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Have you attended or witnessed the perfect cocktail party? These shindigs are my favorite kind of gathering. Maybe that is why I mostly get asked, how to throw or organise these collections of people, passion and place.
You can watch any TV show or film and just by setting thwhe tips, tricks and rules are that there are always established guidelines in place. From classic cookbooks like: McCalls Cocktail-Time Cookbook from 1965 to The Calvert Party Encyclopedia, published by the liquor company itself in 1960.
The party may be different in every decade but each book has one clear message: be prepared, know the rules and have fun. So allow me to help you with the rules and the prep and leave the fun to you.
Set the scene:
Entertaining is a lot like drama, or in some cases HBO. You set the scene and then let the story unfold but the whole time remembering that you need to share its meaning with others. Like most film or TV there is usually some focal point or narrative that commands the attention of everyone, whether that is multiple characters like Game of Thrones or just 3 main characters like True Crime, your party should be around your "characters". The food, the drink, the theme, the people or crowd. However unlike most TV or film, the party is the first true experiential event. It is the interactive theatre of entertaining, the sum of energy, motion and people. At parties, the action and the stars are not confined to one moment or one space, the story is without true conclusion because is the audience, the crowd, the characters.
Like all good film and parties it all comes down to the director. Who has not been to a party where there is no direction and people stand around, mingle a little and then leave after twenty minutes when they feel they have enough business cards and can justify the activity to bosses, partners and the like. There needs to be dramatic tension, a sense of movement, it should feel like they are in the place to be and the only way to make this possible is for you the party planner to give your show a plot!
Everyone knows that the best films and tv shows can’t create a sense of excitement without a lot of buzz before the show is released. Mailing out the invitation that hints at the colour, tone, formality is the equivalent of a movie trailer or a film poster.
1. The Invitations
Before the party starts you need the invitations, send printed invitations to your guests in something other than an envelope, why not a glass bottle or a rectangle box filled with wood shavings incorporating elements that will be included in the party to come. This will create a sense of anticipation and curiosity about the event, they will also serve as mementos after the occasion is done. By having a good understanding of your guests profile you can always add something personal that will appeal. For example, if the guest is into rock and the party is in London, send the invite in a record sleeve, the record being, " LONDON CALLING" and I guarantee that invitee will never forget it.Remember you must also account for all the much needed basics, which includes what drinks will be served, the RSVP info, the dress code, the full timings of the event and the venue address and transport opportunities and accommodation if needed.
Once they arrive everything needs to be both fabulous and dynamic, physically prepared and leaving a mental memory for we in events are in the memory business. We want to create the party the guests are expecting before they even arrive, so go through the flow of the room. How will the guests move around the room, from food to drinks, decorations and most importantly to each other as this is a cocktail party our main star of the night is the bar and its stars, the drinks.
2. The Drinks
The host should always greet the guests at the door with the offer of a drink - you should always be the first person they meet - this will immediately make them feel welcome and ready them to step, on to the stage, into the party if only to grab a drink. Already you have set up the first interaction into motion. ACTION...Act One. Now picture a Tarantino film if you will, this scene should be like a shoot out without the blood - every now and then people need to move. If you are a good director you have set up stations of simple snacks like canapes, nibbles, and such in interesting locations all over your entertaining space so that people will have a reason to move to all corners of the room. Think about how great TV is as opposed to a theatre show due to the scene changes so give your guests a chance to change scenes DO NOT put all your drinks or food in one place only. Create different stations with different cocktails.
Photo Credit: The London Cabaret Club
By now your guests are moving all over the room and mingling, not only will they now have more chance to move but they will have an excuse to get out of those uncomfortable conversations by excusing themselves to go hunt down the cocktail they saw go by from another part of the room.
Suspense, my favourite films and parties have this so why can't yours, this is how you can:
Offer your guests a progressive selection of tastes, begin by setting out simple bites, cheese, nuts and olives then introduce a few new items in the second hour and so on. Then when everyone least expects it, you bring out your show stopper. Think Keanu at the end of the Matrix dodging bullets or realising he is THE ONE. Your guests will feel a sense of development, story, theatre and just like that your narrative is in motion. Another great thing about this is that it allows your guests to nibble consistently throughout the night without eating the same thing over and over again. Also think about the importance of chemistry amongst actors, never think about serving strong spirits or other potent concoctions without food. You need the elegance of waltz, people moving around the room instead of the room moving around the people.
An essential element of every party is the best use of space and the easiest way to do this is by spreading your decorations throughout the space so people don't perceive any central place to be. Do not worry over one centrepiece, scatter vases with fresh flowers or simple elements of the design motif throughout all the active spaces. Do not forget to be practical about the positioning of small tables (unlike movies, parties don't have a blooper reel where you can laugh as you see people trip over props). Avoid trip hazards but provide spaces for perching of drinks, to collect napkins and the placement of discrete trash, like olive pips and the like. No guest wants to see wadded napkins and half eaten food on working surfaces.
The other vital ingredient in decoration is the importance of dim lighting. As so many parties are straight after work , it will make them feel less self-conscious and much more glamorous. Low lights create a distinctly loose feel to a venue and will only further create mystery, imagine Charlie Chaplin in bright lights.
As we mentioned, you are as important as any of the above ingredients, if not more important. If you don't mingle and enjoy yourself how do you expect your guests to?
I always advise my clients to plan out some basic intros between guests. Think Bridget Jones Diary without the faux pass "Fitzpatrick". Remember to be like a boxer - bob and weave - introduce and move on, create connections and move. I personally find this is easier with a partner in crime, a Robin to my Batman so to speak. Everyone has at least one perfect sidekick, one great wingman or wingwoman, put that gregarious friend to use.
Of course like all good rules, there is the exception to the rule. Come the last 45min of the evening move yourself to the door to say your goodbyes, arrange cabs and transport services, take away car keys where necessary and help with coats and collections of bags and things. I firmly believe that you should be the first face and the last one they see at all parties. After all, at the end of a good film when the credits have rolled the audience is desperate to know who the director was so they can watch the next film he/she makes.
With the aforementioned tools in your toolbox, and remembering the keypoint headliners of Invitation, Drink, Food, Decoration and You: you will never ever again be in jeopardy of throwing a less than glamorous cocktail party you would be proud to attach your name and brand to.
In the age of digital everything, parties are truly the last bastion of the face to face. The truly timeless way of getting in touch with clients, media, friends and the like in the offline "real" world.
While some may say this is costly and far too time- consuming, parties are the best way to get your brand out and celebrate all those well-earned victories! Now stop reading and start planning.
In the next post I will show you how to use these 5 tools and some strategies, designs and ideas to guarantee that you are the best party planner ever.
Lord Jason Scott is a international events consultant, premier party planner and A-list specialist, who now also works as a consultant for both agencies and venues across the globe. His first contact with celebs was guarding Kylie Minogue’s petite gold hot- pants, and was recently named one of the top 100 most influential people in events for the third time not to mention becoming the Director at Large of Marketing for ISES UK and Ireland. Follow him on Twitter @Penthouselord