightly lower level brandy such as E&J is actually preferred. Cognac is specially created to be light in character & balanced in body. But as a mixer, a more pronounced backbone of flavor is actually necessary to bring out the taste.
Ø Liquor - Aside from the basic bar-stock & depending on your budget, you may want to include a couple of fun liquors just to add a bit of extra flavor & zest. Particularly if this is a less formal affair & you expect a few shooters to go over the bar then this will be a welcome addition. A couple of possibilities to consider: Midori or melon liquor (fairly versatile), Sour Apple / Pucker (for both shooters & apple martini’s), cream de cacao &/or banana liquor (for a summer party), as well as any of the cordials listed below…
Ø Cordials - Cordials are great to have as general mixers in the well stocked bar &/or for a coffee bar if you plan to have such an element. A few of considerations: Kaluha (a very versatile coffee flavored cordial that is great in coffee, cream drinks, or shooters), Irish Cream (actually, I prefer Carolan’s over Baileys), Amaretto Di Sarrona (very versatile & a mid-level generic counterpart will do just fine), Godiva Light &/or Dark Chocolate Liquor (awesome in coffee), Grand Marnier (mentioned above), Frangelico (a nut flavored cordial, excellent in coffee, straight up, or in shooters - a small bottle is fine), Chambord (or a generic black-berry liquor), Sambucca (straight up as an after dinner cordial or shaken as a shooter), & in the winter some form of Schnapps such as Rumple Mintz is a good addition.
Ø Mixers - Aside from alcohol you’ll also need several mixers & non-alcoholic alternatives. As to sodas you’ll need Tonic, Soda water (by the way, soda water & seltzer water are the same thing), both Coke & Diet Coke (get a bit of both, & don’t get Pepsi - a little known secret: Pepsi goes readily flat when mixed with alcohol), Ginger Ale &/or Sprite (get either Sprite & skip the Ginger Ale or get both), & maybe some other non-alcoholic alternative like root beer if kids are going to be around. Bottled water.
And contrary to popular belief you actually save money by getting standard sized bottles (12-20 oz), cans, or 1-liter bottles. When working with the larger 2 liter bottles you open & close the container so many times during the course of its use that by the time you’re half way through, it’s actually flat & needs to be discarded. Also, at the end of the party you’ll have a whole shelf of sodas that won’t make it past morning & will be thrown away. It’s a huge waste & you actually end up spending more.
With regard to Juices - Cranberry juice is a must have. Expect 2(+) jugs for a party of 50. And if you are truly worried about the carpets then just get white cranberry (it does have a different taste characteristic but it will do). You will also need at least a couple bottles of sweet & sour mix, a.k.a. sours mix. And for the most part, margarita mix is the same thing (although it tends to be not as tart). If you want, I have a great recipe for a home made blend - just contact me & I’ll let you have it. Also good to have is pineapple juice & orange juice. For a summer party you should consider a few mixers for Pina Coladas & Daiquiris, & obviously for a brunch you’ll also need bloody Mary mix.
Beer: Keep in mind that if your guests drink beer, then as a rule they will tend to drink a bit better at a private party than you may be accustomed - at least this has been my experience. A list of popular alternatives is listed below & don’t be afraid to offer several craft beers (micro-brews) or specialty imports for a bit of variety. There is a constellation of possibilities & such a touch can be a nice addition to your bar (depending on the crowd).
A couple of primary considerations: bottles are generally preferred over cans, & keep in mind the need for available storage. Once beer is chilled it must stay cool. If chilled, allowed to then warm, & is then re-chilled, it will go flat very quickly. And yes, a keg is an alternative, but you’ll need to actually drink the whole keg for it to make sense economically. However, if you are talking Guinness or Boddingtons, then ONLY get the keg.
Some Tried & True Stand-by’s (stock these cold by the case - at least):
* Sam Adams / Yuengling Lager * Heineken / Amstel light.
* Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. * Corona / Miller Lite / Bud (but people will upgrade).
Craft Beers: (generally all of these are very popular labels & a good bet)…
* Blue Moon Belgium White Ale. * Old Huerich’s Foggy Bottom Ale or Lager.
* Wild Goose Amber Ale or Pale Ale. * Blue Ridge Golden.
Imports: (I selected the strongest sales from the full array of imports)…
* Pilsner Urquell (Czech). * St. Pauli Girl (German). * Spaten (German).
* Bass Ale (England). * Paulaner Hefe Weizen (Dutch).
* Belgian Ales: Chimay, Duvale, & Delirium to name but a few.
* Paulaner Oktoberfest - a personal favorite!
* Sam Adams Spring Ale / Summer Ale / Octoberfest / Winter Ale (etc.).
* Snow Goose (Wild Goose). * Pete’s Winter Ale.
On Draft (don’t buy these in the cans - only get the keg): Guinness, Boddingtons, or Murphy’s Irish Stout.
Non- Alcoholic alternatives: O’Doul’s & O’Doul’s Amber - the best on the market.
Wine: If we are talking about a standard party of around 50 for drinks, then about 2-4 magnums of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, or a light Chardonnay will do very well. People will tend to drink reds more in the winter than in the summer heat, so if your party is an affair in the fall or winter then you will want to balance out your choices with a couple of magnums of Merlot or a similar red of a generally mellow characteristic. As to wine being served at a more formal affair or with food, then that’s a very different story. Presented here you will find a basic outline of several possibilities for your consideration…
Whites - Great for sipping on a warm summer day, served with seafood or light pastas, or with an appetizer course. For a standard party in the summer plan on about 3-4 magnums per 50 guests; in winter you can cut down to 2.
Chardonnay - Keep in mind that some chards lean more toward fruit while others accent oak & butter.
Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre is its French counterpart) - Look to Honig, Chateau Ste. Michelle, & Cakebread (A+).
Pinot Grigio - Generally stick with Italy (‘Margarita’ is best) &/or some popular brands in Calif.
Riesling (or a Gewürztraminer) - These vary tremendously & can be either light & even a bit thin or full of fruit.
Full Bodied Reds - Red meat cries out for a good Zinfandel, Shiraz, or Cabernet. Overall you’ll generally keep a heavier focus in the fall & winter or for a sit down dinner party. Such wines are also not usually for the beginner.
Cabernet & Merlot - Chilean Cab. (Los Vascos), Napa/Sonoma of consistent labels, & Argentina/Australia.
Shiraz/Syrah - Australian Shiraz is both excellent & a good buy. Syrah is Shiraz but in the U.S. & Europe.
Zinfandel - Buy Ravenswood & you can’t go wrong. Other labels are best from ‘Old Vines’.
Medium Bodied Reds - Generally created from blends. A great wine for sipping year round or goes well with poultry & pasta. For a general party, this is a good alternative to the heavier red.
Bordeaux, Rhone, & Medoc (France) - Blended for a smooth tone of grace & elegance. Very versatile.
Meritage Blends - A U.S. version of French Bordeaux - a blend of cabernet, merlot, malbec, & others.
Chianti - Ruffino is a good consistent label. Stick with Top line Italians for longevity in the bottle.
Light Bodied Reds - Light, Delicate, & Fruity in Character - great for summer or an outdoor BBQ. .
Pinot Nior/Gamay - Washington State produces the best labels overall.
Malbec - Primarily a blending grape, it’s recently made strong strides on its own. Stick w/Argentina.
Beaujolais - George DuBouff is the mainstay. Some are light & very good; others can be earthy so watch it.
Champagne: What else is more perfect for a special occasion toast! Look to Chandon, Freixenet, or Cordon Rouge (French). Korbel Brut isn’t half bad. But beware of Italian Spumante - as a class of sparkling wine it’s very sweet.
Dessert Wines & Ports - For an after-diner treat consider a good port or dessert wine. If you’ve never tried one then you’ll be pleasantly surprised. But be very careful not to put your money into a lower end product. This is one area where the best is an absolute delight & the lower alternative is nothing but horrible.
Muscat, Black Muscat, or Sauterne in the ½ bottle would work just fine. As for Port, stick with Tawny (that’s a type of port not a label) - it is well balanced & less sweet. ‘Dows’ is a fair label for the money & ‘Grahams 10 year’ is excellent. Sandman’s by the way is the same as buying Folgers coffee vs. a Starbucks Latte.
Overall, some good & consistent labels: Generally stick with a good label from the following regions & you’ll be for the most part in good shape: Australian Shiraz; French Bordeaux, Medoc, & Rhone; Chilean Cabernet; Malbec from Argentina; Italian Chianti, Sangiovese, & Pinot Grigio; German Riesling &/or Gewürztraminer (be a little careful here; the U.S. also offers some great selections); Pinot Nior from Washington State; Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, & Sauvignon Blanc from Napa, Sonoma, & Mendocino Counties in California.
From here, without writing a book & working to just keep things simple (& in addition to those noted), here are some generally good & reliable labels (mind you, I am presenting a list that is known in the market & consistent. For more defined tastes it would be best to speak with a trusted wine store that specializes in a gourmet product)…
B.V. (generally fair across the boards. Good Pinot), Ruffino (Chianti), Ravenswood (a good consistent zinfandel), Rosemount Estates (hugely popular vineyard in Australia), Beringer Founder’s Estate (A good buy & a good wine with a consistent label; well known in the market.), Chateau Ste. Michelle (a Washington State vineyard that consistently puts out a strong product. Has secured a prime place in the market for the general wine drinker), Clos du Bois (all around great label), Kenwood (good chard, cab, & sauv. blanc.), Lindeman’s (Australian), Los Vascos (great Chilean cabernet & a great buy), R.H.Phillips (well known & consistent label), Rodney Strong (chard, sauvignon blanc, zinfandel), Round Hill (good consistent label), & the list goes on. You can also consult ‘Wine Spectator Magazine’ at your local wine store or Barnes/Noble.
But hey, don’t just take my word for it! Wine is a constantly evolving, ever changing industry. Feel free to consult a local knowledgeable wine shop for some excellent suggestions. Some truly spectacular finds may be on sale. Also, most will offer a 10-20% discount for any wine purchased by the case.
An Alternative to the Full Bar - Beer & Wine w/ a Martini Bar Only: One positive alternative to the Fully Stocked Bar or to that of serving Beer & Wine only, is to have Beer & Wine w/ the addition of a Martini Bar. In this type of set up you’d want to provide probably 2-3 selections of beer such as Sam Adams, Amstel Light, & Heineken (or a full array of Micro Brew Craft Beers), & a selection of wines that are conducive to your crowd (at least a Merlot, Pinot (if in summer), or Shiraz, & a nice Sauvignon Blanc &/or Chardonnay). Then in addition to Beer & Wine, you’d augment the bar with a basic stock to make Martinis. This would include a good grade of Vodka (at least Sky, Stoli, or Absolute; or if you’d like a better brand then trade up to Kettle One or Belvedere), a bottle of Triple sec (for Cosmo’s, etc.), Pucker (for Apple Martinis), & a Small half bottle of dry vermouth. You can get 1 standard bottle of Gin if you’d like (Beefeaters or Bombay), or you can get away with just sticking to vodka. Then you’ll need 1 bottle of sweet & sour mix / sours, cranberry juice, limes, & a couple of lemons. That’s it! You’ll have a fully functional martini bar in addition to beer & wine, & this will serve as a perfect augmentation to provide your guests with a nice alternative that won’t bust your budget.
If you are having a semi-formal or casual event & not catering, then please repeat after me: “Cosco, Sam’s, & Whole Foods are my friends…” One more time. Say it aloud now. Okay, once again. Good… J
There are numerous prepackaged, already prepared foods & appetizers that are great for a simple buffet, to be passed around at a pre-dinner reception, or simply laid about on serving platters. They are easy to prepare, go quickly from the box, to the oven, & out to the table. And most importantly, they’re actually very high quality.
If simple fair isn’t what you had in mind or you wanted something a bit more special, then it would be worth it to have a third party cater the food portion of the event (most will prepare the food at their own site & deliver at a pre-arranged date & time). Perhaps you may even want to hire a personal chef for the evening (readily available in most catering sections of magazines such as Washingtonian). And if you have a ton of time on your hands then please feel free to go all out. But if time is tight then you can either have the affair catered, or Cosco, Sam’s, or Whole Foods represent a great alternative.
And on the note of food, regardless of how casual the affair may be or even if it is strictly a cocktail party, DO SERVE FOOD. You need to allow a means by which to balance out the alcohol for your guests. Sometimes people don’t get the chance to eat before they come to your party. Even a couple of drinks on an empty stomach can hit someone fast. So food is a very important ingredient to the whole party - actually a necessary ingredient.
The Buffet: A general buffet can be used for food service throughout the evening or used to simply offer general hors d’oeuvres during an initial reception. Another alternative is for a server to pass around general appetizers, & then use the buffet for the main service of dinner.
The most obvious location for a buffet is in the dinning room, but since that can often be far & away from the main body of the party, feel free to place it in any area that will allow good traffic flow, that is generally available to the kitchen, & which will be easily accessed by your guests. Accents such an appropriate center-piece & candles can be a nice touch to provide both warmth & a sense of class. It is a very good idea to place serving plates on one end & silverware on the other. This way guests won’t be juggling a plate & silverware while trying to serve their food. They can hold the plate in one hand, serve with the other, & pick up silverware when done. All serving spoons & utensils should have an obvious place to stay if not with the dish in question. And of course, since people will come back for seconds, a trash receptacle off to the side is a good idea.
Desserts are best placed to a separate table so as not to cause any confusion, & actually for the sake of appearances once the serving table has been mulled over the dessert table will still look fresh. It also allows for a coffee bar. An alternative is to wait until after dinner or general service & place dessert trays around the party: on coffee tables, etc. Smaller individual dessert items can also be passed by a server while people enjoy coffee.
Overall, it’s a good idea to include a cheese platter of some type & a balanced variety of hot & cold foods as you see fit. Just be sure to allow for hot foods to stay hot & cold foods to stay fresh. A steam tray is needed for hot foods, & if it is in the summer you’ll want an ice liner for any foods that may go bad.
A Pot Luck Alternative: If you have a few friends that can put together some great delights, then asking each guest to bring their own specialty dish can offer a fantastic degree of variety, character, & personality to any buffet. Usually you’d be responsible for the elements of the main course, & everyone else would fill in with various sides, desserts, etc. It is a good idea however to have some idea as to what they’ll be bringing, that way you won’t get 9 people showing up with green bean casserole or apple pie.
For a Formal Sit-Down: The secret to a seated dinner party is to be as organized as possible & to prep as much as able. Map out your menu in writing well ahead of time, making special note of any side sauces, dips, garnish, & the time it will take for each course during the actual party. Most people prefer to work with 3-4 courses, & seldom more than 5: hors d’oeuvres/appetizers, soup &/or salad, sometimes a middle course (pasta or fish), main entrée, followed by generally dessert, then coffee & cordials.
Proper wine service should follow each course: usually a white with the appetizer, soup, & salad; some complimentary light red or heavier white with pasta (wine with pasta strives to actually match the sauce & not the pasta itself); a full red for a heartier entrée, a more balanced red for poultry, & a chardonnay for seafood. Dessert can be served with a dessert wine, followed by port or a coffee & cordial. Note: A single server if he is capable can handle a party of up to 30 if there is assistance in the kitchen.
Safety Issues: Be very cautious about cross contamination. You don’t want to cut raw fish on a cutting board, then without knowing it your spouse uses the same board to chop salad. Make sure all meats, sea food, & fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, or cheese each have their own clean surface. Be sure that nothing gets served that is undercooked. And be sure that items out on the table don’t get spoiled (especially in the summer).
In line with this, you’ll have several things going on the kitchen at one time (& possibly a few people helping out). So use good protocol. If a hot pan is set on a counter then call it out. You don’t want someone picking up a searing hot metal pan with a bare hand. Never put broken glass into anything but the trash - if you use bus pans to clear dishware & glasses, then someone else may be putting them in the dishwasher & could get seriously cut. Watch for knives laying in a bad place or hot items sitting precariously. Etc. etc…
Party Supplies & Stocking Up:
The following are only general estimates of the supplies you’ll need. Don’t let yourself get caught short!
Ø Beverage Napkins - 4 per guest for a cocktail party / 2 per guest for a dinner party.
Ø Place settings - 1 full setting per guest for a seated dinner / 2 per guest for buffet service / cocktail party.
Ø Cups (plastic) - 4 per guest. Use the clear plastic glasses for an indoor party (they look better) & the colored cups for an outdoor party (they’re easier to find if tossed about). Also, the shorter ‘V’ type clear plastic cups work very well for wine & martinis. And try to stick with a standard 6-8 oz cup size.
Ø If you are using actual glassware, then be sure you have plenty to go around, make sure your guests know that it might be a good idea to hang on their glasses for refills (unless you’re really well stocked), & that the bar area has ready access to dishwashing capabilities. It’s also a good idea to at least have a sleeve or two of clear plastic cups in case there is some lag-time while doing the dishes.
Ø Coffee Cups - count on at least 1 per guest.
Some Key Tips & Considerations:
Reduce the Possibility for Trauma: Remove any valued breakables from the main party area & clear away any elements that may be a hazard to your guests (tools, pointed objects, & be careful about the placement of candles). Be sure all walkways are free of ice or anything that may cause one to slip, trip, or fall (this is a good time to tighten that loose hand rail); & during the party itself, be sure to inform your server or bartender of any spills so they can be quickly cleaned up. And be sure pets are removed to a safe room (the master bedroom is your best option - it keeps the pets in & the guests out) - this will make the event more pleasant & comfortable for your guests, as well as less stressful for the pets themselves.
Designated Drivers: Be sure to have non-alcoholic alternatives & available food for any designated drivers. It’s also a good idea to generally know who at the party will be driving home. Forewarned, you can get with a guest who has had a few cocktails & be sure that he or she gets something to eat, provide them with coffee, & if needed put them in a cab or even offer a ride home.
Parking: If parking is an issue then it might be worth it to run a car service to a parking lot at a nearby church or similar facility. Just provide such information in your initial invitation (or even run a formal valet).
Parking: If parking is an issue then it might be worth it to run a car service to a parking lot at a nearby church or similar facility. Just provide such information in your initial invitation (or even run a formal valet).
The Details! Be sure you have plenty of stuff like toilet paper, paper towels, trash bags, etc. If it’s a cookout, be sure you have an extra tank or two of propane. It’s also a good idea to be sure you have items such as Tylenol, Band-aids, Midol, & Immodium AD, etc. You never know what your last minute needs might be…
Scheduling the Preparations:
60 Days Before the Event is Planned to Take Place…
Ø Be sure you have updated mailing & contact information on all those you want to invite.
Ø Be sure your date doesn’t collide with a major event or holiday - consider a preemptive invitation.
1 Month Beforehand…
Ø Define your final guest-list, determine your theme, set a basic budget, & send out invitations.
Ø Hire your caterer (if catering) & secure the date for assisting Servers / Bartenders (if this is a major holiday then you will want to take care of this well ahead of time).
1 Week Beforehand… What are you plans for music?
Ø Prepare your full menu, establish a grocery list, then outline & sketch out your ‘war plan’.
Ø Buy all party supplies, bar-stock, & non-perishables.
Ø Confirm with any RSVPs that have not yet responded.
3 Days Beforehand…
Ø Buy groceries / confirm caterer.
Ø Take from storage any serving platters & clean all needed dishware /glassware.
Ø Cut the grass & deal with any general maintenance / landscape issues.
The Day Before…
Ø Prepare any foods that can be made in advance, label each, & store properly.
Ø Take out all frozen items to thaw in the refrigerator.
Ø Fully clean the house with particular attention to the bathrooms, the kitchen, & all common areas.
Ø Generally set up for the party, set out utensils / serving dishes, & set the table if a dinner party, etc.
Ø Deal with any last minute issues (don’t wait until the day of the party, there will be enough to do).
The Day of the Party Itself…
Ø Decorate (you may want to actually do as much as possible the night before).
Ø Final preparations with regard to the food.
Ø Final set up on the bar area, party area, & a general walk through to be sure everything is in its place.
Ø Wash up, change into your party attire, & save some time to retract a bit & ‘clear your calculator’ - just relax & get mentally / emotionally ready to greet your guests & have a good time.
Ø Remember, we’ll be there to help with any last minute preparations, set-up, or just an extra set of hands. We’ll generally set the bar area, help with food & overall appeal, & whatever you may need.
As to the Party Itself - RELAX! Just have a good time, we’re here to take care of the rest!
Considerations for an Outdoor vs. Indoor Party:
If you are actually planning an outdoor event, then be sure to keep a close eye on the weather & have a back up in case the Gods aren’t working with you on this particular day. It’s always a good idea to have an alternate indoor location just in case you need to move it inside. You may also want to have a tent set up in case of rain (or even a quick shower). This also works well for hot days to help shade people from the blazing sun.
The heat can also be a problem. Allow for some shaded areas & be sure that your guests have ready access to good water. Alcohol is very dehydrating & guests can get thirsty quick. A couple of taller fans planted around seated areas can be a nice touch (just make sure you aren’t blowing away drinks & paper plates).
Bugs are a big issue in the summer. Put out citronella candles on all the key perimeter points & have a few cans of ‘Off’ readily available. Keep food covered, & be sure to serve sodas & beer in plastic cups… Bees will tend to get in the neck of bottles & cans. You don’t want to take a sip of your soda & suddenly have a very angry bee in your mouth.
Additionally, you don’t any glass products in an area where they may break & cause injury to people in bare feet. This is especially true if you have a pool or hot tub. A broken glass can cause havoc with the pump & filter system, & may even require to you to drain the entire pool.
Understand that the general tone of the event will first be set by the invitation itself. A fun crazy party for Marti Gras should carry a particular character of excitement & a bit of jubilation. A formal dinner party should be presented in a tone & manner that in conducive to such an affair. This is a key element to derive an expectation of what the party will be, & thus the anticipation & character of those invited will be first conveyed through the invitation. You should also think of it as a bit of a marketing device & use it to really ‘sell the sizzle.’
When to Use a ‘Preemptive’ Invitation: for certain times of the year when a large number of individuals may be having similar events (such as say for the Fourth of July or the Christmas Holiday Season), it is actually a good idea to send out an informal notice about 60-90 days before hand. This is not a formal invitation, just a simple note or email that is a precursor: “Hey, just wanted you to know that we’re going to be having a party on July 4th this year. Tons of food & fun for all. Our Capital Hill location even allows roof top viewing of the fireworks downtown & easy access to the Mall. I just wanted to let you know ahead of time so you can keep the date open & plan to make it. We expect a really good group this year & wanted to be sure you were included in the fun.” Then follow up with the actual invitation when it’s time to do so…
The Invitations themselves should be mailed or sent via. email (depending on the venue) about a month before the event is to take place. If you are mailing then be sure you have a current address for each individual on your list (a simple phone call or email for any of those in question is all you really need to update your rolodex). And by labeling each envelope “Address Correction Requested” with a return address then you’ll get an update from the post office as to any change of address for those invitations that were undeliverable. It’s also a good idea to follow up via email or phone with any of those who have not sent an RSVP. This will assure that they did in fact get the invitation, & will allow you to compile a final list of those in attendance.
Tip: sending yearly holiday cards is a great way to keep an updated address file.
All invitations should convey the basic information that will be needed for the event:
Ø What is the Occasion (birthday, anniversary, retirement etc.) &/or is there a specific theme?
Ø When is it? What is the exact date & on what day of the week will it be held?
Ø When is it Scheduled to Begin & about when is it expected to end?
Ø What is the Location & Address? You may also want to include a separate slip for directions (& if you do, it’s a good idea to include a copied printout of a map on one side with the directions on the other).
Ø What is the Attire: black tie / formal, semi-formal, casual, or oriented toward a specific theme? Here it is also a good idea to somewhat describe what you mean by your attire - ‘casual’ might have a different meaning from one person to another. Saying ‘slacks & tie’ vs. ‘semi-casual’ offers more understanding.
Ø General Details: are there specific considerations when parking? If say a Birthday, would you rather them not feel obligated to bring a gift? If a pool party, should they bring their own towel? If you are providing only beer & wine, then should they bring whatever else they might desire as a drink? Also, if you have arranged for a baby sitter to take care of kids then this would be good for them to know. Anything of general interest that would be helpful is good to attach at the end of the formal invite.
Ø RSVP: provide either a return envelope, an email address, or a phone number. And on your end it’s a good idea to keep a copy of your guest list handy wherever you may get the call. That way you can check them off & no one will get lost in the shuffle.
A special note on email & word of mouth: if you’ve got a good group of friends & have been doing an event for years then a formal invitation is probably not necessary. If however you are holding a dinner party & you need a good idea as to how many will be attending then it will be absolutely necessary. Understand however that the degree of formality for the event itself will be carried in the invitation that announces it. An email or a call is much less formal than a proper invitation that is mailed (& it will be perceived as such). In that, you can mail to a casual party & the tone of the party will be carried in the character of the invitation. But you can not really email for a formal event, for this requires a certain degree of decorum & such conventions shouldn’t be broken.
Special Considerations - Games & Activities:
It’s common for people to plan a certain number of games or activities so as to create interaction. In truth, the most important aspect to creating such an environment is good music & defining a proper use of space for people to mix & mingle. It is best to think of pre-planned activities as an ace up your sleeve - something to be generally held in reserve & used only if needed. If however the event is large enough & special enough, you may want to consider some elements of interest & intrigue to be used as a side-line attraction. Something like a tarot-card reader or someone who does magic up close & personal can be a fun addition to the overall function. But such elements should be used sparingly, have some relevance to the overall theme, & be treated like a side attraction rather than the main event. And speaking personally, clowns just freak me out…
If in Washington, DC - The Private Professionals & How to Best Use Their Service:
You will find that we always go the extra effort & treat your guests as though they were our own. Indeed, not one of us has experience below 8 years in the full service restaurant industry & we boast the very best in personal private party assistance. We've worked in venues as formal as Jean Louis at the Watergate, The Occidental, & Hotel Washington. We've worked venues as high volume as Tony & Joes, Madam's Organ, & The Dubliner. We can handle any venue from the most formal of dinner parties to the most casual - from a private gathering of close friends to a wedding of 500. So you can be assured that you are in the best of hands & that we will do everything possible to see to it that your party is the absolute success it should be.
We’ll plan on showing up about an hour before the event is scheduled to begin. After setting up the bar &/or buffet we’ll then assist with any last minute preparations (please let us know you actually want us to take care of the food as this will require an earlier time of arrival). Then during the event itself (depending on the venue) we’ll offer full service bartending &/or food service, assisting as well with the maintenance of any needed items with regard to food, & will bus plates / glassware throughout the evening. Finally as the event draws to a close, we’ll take care of any clean up so you’ll have only minimal items to deal with.
So you spend time with your guests & we’ll take care of the rest!
Sincerely,The Private Professionals.
Links: a Partial Listing of our Recommendations for Referral Resources
The Private Professionals - Offering the very best in Bartending, Food Service, & Private Party Assistance. Serving the entire DC, MD, & N.VA. Region; they can handle any venue from the most formal of dinner parties to the most casual of backyard Barbeques - from as small as a private gathering of close friends to a wedding that expects 500. Fully open to & available for functions of an Adult Nature. Website: www.ThePrivateProfessionals.com
Evite - A free email invitation service providing you with everything you need to track RSVP & guest attendance (including such functions as guest-list archives for past parties). Website: www.Evite.com
Balducci's - For the very best in gourmet catering, party platters, & offering a specialty market for any occasion, Balducci's has a reputation that is well deserved. Founded in New York's Greenwich Village & in continuous operation since 1915, Balducci's expanded it's New York operation to Washington DC with the acquisition of Sutton Place Gourmet. Web-page: www.balduccis.com
Washington - 3201 New Mexico Avenue. NW, DC. (202) 363-5800.
Bethesda - 10323 Old Georgetown Road. Bethesda, MD. (301) 564-3100.
Alexandria - 600 Franklin Street. Alexandria, VA. (703) 549-6611.
McLean - 6655 Old Dominion Drive. McLean, VA. (703) 448-3828.Gourmet Markets - For a great selection of gourmet foods, standard party platters, cheeses, & prepared hors d'oeuvres please don't feel the need to run out to a formal caterer. Whole Foods Market offers you an excellent selection of various acumen to fill out a lovely buffet worthy of any crowd (& don't discount Sam's or Cosco - both offer a great selection of excellent prepared items that can be purchased at deep discount & go straight from the box to the oven to the buffet). A listing of Whole Foods area locations follows...
Logan Circle - 1440 'P' Str. NW DC.
Georgetown - 2323 Wisconsin Ave. NW DC
Tenley Town - 4530 40th Str. NW DC.
Arlington - 2700 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA.
Alexandria - 6548 Little River Turnpike, Alexandria, Va.
Falls Church - 7511 Leesburg Pike. Falls Church, Va.
Vienna - 143 Maple Ave. East. Vienna, Va.
Bethesda - 5269 River Rd. Bethesda, MD.
Rockville - 1649 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD.
Silver Spring - 833 Wayne Ave., S.S. MD.Best Cellars - For a basic, down to earth, & easy to understand wine market Best Cellars initiated a fairly revolutionary concept by organizing their store by the characteristics of taste instead of by region. Perhaps not suited to the true fanatic, but they do offer a great sampling of some very nice labels. Web-page: www.BestCellars.com
Dupont - 1643 Connecticut Ave. NW DC. (202) 387-3146.
Clarendon - 2855 Clarendon Blvd. Arlington, Va. (703) 741-0404.Rick's Wine Gourmet - Offering Alexandria's best selection of fine wine & gourmet foods 3117 Duke St. Alexandria, VA. (between Quaker & Telegraph). Phone: (703) 823-4600.
Just ask for Terry Wight & he'll take excellent care of you.Cake Love - One of the area’s most charismatic bakers. It was recently profiled in ‘Inc. Magazine’ as a visionary ‘up & coming’ company. Located on U Street just down from Adam’s Morgan. Website: www.cakelove.comCapital Party Rentals - Party Supply & Rentals (glassware, stemware, china, chaffing dishes, tents, tables, & chairs. You name it, they’ve got it): Website: www.capitalrentals.com
Capital City Limousine - Just ask for Marcus Madison (Driver) & tell them you were referred by The Private Professionals: Phone: (202) 438-4472. Main Dispatch: (202) 484-0200
Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) - She’s got her own show on Cable, four cookbooks, & has owned one of the top catering companies in The Hamptons for over 20 years. Her call to arms is to make entertaining as simple as possible & do as much as you can ahead of time. Website: www.barefootcontessa.com
Epicurean - Used by many industry insiders, Epicurean offers an enormous listing of recipes as well as wine tastings, book reviews, tips on cooking & hosting a personal affair: www.epicurean.com