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Party Tips from Beard House Pros

JBF Editors

December 15, 2015

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If you’ve ever been to dinner at the James Beard House, or any other JBF event like the Beard Awards, Chefs’ Night Out, Chefs & Champagne, or our annual Gala, you know that our staffers can throw a good party. Here are some of their tried-and-true rules for hosting a Beard–caliber event at home. 

THE DRINKS

“If you’re serving cocktails, make a batch just before the first guests come. You don’t want to start the night with a bunch of people waiting for a drink.” —Yvon Ros, Director of Sponsorship and Special Events

“Don’t skimp on the beverages. Buy artisanal sodas for people who aren’t drinking, and choose some local wines, unique beers, and sparkling wines—put on a big drink spread.” —Izabela Wojcik, Director of House Programming

“When thinking about quantity, plan on three drinks per person over the course of an evening to make sure you have enough.” —Siobhan Flaherty Haber, Manager of Greens

“You can never have too much ice! I pull out coolers and store bags of ice in them, or even in the tub in a pinch. Ice is cheap and will melt if you don’t need it, but if you do need it and someone’s beer is warm: BAD HOST!” —Victoria Jordan Rodriguez, Director of House Operations and House Events

“Boozy Southern eggnogs or milk punches need to be made in advance, so they’re great for a party. Put them out with small pretty glasses, since a little goes a long way!” —IW

THE FOOD

“Make a menu (and feel free to buy great items like cheeses, meats, and so on) that can be set up in advance so you can have fun. It’s about hospitality—not showing off your cooking prowess.” —SFH

“I always make one hearty side dish completely vegetarian for those surprise non-meat-eaters. I hate the feeling of people not eating, or—GASP—popping out for a slice if I don’t have enough veg-friendly items.” —VJR

“I like to create a spread of impressive bites to keep guests busy and snacking so there’s a sense of abundance. I mix fancy cheese, interesting charcuterie, Marcona almonds, quince paste, store-bought jams and spreads, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and an assortment of artisanal crackers and breads. I supplement that with some homemade canapés such as fresh ricotta with honey, roasted squash bruschetta, smoked salmon, and Swiss croque monsieurs inspired by chef Eric Ripert.” —IW

“My favorite event motto is ‘People only know what you did, not what you planned to do,’ meaning if you run out of time to make that fabulous dessert, nobody knows!” —SFH

THE SETTING

“It may seem formal, but seating assignments with place cards are a great way to put your guests at ease, rather than having them worry about or ask where to sit.” —Julie Marshall, Director of Events and Marketing

“Think about a place to put the used plates or utensils, like a professional bus pan for china. If using disposables, make sure the garbage is accessible for guests.” —YR 

“I like to use fresh herbs as centerpieces. They’re inexpensive, pretty, and don’t interfere with the sensory experience of the food like a too-fragrant candle or flower arrangement can. Always make sure any centerpiece is low enough for guests to see each other across the table.” —JM

“I love a good theme! Music services like Pandora make it easy to set the mood with tunes that match the food (think opera with your lasagna night or a mariachi band on Taco Tuesday) without investing money in music you’ll only hear once.”  —VJR

“Print a menu with the date and title of your gathering so guests can get excited for what’s coming—and take it home as a keepsake.” —JM