Party Perfect: Five Pro Tips for Throwing an Elegant Affair from The Verandas
When your life is being the “host with the most,” throwing the perfect party is all in a day’s work. Chuck Pennington, innkeeper of Wilmington’s four-diamond bed and breakfast inn, The Verandas, is a party pro. He follows the same party planning protocol for the flawless functions at The Verandas, whether the guest list is 10 or 200. With his tips for a perfect party, you can too.
Here are Chuck’s pro tips for throwing an elegant affair, and a party menu that can be scaled up or down, too.
Five Basics for a Successful Party
This is the most important factor for a successful party. Invite those who you find interesting, who will be fun, and who – if not already – may become new friends. Don’t always invite the same people to different functions. If you know that someone cannot handle their alcohol, or who gets argumentative, maybe your party is not the right function for them. Think about your part as an opportunity to network and expand your horizons.
Your party represents you!
Date and Time
Ensure that the date and time are good for most guests, especially your “star guests,” before you commit to them. Don’t try to compete with Wimbledon, the Super Bowl, a major hurricane, or a significant local event. Timing is important: is it a cocktail party, desserts only, or a sit-down dinner? Make this clear in your invitation, and of course, pick the day of the week and time that is most appropriate to the type of party you are planning.
The date and time of your function will also determine what your guests should wear. If they are coming straight from work, think business casual. If it’s a weeknight dinner, you can go as formal and elegant as you want, because guests will have time to get ready!
Make sure that the attendees have plenty of well air conditioned, or naturally cooled, atmosphere. If your event is outdoors, are there umbrellas for sun protection, and an alternate venue in case of rain?
There should be ample room to walk around and mingle, so make sure your space can handle the number of guests. You should have enough seating. Most importantly, the location should be safe, with no exit challenges.
Use your best china, or serveware that compliments your theme. Go all out. No one loves eating off of plastic or paper. If you’re going to do it, do it right.
Food and Beverage
There should be ample food for attendees. This is true whether you are doing appetizers only, or a multi-course meal. Don’t be that host that inspires post-party stops for fast food. There are various websites offering tips for a perfect party that help you estimate how much food and beverage should be allotted for each guest. Plan your menu well in advance, and then do a trial run with every single item. Invite a friend who is a foodie to help taste-test and tweak your recipes. A party is not the time to try something new; you need to know it’s going to work.
If you are serving alcohol, also provide non-alcoholic beverages. A mock-tail is nice, bottled water should be available at the very least. Tea, soda, and other options like fruit juice, should be readily available as well.
At The Verandas, Chuck recently hosted 120 guests for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and afternoon reception to celebrate the re-opening after Hurricane Florence repairs and remediation. The event had a Italian theme, and guests were offered a copious grazing menu of theme-inspired appetizers and desserts. The menu is shared below.
A simple radio tuned to a classic station is fine. If you have a themed party, try to find a radio station complimenting your theme. You can also get CDs to play (load multiple so you don’t have to keep changing them), or find selections from a streaming service using Alexa or Google Home. It doesn’t have to be complicated; remember, the music is a backdrop for your guests’ conversations, not the main event.
If you have the budget, a pianist, guitarist, or small trio fits the bill nicely. Music helps move the party along smoothly. It also seems to stimulate conversations.
This is the most important part of your event. This is not a time for you to party, because you are working to make sure that your guests are having a good time. After your guests have left, you can sit down, relax, and enjoy the evening and guests you experienced.
Your private after-party is when you have a drink and enjoy leftovers. Ask one or two special friends to linger after the party and unwind with you. If you were able to hire staff – from a freelance chef to servers – ask them to enjoy a glass of champagne with each other after the party, for a job well done.
The Verandas Reception Italian-Inspired Southern Hors d’Oeuvres Menu
DaLuca Extra Dry Prosecco
San Pellegrino sparkling water
Prosciutto and Cantaloupe
Bruschetta with Tomato, Onion, and Pickled Okra
Bruschetta with Salami and Fig Preserves with Ricotta
Bruschetta with White Bean Hummus, Tomato, and Prosciutto
Bruschetta with Olive Tapenade, Salmon, and Shaved Parmesan
Deviled Eggs with Gambazola Cheese, Capicola, and a Giant Caper Berry
Deviled Eggs with Gorgonzola Cheese and Toasted Pine Nuts
Zuban Glace (get Chuck’s recipe here)
Cannoli with Chocolate Hazelnut and Classic Chocolate Chip Filling
Extra tips for a perfect party: cultivate a good relationship with your food purveyor, especially at the specialty counters for cheese, deli meats, and gourmet items. Chuck engages the food pros at Harris Teeter in Leland NC for advice on every aspect of his menu planning, and often special orders food items, like giant caper berries, to make a statement on his party table. Cut flowers from Harris Teeter are brought in by the bucket, as well; every room benefits from floral arrangements that compliment the color scheme of the decor.
Chuck Pennington is proprietor of The Verandas Bed and Breakfast Inn in Wilmington NC. For more than 20 years he has been the consummate host, serving gourmet breakfasts to guests from around the world. His talents in the ultimate cook’s kitchen of The Verandas doesn’t stop with breakfast; he deftly produces lovely summer soups, light hors d’oeuvres, and other delights.