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Designing party space around the menu

Trend Watch | August 1, 2012 | By:

Food for thought.

Times have changed, and so has the way we regard events. On the one hand, there are more elaborate parties than ever, with full-scale living room settings, revolving stages and theatrical production. On the other hand, some hosts choose do-it-yourself party schemes with craft-based decorations, family heirlooms and homestyle character. People want to entertain differently. They want to make their own rules.

Despite these diverging trends, everyone who plans an event wants the same thing: a fabulous, knockout party. They want guests to talk about the party for days, weeks or even years after the party is over. They want to create that magical moment when all elements are working together in perfect harmony, from the rocking sounds of the band, to the dramatic lighting in the tent ceiling, to the efficiency of the waiters, to the clarity of the presentation on the screens.

When it comes right down to it, there is a simple formula to successful entertaining. Just start designing the party with the basics—delicious food and plentiful drinks! Every party needs both, and for many of today’s celebrations, elaborate or DIY, the entire event design may hinge around the type of food
service selected. Other than the location, the first decision when planning a party should be whether food and beverage will be served cocktail style, as a seated dinner, with food stations or some combination of the three.

Food stations, buffets, specialty bars and dessert displays—and the functional areas around them—all require space that will affect the visual appeal of the tent, event flow and the budget. Approach the party as a play, with the planner, caterer, designer and tent company as co-directors and set designers. Act by act, scene by scene, course by course, how will the event move from one element to the next? How will guests be offered a beverage? Where will bars be placed? Will
there be multiple food stations during cocktails or one centrally-located focal point presentation? Will dinner be a combination of butler-passed tasting plates and formal seated courses? Or will guests be welcome to graze on large buffets with revolving courses? Will beverages be paired with food throughout the night or just with dessert? Oh, the menu planning questions can truly overwhelm!

With one television show after another dedicated to cooking, we live among foodies and gourmands with high expectations. Food is entertainment unto itself. First impressions are imperative, but they’re not enough. Food and beverage needs to take center stage in the party space, and then continue to impress until the fireworks have ended and the music has stopped. And even then, guests may be looking for that last tasty bite for the ride home.

Melissa Paul is the owner of Melissa Paul Ltd. Paul is a brand storyteller for the luxury wedding, culinary and hospitality industries.

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