Confessions From a (Frugal) Host-a-Holic
By Jane DeFlorio, Guest Contributor
Top 10 Hosting Tips From Jane DeFlorio
A Note From The Author
Hi. My name is Jane and I’m a host-a-holic.
I love throwing parties at home. Sometimes I do it for my charitable interests, sometimes for professional reasons, but mainly it’s just for fun. I delight in bringing friends from all parts of my life together as often as calendars will allow. Last year I threw nine parties at home. I threw a seven-course dinner with paired wines and a celebrity chef in my NYC townhouse. In contrast, I held a Hamptons tented bash with 150 guests and three DJ’s spinning at the same time.
Do I use a party planner? Nope.
I orchestrate everything and yet have a fabulous, stress-free experience before, during and after the party. I obsess over process automation, creativity, smart delegation, efficiency and continuous improvement. As a mechanical engineer by education, I utilize technology in almost every facet of planning and execution. At the same time, I’m also a retired banker. My mission is to deliver maximum guest enjoyment for every dollar spent.
Over the 15 plus years I’ve been entertaining, I’ve developed several tips and hacks for throwing successful parties on my home turf, and I hope what the following can help with your next fete.
1. ESTIMATE. TRACK. LEARN. REPEAT.
I love data almost as much as I love parties. Over the years I track lots of party-related stats and use them to plan better next time. What percentage of guests accepted my invite? How much wine was served, by type? How much ice did we really need? How many guests actually ate from the buffet? What passed apps hit or missed? I track it all.
2. AUTOMATE THE PROCESS TO FULLEST EXTENT POSSIBLE
Putting on a party in your home involves lots of the same tasks every time. Taking stock of the liquor cabinet. Do we have enough candles? What instructions to do I want the servers to know for the party? Ordering ice, and so on. I created a crazy 30-page excel spreadsheet that lays out a to-do list that is customized by what type of party it is (ie NYC or Hamptons? cocktail or dinner party? Inside or outside? etc) and that is my master guide for everything that needs to be done, every time.
3. GET SOME HELP (IDEALLY FROM THAT KID DOWN THE STREET)
Once you get the master checklist assembled (see #2), you don’t have to do all the work yourself. Ahead of my parties I recruit neighborhood teens to help me out in performing various jobs such as performing catering equipment checks (see #4), creating flower arrangements (see #5) or welcoming my guests at the event.
4. OWN EVERYTHING
I am going to upset the party rental folks here, but this is a huge expense saver. I own full tabletop, white linens, tables and chairs for 150 guests. The return on use is generally 1-3 occasions. I was quoted 2x to rent a certain charger than it cost me to buy! Thanks to Etsy, Alibaba, eBay and the various online restaurant equipment sites, there are many sources. For ease of transport I bought the appropriate catering-grade racking (ie Cambro Camrack) for plates and glasses. I installed a commercial dishwasher in my kitchen. (It’s not as difficult as you’d think thanks to under-counter models out there.) How do I store all this stuff? In the Hamptons I’m lucky to have ample storage space, but in the city it’s hard. Clutter.com to the rescue! This company stores all my equipment and offers a full pickup/dropoff service. As my racking can stacked and placed on dollies, transport is easy.
5. BE YOUR OWN FLORIST
Florists out there will also hate me for this, but creating great centerpieces and other floral is so easy and can be very cheap. In NYC we have lots of bodegas and the Flower District with great flower selection and quality. When entertaining outside of NYC, I source from flowerbuyer.com, which ships overnight bulk wholesale flowers. Green oasis and floral tape make a big difference and can be easily sourced online. Be creative and frugal in your vase selection. One year I simply spray painted large tomato cans. It doesn’t have to be all floral décor either. Balloons make a big visual impact, are cheap and come in neat shapes and materials (Google Galaxy Balls to see what I mean.) Did I mention I own my own helium tank?
6. FLEXIBLE FURNITURE IS FANTASTIC
When I went about the interior design of both my NYC and Hamptons homes, I put lots of focus on flexibility in room layouts. My round dining room table can sit anywhere from 6 to 18 people in NYC. One room in the Hamptons I use for parties has all light wicker furniture that can be easily removed to make way for catering dining tables and chairs or even a dance floor! I know of some NYC hostesses that remove their living room furniture for an event and rent a moving truck to hold the furniture for just the evening on a nearby street. For cocktail parties – when in doubt, clear that room out!
7. SEATING PLAN MATTERS
I am completely old-school and insist on place-card seating at dinner parties. Whether it is 5 or 150 guests I mix everyone up and love watching the friendships form over the meal. For very large parties, I’ve even appointed “Table Captains” to lead their table in creating a toast or song to entertain the room. I also favor plated meals over buffets as much as possible. It lengthens the dinner so my guests can get to know each other just a little bit longer.
8. RILE THEM UP
For my bigger parties, I generally like to start low key on an invite and build enthusiasm as the event nears. For a party I throw every year on the same date, the invite simply said “You know what it is, when it is and where it is.” But weeks before that party I released a video that teased out more details and then sent several emails sharing even more info. It whipped my guests into a frenzy. Also don’t be shy giving advice to guests ie “we’ll be on grass so leave the heels at home”, “bring a sweater”, “dinner will be served promptly at 8:00pm” and most importantly “don’t drink & drive!”
9. A BONUS TIP FOR PARTY GUESTS: IRISH EXITS ARE A GOOD THING
Especially at parties over roughly 25 folks, I encourage my guests not to bid me goodbye at the end of the evening. Yes, really! Interrupting a host to say goodbye isn’t fun for me and whatever guest I am talking to at the time, as it may pressure him or her to also leave. Next time, it’s okay to quietly depart.
10. ANOTHER GUEST TIP: I LOVE YOU BUT PLEASE DON’T BRING ME A CANDLE
My wonderful guests often bear lovely hostess gifts. But last year I donated over fifty candles to a thrift shop. Nothing beats a handwritten thank you note. Want to do more? Make a donation to a charity in my name. I’ll invite you back next time for sure.
Photo Credit: Jane DeFlorio