Whether you’re an introvert, planning a get-together only when inspiration truly strikes or an entertaining maven, an event will only be successful if it’s an extension of you. Everything from the location to the décor to your own attire, it all needs to reflect who you are and what kind of event you hope to create for your guests. This sounds intuitive enough, but what does this really mean when it comes down to the nitty-gritty aspects of planning a party? To be sure, there are some fabulous event planners in our fair city. If it’s in the budget, hiring someone to help you define what you want and how to go about making it happen is undoubtedly the way to go. But even if you intend to plan your own event, you don’t have go it alone. Some of New Orleans’ most experienced and passionate entertaining experts are here to give you some pointers.


Event Planning

First and foremost, no matter how you choose to get there, make sure all the logistics have been fully worked out by the time your event is set to begin. “It’s important for the hostess to remember to enjoy herself,” says Valerie Gernhauser, owner and principal planner at Sapphire Events, a full-service event planning company operating out of the CBD. “There is no greater reward for all of our hard work than seeing our clients trust us with everything and actually be present on the day of their event to spend time with their guests and fill that host/hostess role.”

Whether you entrust your celebration to a company like Sapphire Events, whose team of design experts work tirelessly to make it all come off without a hitch, or you choose to plan on your own, making sure everything is in place before the event begins is critical. That way, when your guests begin trickling in your mind won’t be scattered and your energy will be calm. If you’ve done the hard work beforehand you’ll be fully present from start to finish, exuding the essential you-ness crucial to any successful event.

Sapphire Events
437 Philip St., 383-4376, SapphireEvents.com


Weeks before the “big day” arrives, however, your guests will already have experienced their first taste of what’s to come. Margaret Jones, owner of Scriptura, provider of couture stationery, invitations and party accessories, explains: “Invitations need to speak to the event at hand. For example, an outdoor wedding might feature organic imagery such as an oak tree on the invitation. A more formal black-tie wedding reception might encourage the use of engraved text with an embossed family crest.

“The most effective invitations provide guests with a sense of the event, its formality and suggested attire,” she continues. “Imagery, fonts, paper stock and printing method can capture the spirit of an event, convey a wealth of information and create a sense of excitement for guests.”

Betty Hunley of Betty Hunley Designs, specializing in custom invitations, fine stationary and gifts, adds, “I think guests should feel welcomed before they even step foot in the event, and a well-composed invitation extends just that hospitality. Subtleties of thoughtful addressing and attractive postage instantly set a gracious tone, so guests feel appreciated before they even open their envelope! Of course once they do, their welcome crescendos with an eye-catching invitation. Party accessories, such as napkins, cups, party crackers and décor, should link guests back to their initial warm welcome received from the invitation.” Invitations and party accessories, when designed to reflect graciousness toward your guests, your own personal aesthetic and the characteristics of your particular event should come together like a mosaic: each piece should be beautiful on its own, and even more powerful and memorable when set alongside the others.

"Imagery, fonts, paper stock and printing method can capture the spirit of an event, convey a wealth of information and create a sense of excitement for guests."  -owner of Scriptura, Margaret Jones

5423 Magazine St., 897-1555
3301 Veterans Blvd., 219-1113

Betty Hunley Designs
6057 Magazine St., 895-2870


The mosaic needs the right frame, however, or else the impact will be lost. “Many times people pick a location that doesn’t suit their actual party,” says Susan Zackin, owner and head designer at Z Event Company, a full-service event planning and design company with a new showroom in Old Metairie. “Most times a host or hostess chooses a space based on their personal connection to the location. It could be it’s their favorite restaurant, a club they belong to or an outdoor area they have fond memories of. It all sounds great in concept, but often people don’t think about logistics when booking. Once planning begins,” she continues, “things that were not part of the initial discussion may change the way the space is used, and the location may not be the ideal place for their event any longer but now they’re locked into a contract.

“On a positive note, we can save a host or hostess headaches and money by helping him or her choose the correct location. Even when a larger space is needed and you think your budget won’t allow for it, the fact that the location is already beautiful, for example, may mean some of the budget originally allocated for décor can be used somewhere else. So many spaces in our city have natural character, meaning extra décor can be minimal if those assets are highlighted properly.”

Beth Claybourn of Beth Claybourn Interiors adds that, when planning an event set to take place in your home, “understanding the space you have to work with and the flow of your guests in the space is critical.” Furthermore, when designing an area meant for entertaining, the space ought to reflect your unique personal style, “whether it be formal or casual, eclectic or just plain fun. Done correctly it can create an extension of your personality.”

Z Event Company
508 Metairie Road
510-5838, (800) 714-9050, ZEventCo.com

Beth Claybourn Interiors
401 Tchoupitoulas St., 342-2630, BethClaybournInteriors.com


Once you’ve got your invitations and location covered, it’s on to the next most important aspect of any event, particularly one set to take place in New Orleans: food! Melissa Araujo, owner and executive chef at Saveur Catering, a farm-to-table boutique-style catering company, says it’s all about determining what kinds of food best speak to who you are and then figuring out how to make that vision fit your budget.

A top-quality caterer like Saveur Catering will take the time to sit down with you and ask questions in order to help you define what dishes best suit you and your event. As Araujo puts it, “we don’t sell a menu.” Maybe it’s about your favorite restaurants, the food you grew up eating or a delicious image that caught your eye on Pinterest. Araujo is catering a wedding, for example, in which the bride is from Cuba and the groom is from New Orleans; they have requested dishes that make use of both culinary traditions, and Araujo is excited to meet that challenge.

A host must also decide, Araujo reminds us, what values he wants to bring to his guests’ eating experience. Is it important to you that your party’s food is locally sourced, or that you have vegetarian options? Whether you meet with a caterer or simply brainstorm on your own, make sure to dig deep to discover which dishes will best reflect who you are, given the characteristics of your event and your budget.

Saveur Catering
982-8361, SaveurCatering.com


“Flowers make the party,” says Megan McHugh, co-owner of Pistil and Stamen Flower Farm and Studio. “You don’t need them everywhere – sometimes just one or two larger arrangements in a space will transform it. They elevate a room and make people want to be there. Also, all flowers are not created equal. Grocery store flowers are probably coming from South America, have chemicals all over them and are sometimes dyed unnatural colors. The fresher and more local your flowers, the more work they’ll do for you in the room. If you’re on a budget, try purchasing some really stunning flowers from your local flower shop or farmer-florist, and then arrange them in a vase yourself with foliage cut from your backyard.”

In terms of trends in the floral world, McHugh says that, “floral design is definitely shifting towards a more ‘garden fresh’ aesthetic, thanks to taste-makers like Martha Stewart and a national burgeoning ‘slow flower movement.’ People want arrangements that remind them of the beauty of the outdoors, meaning they want them to smell like real plants and have organic shapes that reflect the landscapes they’re grown in.” In other words, think of your floral arrangements less as inanimate accessories and more like bursts of the outdoors meant to enliven your interior spaces, to create continuity between your event and the landscape that surrounds it.

Pistil and Stamen Flower Farm and Studio
1900 St. Claude Ave., 493-0656, PistilAndStamenFlowers.com


Now that we’ve covered all aspects of space, atmosphere and ambience, we come finally to the hostess herself! She or he has worked tirelessly to make sure all of the event’s many components – from the invitations, to music, to food – express her essential self and her vision for the celebration. Now it’s time to make sure she herself is presented in a way that will allow her to feel confident in her role as hostess.

Albert Brown Salon, a full-service hair, makeup and nail salon, offers to travel to the hostess before an event begins to relieve some of the stress of getting ready. Their team emphasizes choosing a makeup application (such as airbrush) that ensures longevity without feeling mask-like, and they offer a large collection of fine costume jewelry, including high-end pieces they can loan out, to achieve a finishing touch that evokes that all-important attention-to-detail.

According to the Albert Brown Salon team, “Hollywood glamour is very predominant this season. Hollywood glam makeup with a modern twist will encapsulate the inner diva without being overdramatic. But, of course, effortlessly-beautiful soft makeup is always in style.” Regardless of a hostess’s particular tastes, she should feel confident in her attire, and shouldn’t have to worry about checking her hair and makeup as the event goes on. Achieve your look so that you can feel confident and natural from beginning to end, without having to give it another thought.

Whether it’s a casual-but-elegant dinner party with friends, or the formal wedding of your dreams, these experts have given you all the tips you need to make your upcoming event truly unforgettable!

Albert Brown Salon
3424 Magazine St., 861-0090, AlbertBrownSalon.com