Monday, October 27, 2014

How to Throw an Autumn Dinner Party

If you know me- you know I LOVE throwing and hosting parties and my galpal Leigh's 35th birthday was the perfect excuse to put together an awesome surprise dinner party. Her husband and I began planning this two months ago and I must say kudos to us both- because we pulled it off impeccably. 

Throwing a great surprise or really any dinner party requires planning upon planning. You must have every detail taken care of and to do that, you must become a list maker. I had at least 8-10 lists going on last week. And every list focused on one aspect of the party- from menu to decorations to table settings to bar settings, etc. 

Party Rentals 

You're going to want to start running errands and taking care of anything not food related weeks before your actual event. First thing to take care of is party rentals. It is cheaper to rent tables, chairs, etc rather than buying them. If you have friends to borrow stuff from- do that.  I had decided I wanted the party to be outside because Leigh and Tyler had this secret little bamboo lined nook that I knew would be perfect for a semi-formal sit down dinner. Because it was outside in October in New England our first issue would be warmth. We took care of this  by renting a giant heater. Due to space limitations- the largest table we could accommodate was 12 feet which limited our invitations. These are all things you have to keep in mind. How much space do I have and how many guests can comfortably fit in that space? Go through everything you will need- cutlery, glasses, plates, bowls, platters, punch bowls, chairs, tables, tablecloths, napkins- and figure out what you own and what needs to be rented? If it's something like napkins or wine glasses- that you'll use multiple times- it's sometimes worth purchasing rather than renting. And if you have a Homegoods near you- they're the best for finding good deals for parties.


There should always be an underlying theme in your decor. I like to base my decor on colors because I think it's easier (sometimes) to plan around. Because this party was in a barn setting with a bamboo backdrop I chose to do gold, red and green color tones and wanted only white flowers for my pop of color. I chose burlap for the bar and appetizer tables and tied that in with a burlap and gold runner on my dinner table. Your goal should be to try to make everything cohesive but not overly matchy matchy.

Table Settings 

I usually always choose white for my tablecloth. I like the clean crisp look of it. It's like a blank canvas to build off of. Like I said earlier I chose a burlap and gold runner to tie in the burlap of the bar and appetizer tables. I knew I wanted to use mismatching vintage plates that I sourced from local flea markets, goodwill and tagsales. The plates all had florals, golds and reds in them so they looked great together on the table- it took me a while of hunting to get a set of 12 mismatching but matching plates. But it was worth it. I had found a mini statute of a horse (thanks Homegoods) and decided to use it as my center piece because Leigh is an avid rider. You should always have candles on a dinner table and I chose to place mine in giant hurricane glasses with cranberries as my filler. Just like candles you should always have flowers on a dinner party table and I chose to make my floral arrangement using white hydrangeas and asparagus to line the vase. For my placecards I decided to spray paint mini pumpkins gold and I sawed a little sliver into their stems to hold the placecards. It took a bit of time but was easy and definitely finished off the autumn decor off perfectly! I love how everything came together! 

Planning the Menu 

Deciding on a menu can be tough sometimes because it's difficult to please everyone. This menu was easy because I only had to please Leigh. But in most cases when I plan a menu- I try to make food that can be made ahead and just reheated or baked to serve. Luckily we had an amazing server- Janeen to help us out but normally it's the host who plays chef and entertains the guests. So creating a menu that's simple and easy to get on the table- is less stressful and easy on the host. Pick a menu that works with the season also. As our party was outdoors I chose warmer comfort foods, minus the starter which was Leigh's favorite tuna crudo salad. 

Setting The Bar
Just like anything else when planning a party- you should know your audience. Are they beer drinkers? Wine drinkers? Cocktail drinkers? Are they mostly girls or mostly guys? Heavy or light drinkers? All of this matters when shopping for the bar. With this party I was unsure of a lot, as the guests were friends of my friend Leigh. So I decided to do a variety of alcohol and wine and serve a specialty cocktail using the birthday girl's favorite cocktail liquor- whisky. I had the standard booze: vodka, gin, whisky and rum and the standard mixers: sodas, tonic, seltzer, and ginger beer. And for my specialty cocktail I decided to make a fun seasonal drink. Let's call it Leigh's Libation. 

Leigh's Libation
3/4 gallon of apple cider
1/4 cup of large fresh ginger slices 
1 tbs of ground cinnamon
2 cinnamon sticks
1 pint (2 cups) whisky of your choice- we used Jim Beam 
1 1/2 cans ginger beer 
Extra 2 tsp ground cinnamon and 3 tsp sugar for the rim
Apple slices to decorate and wet the rim

Simmer together the apple cider, ginger slices, cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon for 45 minutes to an hour. Allow to cool. 
Mix in the rest of the ingredients minus the sugar cinnamon for the rim. 
To serve: use an apple slice to wet the rim and then dip it into the cinnamon sugar. Serve the cocktail over ice. 

To add details to the bar and appetizer tables I decided to frame a bunch of photos of Leigh with her husband and friends. It was a nice touch to an otherwise standard bar/appetizer table.

Lastly you want to make sure you- the host- and your guests have fun and let loose! I will say my favorite part of a party is the aftermath of the dinner party. Once everyone is full and slightly tipsy and the table is no longer put together. And there are empty glasses and plates- this is a sign that love has been shared and laughter has been had! Plus it's when the dancing begins!!

This party was a success! It was fun to plan and put together and the party itself was full of life and laughter!! Leigh I hope you enjoyed every second of it!! 

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