St. Charles Avenue's: Guide to Entertaining
“Be pretty if you can. Be witty if you must. But be gracious if it kills you.” This quote about hosting parties comes from Elsie de Wolfe. The only thing is, what does gracious really mean? We spoke to some entertaining experts from our city, which thankfully still holds entertaining as a precious pastime, and it seems that gracious is the host or hostess who goes out of his or her way to make sure all guests have a good time. They provide a beautiful location and menu, and ensure all of their guests feel comfortable enough to have a good time. The quickest way to do this is to be happy and at ease yourself – you set the tone. That is easy to say but harder to do, so here are pointers from those experts on the perfect party.
Locating Your Location
Sarah Hall, President, Joel Catering and Special Events: “The location a host picks sets the tone for the whole event, from design to floor plan, and even timing. There are so many logistics: square footage, date, budget, ancillary rules, etc., so make sure all these work first, then when you visit locations you can focus on décor, event flow and food.
“Do not be rushed into decisions, not by a salesperson or well-intentioned friends. Rarely do you have to make a decision on the spot, so take a few hours or a day to make sure you’ll be happy with the results.”
Setting the Tone
Sallie Jones, Owner, Scriptura: “Invitations are a guest’s first introduction to an event, but they also build excitement and anticipation. Use the design, typography and wording to make it clear what type of party it is, the formality of the event, what attire is appropriate and why the get-together is being held.
“Encourage guests to recognize that the response is important by asking everyone to RSVP by a certain date. An included response card certainly calls attention to itself and commands the respect of returning it.”
Betty Hunley, Owner, Betty Hunley Designs: “We like to make the invitation reflect the personality of the hosts, and we send them out three weeks in advance unless it’s a wedding, then it’s six weeks.
“If the guest doesn’t respond, absolutely call them and make sure that the invitation wasn’t lost or something.
“If it is a surprise party, you can use the word ‘promptly’ by the timeline. If it’s really important that the party ends at a certain time, then put that on the invitation too. If children are not invited put ‘adult reception.’”
Choosing the Best Décor
Maitee Gomez, Owner, Royal Event Rental: “Many customers initially plan their event with Pinterest boards and Facebook. They have great ideas but realize quickly how expensive it can get. That’s when we come in with our rentals and décor services. We show them how to bring together their vision within their budget.
“Certain pieces will set the ambiance of the event and create the landscape. Our top rentals usually include some type of candle décor or uplighting, along with unique lounge furniture. It can range from a simple candelabra to crystal globes and floral backdrops.”
Kay Fausett, Owner, Judy at the Rink: “I believe that the entryway or door to your event should herald the party. Once inside, the colors, such as napkins tied with colored ribbons, table runners and vibrant glasses should reflect the theme.
“Entertaining casually seems to be a big trend, too, so people love to use our no polish Beatrice Ball serving pieces, as well as more casual pottery and stonewear.”
Grace Kaynor, Owner, Sotre: “For parties large or small, take an important silver piece – it could be bought or an heirloom – and use it in an unusual way.
“Mix china patterns and silver, and then tie it all together with a beautifully monogrammed dinner napkin. I like a table that tells a story and reminds me of the past while at the same time creating new memories.
Steven Sonnier, Owner, Dunn & Sonnier: “Flowers should fit the season and space, but they’re personal, so there are no hard and fast rules. You don’t need to fit flowers to a menu, but only use fragrant ones in the bathroom and not on the dining table because the fragrance can change the taste of the food and people might have allergies.
“In New Orleans we have an abundance of foliage, produce and natural accents, so work with a local florist to make the most of what’s available.”
Getting to the Party on Time
Kelly Snesrud of Albert Brown Salon: “With all the preparations for a party, the hostess can often forget to save time to get ready herself. As well as offering services in our salon, we often go to people’s houses or venues so they can stay on site and continue to oversee the organization, or to be on hand if necessary.
“After all the hard work, hostesses love being able to hand themselves over to us to do hair, make-up, nail services – whatever they need. It allows them to relax and feel their best. We also have a great collection of jewelry and accessories, including high-end pieces we can loan, to add a fantastic finishing touch.”
A Bite of the Big Easy
The richness and diversity of food in the Crescent City can seem overwhelming when creating a menu. When it comes to dessert, the venerable praline can offer a sweet and easy way to serve some NOLA flavor and create a happy ending for any meal. At Southern Candymakers, a family-owned French Quartier stalwart, all the pralines, tortues (turtles), toffees, caramels and other candies are hand made from scratch. Better still, visit the store and see the candymakers pouring fresh batches and hand-decorating frogs and alligators. With over 1,000 molds, they can create virtually any shape you want in full size or mini, to compliment the theme of your bash.
Whether you are hosting 10, 100 or 1,000 guests, all experts agree planning ahead and preparation enables a hostess to relax on the night enjoy her party. If the hostess is having a good time, so will everyone else.
They also agree that the perfect parties can stand imperfection. Of course, a hostess should think ahead, imagine the worst that can go wrong and plan for it, but even the best laid plans can sometimes go awry. The truly skilled hostess knows the best way to handle it is probably humor. If she smiles at a little party misfortune, the world that she has created that night will, in all likelihood, smile with her.
So what’s the true test of a good party, the social media posts the next day? No. The sounds of laughter and conversation through the night, and the stories we tell not just the next day or for an instant, but for years to come.
Party Like a Champion
You don’t have to have thousands of guests to hire some of the most iconic venues now available.
Turf Parties at The Mercedes-Benz Superdome can be for a few hundred guests, with flexible configurations and rates. The space can be adapted for formal seated dinners with chandeliers or causal parties with bouncy castles and photo booths.
Champions Square & Club XLIV both are named in honor of the win of Super Bowl XLIV by the New Orleans Saints. The club is in the Square and has built-in amenities including modern furnishings, illuminated bars, specialty lighting and advanced audio/video equipment. There is also Encore, which is connected to the club and is customizable for any event.
A Popular Trend: Outdoor Entertaining Spaces
New Orleans’ almost year-round warm weather creates the opportunity to entertain outside. A current trend for homeowners is to create an outdoor entertaining space with outdoor kitchens and cedar cabanas. Local companies like Luxury Outdoor Designs advise that there’s no minimum space or budget required and most homes can accommodate some kind of outdoor living. With free consultations and 3-D renderings, more New Orleanians are considering the option.
Steven Sonnier’s Five Rules for Flowers
1. Consider scale; you want the right size and amount of flowers depending on the space and location they’re going.
2. Think about where the flowers are going; for a seated dinner make sure the height of the flowers doesn’t interfere with the conversation.
3. Be clever with containers; make sure they’re appropriately sized and designed for chosen flowers (i.e. they allow the flowers to get hydration).
4. Do not overlook non-floral items such as beautiful greenery, fruits, vegetables, seashells, feathers, antlers and more.
5. Be realistic about what’s in season and available, and work with someone you trust
Dunn & Sonnier Flowers
Albert Brown Salon
3424 Magazine St., 861-0090, AlbertBrownSalon.com
Betty Hunley Designs
6057 Magazine St., 895-2870, BettyHunley.com
Dunn & Sonnier Flowers
2138 Magazine St., 524-3235, DunnAndSonnierFlowers.com
Joel Catering and Special Events
1201 Convention Center Blvd., 827-2400, Joels.com
Judy at the Rink
Rink Shopping Center, 2727 Prytania St., 891-7018, JudyAtTheRink.com
Luxury Outdoor Designs
2233 Lafayette Ave., Harvey, (985) 641-9800, LuxuryOutdoorDesigns.com
Royal Event Rental
110 Campbell Ave., Unit 1, Mandeville, (985) 400-9416, RoyalEventRental.com
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 1 One Sugarbowl Drive, 587-3663, SMGWorld.com
5423 Magazine St., 897-1555, Scriptura.com
3933 Magazine St., 304-9475
334 Decatur St., 523-5544, SouthernCandymakers.com
Albert Brown Salon