Note that federal, state and local guidelines are continually in flux; before solidifying your plans for entertaining or enlisting the following ideas, make sure to follow the current rules for maintaining safe distances, wearing masks and limiting group sizes. Now, let’s get to some local suggestions for fueling friendly fun.
A city of action and excitement, it’s fair to say that New Orleans doesn’t idle well. And with health on the line, residents are scrambling to find new ways to sustain old connections, the friendships, family ties and neighborly introductions that bring us joy, comfort and distraction from whatever ails us or the world. Entertaining – and finding entertainment – now requires a level of creativity and caution that leads some to throw their hands up in defeat. But come on, New Orleans. Creativity is ubiquitous here, and curating unique celebrations is at our core. Sharing space safely with friends and loved ones is possible, even if it does require a little rethinking of the space itself.
Rethinking space is the first step in curating your “event.” I guess we’re rethinking that word, too. Perhaps a dinner event was 15 to 20 people before. Imagine now a dinner event for four to six, or for the household alone or for just you and your partner. Imagine spacious dining layouts; imagine new dining spaces. These are just a few of the considerations our Executive Editor Bev Church made before hosting friends to her home and garden in June.
After discussing the Covid-19 precautions all couples were taking, Church and her husband invited two couples to a distanced and catered dinner replete with special touches. Spaced seating, vibrant flowers, place cards, personalized painted glasses and gifted basil plants added refinement and charm, while dishes from Southern Hospitality Catering added a sense of adventure.
“We all helped serve each course in different parts of the garden – crawfish empanadas, stuffed mushrooms with crabmeat and duck wrapped in bacon were served by the pool,” says Church. “Natchitoches meat pies were served in the outdoor room, and the main dish, shrimp ravigote, in the dining room,” she says. The dinner concluded with ice cream cones and distanced dancing.
Whether entertaining your own family household or a small cadre of friends, there are a number of ways to transform your outdoor space into a new environment. Belinda Belk, Owner of Blue Gardenia Events and The Dinner Party Experience, suggests utilizing a projector, whether for the entertainment or the atmosphere.
“How about a music festival night?” she says. “Project some fab concerts from Jazz Fest or Lollapalooza and fest away in your backyard.” Projectors are also great for creating a video backdrop, from old black-and-white movies to early MTV music videos. A summer blockbuster night complete with buttered popcorn could even become a monthly series for spaced friends and neighbors.
Belk’s newest venture, The Dinner Party Experience, brings the dinner party straight to your home while relieving you of the set-up, service and clean-up. From reimagining your space to adding special touches, the goal is to make not just friends and family feel special, but for you, too, to experience a break from the routine of quarantine.
To Ken Marino, Owner and Designer at Fabulous Flowers, entertaining at home is the most personal expression of friendship. And while current circumstances have made many people tired of their homes, Marino suggests transforming your space – even if just for a night. A decorated tent filled with lanterns, rugs, pillows and rented furniture can be an oasis in Tangiers, he says. This way, you can be transported somewhere new along with your family or guests.
Social distancing is more easily accomplished outdoors, so Marino likes to use natural designs from his garden to add allure to his patio space.
“Large elephant ears in a tall clear vase makes a striking centerpiece for a buffet table,” he says. “Small clusters of assorted greenery can be used in bud vases or mint julep cups as additional accents.”
Another outdoor spaces to take advantage of is the front porch, which could be transformed into a concert stage for a performance for neighbors or a candle-lit Parisian café for a romantic dinner for two. Amy Vega Knoll, Co-Owner of Louisiana Caviar Co., suggests ordering take-out from your favorite French restaurant and enlisting your children to be the servers.
“Of course, start your meal off with Champagne and Cajun Caviar and bon appétit!” she says.
Another idea from Knoll is a Champagne and caviar tasting – trying new bites and varieties of bubbles with close friends in the backyard or on Zoom can offer a break from routine while helping support local companies.
Martin Wine & Spirits, for instance, offers “Wine Club” kits, four- and six-pack kits of exclusively selected wines that make you feel like part of a wine club without paying the monthly subscription. Rebecca Triana, Marketing & Brand Director, helped celebrate a birthday recently with a wine kit accompanied by one of Martin’s deli cheeseboards featuring freshly baked bread from local Bellegarde Bakery.
“We’ve had a number of customers order wine and cheeseboards recently, especially with our local delivery service,” says Triana. Martin Wine & Spirits consultants are available by phone to give recommendations and pairing ideas, and the company also offers prepared gourmet foods. The family-owned company offers online shopping with convenient, safe (and usually same-day) curbside pickup as well as local delivery.
Another popular destination for prepared foods with options for curbside pick-up and home delivery is Langenstein’s, located Uptown, in Metairie and in River Ridge.
“For years, Langenstein’s has treated our customers like family by providing holiday meals, prepared foods and specialty items for New Orleanians of all backgrounds,” says Trey Lanaux, Owner and Operator. Popular party hits that can be ordered online and picked up or delivered include Le Popeye Dip, Better Cheddar, Langenstein’s deviled eggs, artichoke balls and sandwich trays.
Food and drink are obviously a given at any New Orleans event – even when everything else has to be reconsidered – and one way to make the delivery feel a little more special is with specially printed products such as cups, napkins, koozies, handkerchiefs, cake bags and champagne glasses. Even small gatherings deserve flare.
“Printed products at a smaller party make the function feel well thought out,” says Melissa Mortillaro, Owner of Gem Printing Co. “The petit size of the function should in no way dictate the end result – having personalized items is an effortless and delightful way to highlight the reason for celebrating,” she says. Examples of items that can make a home gathering seem more lavish include monogrammed cups or coasters and even personalized, disposable guest towels to encourage safe hand washing. More creatively, these items can add fun and flare to distanced events, like online chats with people near or far. To celebrate a friend’s recent engagement, Mortillaro organized a Zoom meeting to toast the bride-to-be.
“Before we ‘met,’ I dropped off a care package to each attendee, which included a personalized mini champagne bottle, a stack of monogrammed napkins and a monogrammed cake bag filled with macaroons,” she says.
All of this goes to show that what makes the occasion special isn’t the space itself, but the thought given to creating special touches.