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Holiday Party Planning: Delaware Experts Share Tips

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Holiday party planning is not for the faint of heart. There are several factors to consider when planning a party during the holidays, not to mention the craziness that accompanies that time of year. But according to the experts, the payoff is worth it.

“The party planning business is not for everyone,” says Michelle Goad of the Christiana Hilton in Newark. “It sounds like a glamorous job, but the reality is that every customer’s expectation is different.

“Most customers have a vision about what they want their event to look like, but very few have experience communicating it. Party planning requires asking question after question to peel back the layers about what that particular group wants.”

Gianmarco Martuscelli of the Chesapeake Inn in Chesapeake City, Md., agrees. “A hard part of party planning is the menu selection, because so many people have food allergies,” he says. “That is just one thing to consider. Another is being flexible. In today’s economy, it can be tough to work with people’s budgets to make their event special and unique.”

“Know your audience,” Goad says. “Review your guest list and take time to understand what your partygoers think a fantastic event would look like. Ask people you trust what they liked and disliked about events that have been held in the past. Create a small committee and taste the food options before making a decision. It gets creative juices flowing and makes the end result much better.” Try to strike the balance between offering people with conservative tastes a great experience while incorporating a few unique offerings for adventurous guests, she says. And find a way to make the event interactive. “Instead of doing a conventional sit-down dinner, consider a food station approach. Perhaps having some items served family-style will encourage more people to strike up conversation. Don’t serve the dessert course. Use this course as an opportunity to get people up and moving around. It makes dinner service quicker, and it gets people socializing.”

Dominick Serpe of Serpe & Sons Bakery in Elsmere says the most difficult part of party planning is the guest list. “I think the hardest part is deciding how many people you will invite,” he says. “You run the risk of upsetting certain individuals by not inviting them, but you also have to think about your budget.”

There are, however, several benefits to planning a successful party. “What I love about party planning is the point early in the process when you are thinking about the food and wine menu,” says Denise McMillan of the Chaddsford Winery in Chadds Ford, Pa. “The possibilities are wide open. I also love pairing the wines with the food and hoping your guests will love everything you have planned.”

Serpe enjoys being part of the planning process. “I like helping people make decisions about different products,” he says.

“The best part is having the customer email you afterwards or see you at a later date and tell you how their guests are still complimenting them on such a great job they did,” Martuscelli says. “It’s really special.”

Goad’s favorite part is how tangible the results of a good party are. “The greatest part about party planning is that you see the end result,” she says. “There aren’t many professions that give you the fruits of your labor so many times through the course of the year. It is immensely satisfying to deliver an event that leaves the customer speechless initially, and then turns him or her into your best possible salesperson in the community, because he or she can’t stop talking about the experience.”

Sinatra singer Sean Reilly enjoys being  an essential part  of a party.Sean Reilly, a Frank Sinatra singer, also enjoys the fruits of party planning. “The fun part is people walking up to me, getting very close and seeing that I am indeed singing and not lip syncing,” he says. “But the very best party is getting compliments on my singing and watching people dance to my music. I love completing an event and knowing that I was an important part of the party. It’s great.”

“Planning a party is always fun,” says Barbara Scotto of Tutto Fresco in Wilmington. “Picking the food, planning the seating arrangement, setting up the room, we love each step. The most rewarding part is making our guests happy.”

There are several do’s and don’ts when it comes to party planning. “Start early,” Goad says. “Spend some time listing out what a successful event looks like in your mind, and go from there.”

“Do plan a signature wine cocktail for your party.” McMillan says. “Your guests will remember you planned something special for them. Also, plan to have a variety of wines on hand so you have something for everyone’s taste. Do mingle with your guests, and don’t stress out!”

“Always pay attention to details,” says Scotto. “Don’t leave any details to other people. Always know what you want.”

Serpe says that a big do is to have small parties. “Don’t, however, cut back on varieties of foods,” he says. “People will not be satisfied.” He adds that party planners should contact the experts for feedback. “Call professional people to help answer questions before making your decisions,” he says. “You’ll be glad you did.”

Martuscelli has some tips for partygoers. “Always show up to a party if you RSVP yes,” he says. “Guest counts are never accurate, because several people tend to not show up at the last minute and the host is left with the tab. It can be frustrating.”

There are several trends emerging as 2013 nears. “One of the trends we see is wine cocktails.” McMillan says. “It’s fun to mix wines with sodas, juices and other spirits, and to garnish with fresh fruits, herbs and spices.”

Serpe says people are having smaller parties, simply because of the economic conditions. “It’s still tough out there,” he says.

“Unique beverage offerings will continue to be hot through 2013.” Goad says. “Hand-crafted cocktails using fresh ingredients are an art-form. Working live entertainment into events is making a huge comeback. Incorporating action into food stations and table service is also really getting more creative. Developing new, fresh approaches to the taste and presentation of comfort foods is also really catching on. Lastly, smaller portions of food, paired with beverages to complement them, is a great trend to see.”

Scotto says that 2013 looks like it’ll be a great year for parties. “A trend for 2013 is people are becoming more creative,” she says. “They are including things like ornate party favors, table decorations and cookies. We’re looking forward to big things in the coming year.”