“A party without a cake is just a meeting.” Famous cook, author and entertainer Julia Child is always credited with this quote, but no one can confirm she actually said it. No matter, as it sums up the spirit of the woman and the attitude towards any gathering in New Orleans, large or small.
Whether you’ve grown up in the Crescent City or transplanted here, you’re quickly infected with a love of parties and creative touches that make New Orleans events so special.
With fall and the start of a new social season approaching, we talked to some of our favorite gurus on how to host a perfect party.
Start with an invitation that creates the right first impression, says Melissa Mortillaro of Gem Printing Co. “Your invitation sets the tone of the event. Personalized invitations, not e-vites, help guests know the theme, how to dress and what to expect at the event. These days, a printed invitation makes an event instantly special and exciting.
“Always have at least one personalized item at the party – be it a cup, napkin, koozie or even a matchbook. It’s those little details that set your party apart and make it memorable.”
Betty Hunley of Betty Hunley Designs agrees, “The invitation is like your ‘preview,’ so it’s essential that it’s fabulous and effective in giving guests the information they need.
“It goes without saying that at any party, whatever the theme or the occasion, you need to ensure the basics are in place,” she continues, “namely, soft lighting, great music – which isn’t too loud so you can still talk – and delicious food and drink.”
Vicki Herman Evans of RSVPI Event Consulting recommends thinking creatively, “Most people don’t pay attention to the stamps they use to send invitations, but I love making sure the stamp ties into the event in some way. Also, vintage stamps are great; there are lots of resources online for buying them and they’re a nice touch to communicate a theme. Pile them on and don’t worry if they don’t match, that’s part of the fun.”
Z Event Company
Photo By Pepper Nix Photography
Evans also cautions hostesses to consider the date carefully: “Choosing a date is very important. If I’m picking a weekend date it’s important to consult the football schedules of LSU, Alabama and, of course, the Saints. Nothing kills the turnout more than conflicting with a highly anticipated football game. Don’t forget those Monday night or Thursday night football games, too!”
Evans advises hostesses not to get too carried away with Pinterest: “It is a great place for ideas, however don’t get caught up in all of the DIY projects. Often they aren’t as easy as they look, they cost money and they take time to make. Inevitably, they don’t turn out like the pictures you see online. Keep it simple or higher a professional. It’s worth it!”
Southern hostesses are known for taking their beautiful china and glassware off the shelf and actually using the “good stuff.” So, don’t be afraid to dust off wedding gifts, or consider picking up some new linens or a statement centerpiece that will elevate any gathering.
Beth Claybourn Interiors is a treasure trove for stunning entertaining pieces, with stores in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Along with beautiful antiques, lighting and rugs, Claybourn offers a carefully selected collection of beautiful china, crystal and accessories from Medusa Lumiere Crystal Coasters to Arte Italica Vetro Gold Collection of glassware.
When it comes to décor, Ken Marino of Fabulous Flowers says that, “Flowers are a must at any NOLA party. Monochromatic designs appear larger and fuller, and repeating the same flowers in different designs and vessels will unify the setting.”
Roger F. Villere Jr. of Villere’s Florist also has valuable advice for floral décor: “Most people have vases they save for special occasions; I suggest going to your favorite florist and filling these vases with whatever is in season. They will be fresh and beautiful.”
Another great tip from Villere, “is to buy a few large flowers to mix with smaller ones; it creates a focal point for the arrangement and makes it looks elegant. A good way to stretch your floral budget is to cut a few greens from the garden. Plants always need trimming and taking a few stems of your favorite greens, ferns or flowers from the garden is a great way to do a little trimming and a little saving at the same time.”
Kim Starr Wise Floral Events & Sapphire Events
Photo By Marissa Lambert Photography
He continues, “You can use flower petals or loose flower heads to make great decorations. A few rose petals or flower heads sprinkled on a serving table or dining table brightens up the party, yet it’s inexpensive and doesn’t use valuable table space. A few petals in the bathroom either loose or floating in a low bowl or vase adds color, interest and a decorative feeling to the room. Alternatively, line the edge of your sidewalk with petals and see the smiles as everyone arrives.”
Kim Starr Wise of Kim Starr Wise Floral Events is used to altering existing spaces. “It’s amazing how a couple of floral arrangements and some lighting can totally transform a space!” she says. “Lighting candles or hanging festoon lights is such a simple way to set the mood, whether it’s romantic or cozy.
“For larger events, we’ve created all kinds of different floral installations including rose walls, lush garlands, flower arches and custom Chuppah designs. Last March,” she continues, “my team and I designed and built a tulip ceiling that was suspended over the dance floor. It was insane – 24,000 white tulips imported from Holland. It took us nine hours to build on site and the final result was completely breathtaking.”
Kim Tran of Wink Design and Events likes to help clients create a “wow factor” for guests as soon as they arrive. “Unexpected elements, such as a 12-foot-tall door greeter, can create a very elegant, yet jaw-dropping welcome to set the tone for a stellar event,” he says. “A fabulous way to serve champagne to partygoers is to stage a strolling champagne diva dress with a themed model. They can offer champagne or other delicious drinks or desserts. LED glow dancers are a great way to get your guests on the dance floor.”
Owner and Creative Director of Wink Hien Nguyen likes to intrigue guests with a surprising element to keep them talking about the event for weeks or even years afterwards. “We designed an out of the ordinary method to serve cocktails and desserts through a customized hand wall,” he says. “With white glove service, guests were delighted with an unexpected surprise coming through the wall. We also created a self-serve dessert display featuring an assortment of confections secured to a custom gold frame. Another one of our favorites was an unbelievable 10-foot ice sculpture wall that chilled hundreds of seafood options for guest to enjoy at our client’s wedding.”
Robynn Beck of Party Rentals Delivered helps clients with events of all sizes, “Whether it is a wedding at The Windsor Court or a baby shower at home, we help clients set the stage,” she says. “We plan and design the event with our clients to make sure they have all the equipment they need for their event to be both beautiful and functional. Guests need to be comfortable, food needs to be hot, bars need to be stationed in the right places, the dance floor needs to be laid properly, the barware needs to be spotless and the linens beautiful. Our clients can trust us to take care of all of these needs.
Kim Starr Wise Floral Events & Sapphire Events
Photo By Marissa Lambert Photography
“Hosts also need to ensure that any company they work with offers high quality products and service that works for them,” she continues. “For example, we offer flexible pick-up and delivery times. Even at small gatherings, hiring tables and using gold chairs or glassware can elevate the event and reduce the work and stress for hosts.”
Sapphire Events is a full-service event planning and design firm that will take clients from their first vision all the way through to organizing the entertainment and choreographing the first dance. Valerie Gernhauser is the owner and lead designer and, as a recognized thought leader in the event space, prides herself with providing clients with the most innovative, authentic experiences.
Clearly planning is key, Senior Sales Manager Sandy Odom of Emeril’s Restaurants in New Orleans advises: “Always be ready for what I call the ‘what ifs.’ There are so many moving parts you need to think of ahead of time, including dietary restrictions, mocktails for non-drinkers, coat-check in case of inclement weather, valet for a house party and a little parting gift.”
Sometimes things are out of your control, as Susan Zackin of Z Events reminds us: “Remember that no matter how many times you’ve checked the weather forecast or the flight status, you can never predict the weather or the airlines, so always have to have a Plan B. Also, for any party in New Orleans, plan on your bar bill being bigger than your food bill – it’s just the way it is!”
Margaret Jones of Scriptura, who has guided many a bride and hostess through an event, has these sage words: “A relaxed host is the main ingredient to a successful party. In order to be present with your guests, build the best team your budget can afford. The most reputable vendors care about your party as much as you do, and know their reputation is riding on it as well. Give your vendors your budget and then let their creativity shine. Set the tone with a beautiful invitation, find an outfit you feel fabulous in and enjoy your event.”
The experts all agree: Do the planning and preparation ahead of time so on the day the perfect party appears effortless, then kick back and enjoy. If you have fun, so will your guests.
Beth Claybourn Interiors, 401 Tchoupitoulas St., 342-2630, BethClaybournInteriors.com • Betty Hunley Designs, 6057 Magazine St., 895-2870, BettyHunley.com • Emeril’s Restaurants, EmerilsRestaurant.com • Fabulous Flowers, By Appointment, 2020 Chestnut St., 909-0253, FabulousFlowers.us • Gem Printing, 1904 Veterans Blvd., Metairie, 831-1762, GemPrinting.com • Kim Starr Wise Floral Events, 437 Philip St., Suite 101, 315-5607, KimStarrWise.com • Party Rentals Delivered, 2837 Tifton St., Kenner, 305 5785, PartyRentalsDelivered.com • RSVPI Event Consulting, 616-8824 • Sapphire Events, 437 Philip St., 383-4376, SapphireEvents.com • Scriptura, 5423 Magazine St., 897-1555, Scriptura.com • Villere’s Florist, 750 Martin Behrman Ave., Metairie, 833-3716, VilleresFlowers.com • Wink Design & Events, 1519 Tchoupitoulas St., 366-8063, WinkDesignAndEvents.com • Z Event Company, 508 Metairie Road, Metairie, (800) 714-9050, ZEventCo.com