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Black ties and long gowns

Ready to host a show-stopping celebration? Here’s what you need to consider before sending the invitations

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Sunflower Seed Pâté

This smooth and creamy dip pairs well with multigrain crackers, fresh vegetables, or wrapp...

You’ve done it. Twenty years ago, you tied the knot. Now, it’s time to celebrate with a fancy party for 50, but where to start? Our region is full of party and event consultants, caterers, decorators, home stylists, and floral designers. We asked several for their best advice for hosting a soirée in honour of just about anything, just for you.

Watch, but don’t pinch, the pennies

The experts say the best advice is to get advice. A professional’s job is to coordinate your event, like a general contractor on a home renovation. Your job is to make decisions. The first and most important is how much do you want to spend?

Set a budget and stick to it. Formal parties automatically require a certain level of investment. The good news is you don’t have to break the bank, and there’s lots you can do beyond cracking open the back door and filling the kitchen sink with beer.

Remember that small details make a big difference. Says Neville MacKay, proprietor of My Mother’s Bloomers, a Halifax flower shop: “Guests won’t remember the great food you served if the first thing they notice is the plastic flower arrangement you bought at the dollar store.”

You’ll need a caterer, decorations, plates, forks, knives, spoons, glasses, tables, tablecloths, and flowers. One option is hiring servers to ensure a smooth evening for everyone involved. You can also enlist the help of family and friends to serve at your function, especially if your vibe is more of a “mingle and munch” affair than a sit-down, event with multiple food courses.

Hosting your party at home gives you more control over the event and saves money.

When it comes to cost, it’s similar to a home renovation. What options you want to highlight will affect the price. Our specialists advise if you budget $150 per head, you’re well on your way to a memorable evening.

Paper or digital?

When it comes to invitations in the age of instant messages you need to decide if you want to go the paperless route with an email or social media invite or if you want to order printed invitations.

While printing invitations adds another expense to your list, you may still need to chase your invitees for their RSVPs digitally.

The elegance of your affair will be hard to capture in a text message. As MacKay, whose resume includes floral designer, retailer, entrepreneur, and oft-quoted media consultant on all things party-related, says emphatically, “It’s all about the first impression.”

In either case, the same rules apply: Tell guests the who, what, when, where, and why of your event; convey your accommodations for any special dietary needs; and always allow six weeks for your guests to RSVP.

If you have a distinct vision for what your party will look like, include a dress code on your invitation:

  • White tie: A tuxedo or floor-length evening gown.
  • Black tie: A tuxedo jacket and pants, floor-length evening gown, or dressy cocktail dress.
  • Creative black tie: Same as above but incorporating more whimsical accessories like a colourful bow tie or fun jewelry.
  • Semi-formal: A dark business suit, afternoon cocktail dress, or little black dress.

Marvellous munchies

If your event begins after 7 p.m. you can skip the formal meal and consider a repast of nibbles.

As for cuisine, almost anything goes, including healthy alternatives. Roberto Gueli and his wife, Anke Kungl, own Conscious Catering in Scotch Village, N.S.

“We make local ingredients a priority,” says Gueli. “We also make vegetables celebratory, not that we have anything against dairy
and meat.”

Included among their popular dishes are: Squash Portobello Casserole Pieces, Sunflower Seed Pâté and Crackers, Buckwheat Bread Slices, Marinated Mushrooms, and Apple Spice Cake Bites.

Caterers charge according to the type of event and the size of the gathering, and the range can be wide. A buffet or mingle-meal can cost $35 per person. Roberto and Anke start at $25 per person for a minimum of 20 guests, while a formal sit-down meal could cost $100 per guest.

Although most caterers pair wine and champagne, you can consult an expert. Still, as Halifax sommelier Alanna McIntyre told one local reporter last year: “People say they want their wines to pair with the food but in the end, most people just want the wine to taste good. Honestly, the wine is not going to ruin the meal unless you have Barolo with fish chowder.”

Set the mood

Clear two or three good-sized rooms for your event. That might involve storing some furniture for a day or two. You’ll also want to rent furniture specifically designed for nimble, high-class parties: serving tables, plant towers, and comfy occasional chairs.

Keep your space sleek and uncluttered. Standing guests are also walking guests, so flow is everything.

In the spirit of the event, keep your decorations stylish. Balloons are fine, but nix the confetti. Tasteful garlands are in; gaudy streamers are not.

If you’re in the mood to splurge, then outfitters like Glow The Event Store, which offers rentals in Halifax and Sydney, N.S., can set you up with everything your heart desires: linens and textiles, table-top décor, arches and backdrops, furniture and baskets.“We can do anything,” says Dave O’Connor, company CEO. “People can spend $50 or $20,000.”

A black-tie affair really benefits from melodic accompaniment. Singing guitarists are all the rage. As are pianists, violinists, and chamber groups. Think classical and unobtrusive rather than an act that tries to stand out.

For your affair, however, you can put on a perfectly respectable version of the Ritz at home for about $35 per person.

Flower power

If you’re placing tables strategically around your party space, then vases of freshly cut flowers might be the way to go. If, on the other hand, your rooms are largely open and mingle-ready, you may want a couple of flower towers or even a flower wall. There’s also the ice-sculpture option, or its new-fangled adaptation, the snow-sculpture.

MacKay says flowers are versatile. “You could look at small arrangements,” he says. “You could look at one beautiful piece in the middle of the room. You could look at a floral wall. You could look at a flower-covered archway. You could even look at flowers to give away, every guest gets one to take home.”

MacKay also suggests one overlooked and budget-wise option is bowls of clean, fresh fruit.

For your party, given the wide variety of options available, budget for $30 per person.

Good hostkeeping

The hallmarks of a good host include poise, confidence, grace, tact, insouciance, even a soupçon of savoir faire. The event might be in your honour, but you are the CEO of Conviviality and you have responsibilities:

  • Greet guests with a smile. Make everyone feel special. Let them know the whereabouts of the food and drink. Then, get out of
    their way.
  • The awkward pause is the enemy of the party state. Grease the wheels of affability. Swoop in with a hearty topic-changer. Then, swoop out.
  • Even the most fastidious server is bound to miss a thing or two in a roomful of people. When necessary, pick up the slack without complaint.
  • You’ve done your job well if no one wants to leave. Alas, all good things must end. Plant the wrap-up time with a guest you know will spread the word.
  • Now, you’re ready. Go forth, celebrate, and have fun. You deserve it.

Make a list, check it twice

The one thing you must never forget, experts say, is a master list of all the things you’re likely to forget. Here are a few to add to your list:

  • Do you have liability insurance for the clutzes in your midst? Check with your homeowner’s insurance to make sure you’re covered.
  • Do you have an emergency medical kit?
  • Toilet paper. Do you have enough, and will guests be able to find your back-up?
  • What about phone chargers?
  • How’s the napkin supply?
  • Did you buy enough alcohol-free libations? Consider at least two non-alcoholic drinks per person.
  • How’s your ice, and where will you store it?

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