Cheap chic can make the party
By Janette Williams
Entertaining can be effortless. All you need is a Downton Abbey-size household staff, a team of party planners on speed dial, and an unlimited budget.
For the rest of us, it can be an effort just getting a few family members together for a potluck.
Still, the experts say, it takes more than money to throw a great party that’s memorable for all the right reasons.
Knowing where to save, where to splurge, and how to make it hard for guests to tell the difference is key, said Jill Hawkins, of the Altadena-based event-planners Miller Hawkins, which has staged events for varied local non-profits as Five Acres, Pasadena Police Activities League, Hathaway Sycamores and the Community Health Alliance of Pasadena.
Some of the advice she gives to non-profits trying to put on a budget-minded bash translates to anything from weddings to family birthdays, showers and anniversaries, Hawkins said.
“We strongly encourage people not to do the traditional sit-down chicken dinner,” she said. “Most people come to an event not expecting a gourmet meal. They’re there for the cause.
“We do a lot of reception-style events with small bites, not spending so much but making it enough to feed everyone and satisfy people with appetizers as opposed to plated dinners.”
One plus, she said, is it tends to make events “a little more social” and encourages guests to mingle.
“It can become a little boring to sit at a table of 10 people and be there for the night,” she said. “Reception-style is not so formal. We strongly encourage people, especially with weddings, to think less about doing something simpler and spending more money on entertainment. People don’t always remember the food, but they remember if they danced all night and if the room looked amazing.”
Hawkins’ mantra for easily glamorizing the atmosphere of any venue, including living rooms or outdoor areas at home, is “lighting, lighting, lighting.”
Light strings, lanterns and tea-lights can be flattering not only to guests, but can put a gloss on standard quality white linens and basic silverware, she said. hes. Renting silverware for a crowd doesn’t cost a lot if you pick up and return it, she said, and it pays off with a more elegant feel than plastic.
Costs also can be kept down by limiting beverage choices to “a signature drink, beer and wine.”
Weddings are probably the single largest, costliest social event most people ever organize and — reality TV stars aside — you have only one chance to get right.
But other celebrations have more flexibility, and experience has shown hostess and food maven Peg Rahn that picking the right time of day can simplify entertaining.
Basic afternoon teas and picnics can be good ways to entertain people of all ages without breaking the bank, Rahn said.
“Breakfast or a brunch is good,” she said. “For one thing, people don’t stay forever.
“You don’t want to have any food that requires too much precision … Serve simple, delicious food; don’t serve squid or anything weird.”
Rahn and Hawkins agree that organizing help to pass food, serve drinks, replenish ice, replace candles and clear away used plates and glasses is imperative.
“If you’re doing it yourself, you’re going to need help,” Rahn said. And don’t expect invited guests to chip in, unless you’ve asked them ahead of time, she said. “Hire teenagers to serve and clean up.”
,But for all the thought that goes into food, drink, flowers, lighting and all the other details, it’s often the guests that make the party.
““Families, they’re the worst, especially if people are drinking and decide to tell so-and-so what they think,” Rahn said. “Know your people, and anticipate a problem here or there. Or, if there’s a problem brewing, you can head them off at the pass.”