Local experts weigh in on what helps hosts plan an occasion to remember.
Whatever the occasion is, if you’ve decided to throw a party there are infinite ways to customize it to your unique vision. But the most important aspects are: a guest list that includes your favorite people, along with a fitting location, food and drinks and entertainment. Décor is also a good way to include your personal touch.
Organizing even a small soirée can be a daunting task; luckily, New Orleans has an abundance of local experts who have a wealth of advice on how to make your party memorable and stress-free.
For starters, consider hiring a party planner. Susan Zackin, president of Z Event Company, says to take care of this step “as soon as possible. The earlier a planner is hired, the more benefits they can provide.”
Belinda Belk, owner of Blue Gardenia Events, says she recommends hiring a planner about six months in advance. Another hot tip she offers is: Host a party on a Friday or a Sunday because, “these are generally more available in the party-planning schedule and it will ensure you’re able to hire the vendors you want.”
Themed parties are always appreciated, experts say. “People love to dress in costume, especially in New Orleans,” says Zackin.
Belk says that a festive theme helps “build excitement. Your guests will be talking about what they’re going to wear and what to expect for the evening.”
If you’re thinking of throwing an end-of-summer party, Belk has a few ideas for themes: Yacht Rock (think 1970s and 1980s easy-listening), Flamingo Soirée (think pink and black, kitschy, 1950s or 1960s supper club vibe), Hampton’s Clam Bake (stripes, nautical, all-white and seersucker), Summer in Tuscany (sunflowers, easy Italian fare, Under the Tuscan Sun vibe) or Evening in Provence (lavender, periwinkle, a touch of elegance, lots of candle light and wine).
When it comes to menu planning, Zackin says comfort food is sought-after along with small plates and tapas sized-dishes. “I think it makes us feel less guilty about eating it,” she says. Belk likes serving family-style dinners where big platters are served, and guests can get into the communal mix. Or, she suggests, offering different stations for different elements: i.e. cheese and charcuterie, a dinner buffet and desserts.
Entertainment is also of utmost importance. Nathan duToit, owner of Storyville Jazz Agency, a service dedicated to representing traditional jazz talent, notes that party hosts in New Orleans have a huge group of talent from which to draw. He also sees a trend in hiring live bands over DJs as of late.
“New Orleans is first and foremost a jazz city,” he says. “We believe the best way to give that authentic New Orleans experience is to provide an excellent, traditional jazz band. Whether it’s background music or the highlight of an event’s entertainment, the sound is truly unique.”
Then choose a location. If the party is large enough, consider renting a space instead of hosting at home.
Messina’s at the Terminal, an architectural masterpiece that dates back to the 1930s, is a popular spot for special occasions including weddings and other large-scale events. Owner Stacey Messina says it’s a party space that’s “unlike any other in New Orleans” with its one-of-a-kind Art Deco atmosphere. There are four different spaces within the venue: The Grand Atrium can hold up to 700 guests, while the Walnut room and the outdoor Terrace can accommodate 125; the smallest room, named for Huey P. Long, holds about 80. Everything including food, music, décor and style can be customized, says Messina, “so that the event is unique to each client. Incorporate as much personal style as possible and the event will be a success.”
The Windsor Court is a classic, elegant spot for a party in the French Quarter. “All types of events and parties work great at the Windsor Court Hotel,” says Jess Civello, an account supervisor who represents the hotel. She notes that it’s famed for producing trendsetting, bespoke events and that staff has the ability to work through a dynamic “transformation to deliver an unforgettable experience.”
Another hotspot in the heart of the French Quarter is Latrobe’s. The building itself is almost 200 years old. The company handles major details in-house to make the planning and production process seamless, including tables, chairs and linens to on-site catering.
Newer to the scene is club XLIV in Champions Square, named in honor of the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV. It is a private lounge that works as a venue for a range of events – private and corporate events, baby showers, birthday parties and cocktail hours. Gilded images of the Superdome, iconic musicians and Mardi Gras imagery are featured in the space, but it still has room for clients to add their special touches to the space to personalize it, says Meredith Adams, events and marketing coordinator.
Another special events venue to consider is the St. Joseph Plantation in Vacherie, a picturesque working sugar cane farm that has been featured in multiple film and television projects, including All The King’s Men, Twelve Years A Slave and Mudbound. Depending on the size of the gathering, “we are able to offer indoor accommodations as well as a multitude of wonderful outdoor locations.” says Marketing Director Emily Gautreaux, who adds that it hosts a range of events, including weddings, holiday parties and corporate occasions.
After you’ve chosen a theme and selected the ideal space for the event, get the word out with invitations via snail mail, a welcome departure from email invitations – especially if it’s a major event. Melissa Cousans Montillaro of Gem Printing says that “less is more” when it comes to invitation design. Font-wise, she sees customers requesting more block styles and in terms of color, “Many people enjoy mixing the simple blocks with a more ornate script for the feature lines. Dark and navy blues and antique golds are popular right now,” she says.
A few more details and you’re squared away for an event to remember: Zackin says that décor and lighting are important to consider, as these elements help set the mood. “Décor doesn’t need to be over the top and extremely expensive,” she says. “But if it’s done correctly it becomes impactful and sets the tone for the event.”
Blue Gardenia Events 206-8599 • BlueGardeniaEvents.com
club XLIV Lasalle Street at the Superdome • 587-3663 • Champions-Square.com
Gem Printing 1904 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie • 831-1762 • GemPrinting.com
Latrobe’s on Royal 403 Royal St. • 299-0601 • LatrobesOnRoyal.com
Messina’s at the Terminal Lakefront Airport, 6001 Stars and Stripes Blvd. • 241-5300 • MessinasCatering.com
Storyville Jazz Agency 301-8668 • StoryvilleJazz.com
St. Joseph Plantation 3535 LA-18, Vacherie • (225) 265-4078 • StJosephPlantation.com
The Windsor Court 300 Gravier St. • 523-6000 • WindsorCourtHotel.com
Z Event Company 508 Metairie Road, Metairie • 510-5838 • ZEventCo.com