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When to hire help

Manicurists, hairstylists, accountants, personal trainers, housecleaners...chances are you have at least one professional on your bankroll. But how do you know when to call for reinforcements from the party professionals?

There are three factors to consider - time, money, and talent. Namely, how much of all three you have. Unsurprisingly, money is the primary factor. If you're short on cash, you'll need to spend more hours and your (or your friends') skills in executing the perfect party.

Time and talent are tied for second. If you've got a little more in the bank, are taking a week off before the party BUT are the world's worst cook, you should probably call a caterer. Likewise, if you're a whiz in the kitchen but will be putting in a 60 hour work week, do you yourself a favor and leave it to the pros. It's all about reducing stress!

Let's look at the various options in detail:

Can't cook? Don't want to spend hours in the kitchen? Want unique offerings that aren't obviously from the frozen-food section of your local warehouse store? Then hire a caterer! Know your limits. I know I can provide appetizers for a party of 25. Any more than that, and I get stressed out. Your threshold may be different. Depending on the food, expect to pay a bare minimum of $10 per person for a cocktail party with light appetizers. Most parties will cost more than that.

Party Staff
Ah, it's SO freeing to have someone else do all the little things during your party. You know, collecting discarded plates and glasses, emptying garbage cans, refilling the ice, clearing empty hors d'oeuvre trays, tending bar...you can truly be a guest at your own party if you hire someone to take care of these tasks. And really, who wants to handle trash when you're all gussied up? Not me! Average cost is about $30/hour. For a party with under 50 guests, you'll need two people if you want one to be a bartender. Otherwise, one person can handle it.

"Day of" event coordinator
This is for a bigger event with a lot of little details to cover, for instance, a charity fundraiser or a wedding. If you don't want to be the point person for all the vendors ("Flowers over here?" "What time should the band start?" "Um, the police are outside...something about the elephant getting loose?") then hire a DOC. You'll probably meet with them once or twice to cover all the details, and from there, you can concentrate on mingling with your guests! Cost varies widely, but is typically under $1,000.

Event planner
Time to call in the big guns! If you want all the assistance of a DOC plus professional guidance on vendors, etiquette, trends, design, etc., hire an event planner. Again, costs vary widely but even the cheapest will be upwards of $1,000. Note that some event planners don't do design, and some event designers don't do logistical planning. Be aware of what you can expect from your event planner.


Theme idea - Grown-up Pajama Party

Perhaps it's a holdover from sorority days, but I'm still a sucker for a good theme party. I've found that people get into them because (whether consciously or not) they recognize that anyone can throw a party, but throwing a good theme party takes extra effort.

One of my favorites is the Grown-up Pajama Party (I suppose you could also call it an Adult Pajama Party, but just be aware that "adult" carries certain connotations with it....then again, maybe that's what you're going for). The thing to remember with this theme is to play with the juxtaposition of Adult vs Child. Here are the elements:

Decor: Decadent lounge. I was working with a cold basement that had those cinder block walls, but luckily, also had fabulously cushy red carpeting. To cover up the walls, I bought inexpensive red polyester and hung it to the walls with looped duct tape (Ah, duct tape...is there anything it can't do?). Candles spread about the room (AWAY from the polyester!), and pillows on the floor created the finishing touch.

Food: The greatest hits from childhood, dressed up. The menu included little gourmet pizzas, organic hamburger sliders, and Rice Krispie treats dipped in dark chocolate, but I also went old school with offerings such as cans of EZ-Cheez (you know you want to squirt some directly into your mouth) and Triscuits. I also set up a "Make Your Own (Grownup) Cocoa" bar, complete with hot chocolate and a variety of schnapps and liqueurs. The peppermint schnapps and Godiva liqueur were especially popular.

Music: This was a lot of fun! The majority of the crowd had come of age in the late 80s, so I borrowed heavily from that era. Lots of early Madonna and Janet Jackson mixed in with some current hits. You should have seen the reaction when "Lucky Star" came on - good times!

Guests: Everyone was instructed to wear sleep attire. Some were a little fancier than others, but for the most part the guests relished the opportunity to be comfortable at a party. I'm reminded of a quote from the movie Clueless...something about Cher preferring to stay home and veg, as her party clothes are quite constricting. So true, so true.

Activities: Board games were scattered throughout the party space, including Twister. The winner of the Twister contest was adorned with multiple candy necklaces, hers to wear for the rest of the party. There's always a queen bee, you know.

All in all, a fantastic time was had by those in attendance. This is one theme I'm happy to recycle!

Anyone for Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board?


Vodka, vodka everywhere!

Vodka has certainly enjoyed quite the renessaince over the past 15 years or so. Of course you know that flavored vodkas started appearing en masse several years ago (yes, I know the Absolut flavors have been around longer than that, but things have certainly gotten more exotic lately, no?). Here are a few that interest me, and with which you could make some intriguing cocktails. New this summer is Firefly's Sweet Tea Vodka. I don't think it's in Chicago yet, but I imagine you could have some fun mixing it with lemonade, or perhaps lemon-lime soda or ginger ale.


For warmer weather, I like coffee vodkas such as Vincent Van Gogh Double Espresso. Mix it with some Voyant Chai Cream Liqueur, and you have a reason to stay in!


I saw this mentioned on a message board this spring, and have been dying to make it ever since. I think bacon-flavored vodka could be just the thing for Bloody Marys while tailgating...



RoR on RSVPs

How many people can you expect at your event? This depends on a number of variables.

1) The host's history of hosting and attending parties. If you try to throw the same party every month, you can expect a low Rate of Return because there's little anticipation. Likewise, if you're a bad guest (constantly flaking out on others, not RSVPing but then showing up, etc.), expect your event to be low on the priority list of others.

2) Guests' other options. If it's New Year's Eve, you'd better come up with a hell of a party if you expect the turnout to be significant.

3) Amount of notice. This is a given. People are busy, so the earlier you can get on people's calendars the better. That's why save-the-dates for weddings have become so popular in recent years.

4) The event itself. Is it a fantastic bash on the beach or a simple Gray's Anatomy viewing? What do your guests like to do? On a related note, does your invitation make people excited to come? Thinking about recent events I've had at home, our annual rooftop party had an amazing RoR. We sent the Evite out over a month in advance because I know what summers in the city are like - everyone is booked weeks in advance. Also, this is a party we only do once a year. In fact, I do no more than two huge parties a year. Any more than that and they become old hat. On the other hand, our little New Year's Eve potluck dinner had a purposely low turnout. We sent the invite out just two weeks in advance and didn't hype it too much beforehand. It's an exhausting time of year for an event planner and fewer guests meant an easier party!


Making the mood - Music

Would you play the same music for a pool party as you would for goth-inspired Halloween party? I'd advise against it.

Music is the wallpaper that can hold your mood together or make it fall apart. I'm not talking about theme, here. Themes are easy (tropical, Vegas, 70s) but mood is a little more elusive. For instance, let's say you're throwing a daytime pool party for about 35 people with a median age of 30. Just adults - no kids. You want the mood to be light, fun, and perhaps a little glam.

The mood for aforementioned Gothic Halloween, on the other hand, is dark and sexy, with a touch of evil. If the mood is right, the guests won't notice. On the other hand, if Katrina and the Waves comes on in a room full of red light, spidewebs, and black candles, there's a disconnect and everyone will nervously titter and say "Well, that's certainly unexpected..."

Another thing to keep in mind - party energy. Start out with some slower, lower energy songs. Keep the kickin-est tunes for about 3 hours into your party (so, 11pm for a party that started at 8pm)

Here's a sampling from playlists I've created for various events...

Gothic Halloween (dark, sexy, evil. Mix of rock and electronica)
Hey Pretty - Poe
Machinehead - Bush
Faint - Linkin Park
Devil Inside - INXS
The Bad Touch - Bloodhound Gang
How Soon is Now? - LoveSpitLove
Black Velveteen - Lenny Kravitz
Frank Sinatra - Miss Kittin
Impressive Instant - Madonna
Medazzaland - Duran Duran
Mega C - Fischerspooner
Robot Rock - Daft Punk

Big Dinner for Family and Friends (Elegant. Mix of jazz/big band and chill-out electronica)
From this Moment On - Diana Krall
Spooky - Dusty Springfield
Eres mi Vida - Mocha Lab
Desafinado - Stan Getz
I Concentrate on You - Frank Sinatra
The Gardens of Sampson & Beasley - Pink Martini
The Cure and the Cause (ambient mix) - Fish Go Deep
Dance me to the end of Love - Madeleine Peyroux

Huge Rooftop Party (Whatever the kids are listening to, plus some extras)
Viva La Vida - Coldplay
Lonnie's Secret - Owusu & Hannibal
Sexy Can I - Ray J
No Substitute Love - Estelle
Time Won't Wait - Jamiroquai
Love Today - Mika
Forever - Chris Brown
Don't Stop the Music - Rihanna
D.A.N.C.E. - Justice
4 Minutes - JT & Madonna
Good Life - Kanye West
Dangerous - Kardinal Offishall

Feel free to use these as jumping point for your next party! Most are available on iTunes. Speaking of iTunes, there are some great playlist suggestions on there if you're stuck. Spend an hour or two exploring their ideas and mix them with your own existing tracks.

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