Hollywood party planner Lara Shriftman shares her secrets for entertaining, with recipes, hosting tips, and more
So your Oscars invitation never arrived in the mail. That's no reason to forego the glamour of the evening. It's easy to host your own telecast bash, complete with eats and an atmosphere fit for the stars. To help, we've enlisted the expertise of Lara Shriftman, one half of the public relations and special events firm Harrison & Shriftman, which is responsible for countless high-profile book and product launch parties, film festival fetes, and Hollywood parties. She's also cowritten several books on entertaining with partner Elizabeth Harrison, including Party Confidential.
Do Something Different
The sedentary nature of a party based on long hours of TV-watching can create particular challenges for a host, says Shriftman, who's hosted an Oscars-viewing party with partner Harrison for the past ten years (and whose guests have included Serena Williams, Lara Flynn Boyle, Luke Wilson, Forest Whittaker, Adrien Brody, and Molly Sims). "The Oscars are tricky. There are a million other parties that night. You have to think out of the box." But such creative party-planning doesn't have to require great effort. Shriftman shared her tips for creating a successful party that's totally doable for the home-based host.
Fine-Tune the Guest List, Decor, and Menu
Shriftman's winning party formula starts with the guest list: "The real key to any party is to have a great mix of people." So while your good friends might comprise the core of your invitees, include others who will inject some fresh interest into the mix. "Think about whom your guests would want to meet," she says. Next, add some simple decorations, set up your living room for ultimate comfort, and serve a menu composed of small bites of familiar favorites such as sliders and pizza, plus brownies, cupcakes, and cookies (again, all mini). But just because food's familiar, that doesn't mean it should be ordinary, warns Shriftman. Make a gourmet version: You can serve pigs-in-blankets, but accompany them with three dipping sauces. Or, she suggests, serve bacon-wrapped dates or tomato soup in shot glasses with an herb garnish.
Lara Shriftman's Oscar Party Menu
- Paris's Crimson Champagne Cocktail
- Meatball Sliders
- Pig-in-a-Blanket Lollipops
- Parmesan-Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Bacon
- Tomato Soup with Lemon-Rosemary Cream
- Mini Paris Cupcakes
- Tiny Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Mini Brownie Cupcakes
Create a game plan: Any pro entertainer will tell you that the two safeguards against party failure are careful planning and organization. This doesn't necessarily have to be a time-consuming step, but think about what you want ahead of time, make a list of what you need to do to accomplish it, and allow yourself enough time to execute it.
Allocate your resources: One component of your plan should be a budget. It will give you realistic parameters. Decide what is most important to you and spend the majority of your money on that, whether it's food, drinks, or decor. "Personally, flowers are the least important part of my budget," says Shriftman, who prefers to decorate inexpensively with votive or floating candles.
Do a dry run: "Listen, I'm a party planner, and I always forget something," Shriftman says. Write down every detail of your party and go over it with a friend a day or so before to hammer out any unforeseen details.
Enlist help: Throwing a party with a friend is always more fun and helps distribute the work. Shriftman also likes to hire someone from a catering or bartending service to tidy up and make sure snacks are replenished. It's always uncomfortable when the host is cleaning, she says, and hired help frees you up to enjoy your guests.
The Art of Invites
Make your invitations enticing: Invites are the first impression guests will get of your party and set the mood for what's to come, so put some creative effort into them. Write or print the particulars on the image of an Oscar or a still from one of the Best Picture nominees. Shriftman suggests using colored or outsized envelopes to signal that there's something special inside. And make sure to send out your invitations no earlier (or later) than two weeks in advance: "Any earlier, and people forget," she says.
Over-invite: Face it, as fabulous as your party may be, there's a lot of competition on Oscars night from other entertainers. Even at celebrity-studded Hollywood parties, there are always no-shows, Shriftman says. "If you want 20 guests to come, confirm 25." And in order to confirm 25, you may need to invite 30 or more to account for folks who will RSVP in the negative.
Follow up: Ask your guests to RSVP by a certain date, and if there are any guests who haven't responded, call them to follow up, Shriftman instructs. Often a personal phone call can turn a "maybe" into a "definitely."
Winning decor: The Oscars provide a ready movie motif, so use that in your decor. You can do something as simple as placing fake Oscar statuettes around or serving snacks out of a film canister. Or line trays with the Oscar image or stills from nominated movies.
Create comfort: Since the awards ceremony is a long haul, it's imperative to make your living room as comfortable as possible, says Shriftman. Rearrange your furniture into what she calls "lounge-like vignettes" to create a cozier atmosphere. Provide floor cushions or drag in soft chairs from other parts of the house if you need additional seating. Also, Shriftman suggests dimming your lights or changing to amber or peach bulbs.
Provide an alternate viewing area: There are always two kinds of viewers, the die-hards, who are glued to the telecast even during the Sound Editing awards, and the more casual watchers, who attend mainly to socialize. If you can, set up two TVs to satisfy both types.
Make your guests the stars: For the parties she hosts professionally, Shriftman always offers gift bags as a memento of the event. It's not necessary to do so for a home-based party, but consider offering a movie-themed prize for the guest who predicts the most winners (hand out a ballot at the beginning of the night). You can also add an element of the paparazzi to the party (the nice kind only!) by taking Polaroids of your guests as they arrive.
Food and Drink
Make it mini: Bite-size is best, says Shriftman, as it allows for easier conversation and cuts down on silverware, which means less clean up.
Offer a good mix: For a smaller party, Shriftman suggests a combination of three salty and three sweet food offerings, plus bowls of nuts, candies, and dried fruit for snacking. Also, make sure your food can withstand sitting out. Sushi is bite-sized and delicious, but it's not something that has staying power for a four-hour-plus event.
Order out: Instead of making pizza, Shriftman orders it from a parlor serving gourmet or artisan pies. To ensure freshness, she orders a pie every hour on the hour, and asks the restaurant to cut it into squares.
Create a dining destination: Shriftman doesn't usually like buffets-however, she concedes they do work well for smaller, home-based parties. Set up your offerings on a table away from the heart of the action, like a corner of your living room or in the kitchen. This way, the mess of the food stays in one area, and eating becomes a respite when guests need a break from the duller portions of the telecast.
Always have a dessert table: Entice your guests with a variety of sweet offerings grouped nicely on a small table to be eaten at their leisure. You can even work this into your decor by naming different tables for nominees.
Concoct a signature cocktail: Shriftman suggests serving a special cocktail, such as a Champagne punch (like the Crimson Champagne Cocktail she served for one of Paris Hilton's party), and giving it an appropriate name (go for something goofy like a "Startini," or riff on one of the nominated movies-No Country Cosmo, anyone?). Not only does this keep your liquor costs down, it also helps to "brand" your party.
Outfit a simple bar: In general, beer, red and white wines, Champagne , and one cocktail will be enough to satiate your guests. Ice, lemons, and limes are other musts. And don't forget the designated drivers (or pregnant women or anyone else who might be sober). Always, always provide water, Shriftman says, plus lemonade or iced tea-even drinkers need a break.
Consider renting: If you don't have a surfeit of glassware, rent it, says Shriftman. It's cheaper than you think, plus, you won't have to wash it at the end of the night.
Set up early: Decorate and arrange your furniture the morning of the party, or better yet, the night before. Get yourself ready two hours before your guests are scheduled to arrive, Shriftman says. You'll be calmer and ready to party when they do.
Do a double-check: Make sure you haven't forgotten any of the important items far enough in advance that you can make any last-minute runs to the store if necessary. And, Shriftman says, don't forget to check your television! Fix any speakers or wires that require attending to.
Meet and greet: Shriftman likes to set her party time one hour before the telecast begins. Welcome your guests with a cocktail or Champagne , and enjoy mingling before the show starts.
By Jolène M. Bouchon
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