Perfect Parties: Recipes and Tips from a New York Party Planner


INVITING PEOPLE INTO your home for a party is an intimate gesture. Suddenly you’re exposed: everything from your cooking to your wallpaper is out in the open, and you immediately begin to worry if people are going to have fun, whether they’ll like the soup, or whether they’ll ask for vodka when you only have wine. Suddenly the decision to throw a party has become a stressor when it should be a joy.

But the people you’ve invited haven’t come to critique you; they’ve come to learn more about you. So throwing a great party is really just a matter of demonstrating a little about who you are through the food, drinks, decoration, and music you select.

For me, in the restaurant world, every event is about proper planning. But for a party in your home, the key is to both plan well and to allow for a little improvisation. That’s when the magic happens. People today don’t expect to sit down and be served. People want to participate. When my grandmother threw a party, she worked in the kitchen all evening and sat down with her guests only over coffee. People get very uncomfortable that way today. A party where the host or hostess mingles and introduces people and is full of energy is more interesting and more fun for everyone.

We are as different as the parties we throw, and what I love about Perfect Parties is that it gives you such a variety, and offers them in a dazzling display of visual creativity. Linnea covers everything from recipes to themes to flowers to place settings. She even touches on clothing to wear at your parties. Throwing a party is a way to express yourself; Linnea’s gift to her readers is that she can inspire you with possibilities.

Everything in this book is based on classic party ideas. But Linnea adds her own creative twists which will wow your guests without overwhelming them. She makes hamburgers out of foie gras. They come with French fries, too, served with wasabi mustard and curry ketchup. She bakes cupcakes for dessert but adds chocolate truffles. She recommends mixed fruit for brunch, but grilled and on a skewer. With Linnea, tired ideas become new again, so you can still have your traditional brunch or barbeque, infused with imagination and flair.

Linnea and I have been working (and partying) in New York for many years. It is a wonderful place because there are so many different people from so many different cultures. You’ll never be short on good party ideas here. But the biggest challenge for a New Yorker planning a party at home is that space is limited, especially kitchen space. Don’t let that prevent you from throwing a great party. Linnea has some great ideas on how to work with what you have.

Perfect Parties is a wonderful book that can add some celebrity glamour to your everyday life. Linnea has been inspired by her many famous clients over the years. Now, it’s her turn to inspire you. Read this book, and get ready to throw a perfect party.


Turning Central Park Zoo into a lavish party venue is no easy task. For me, it was one of the most challenging events I have ever pulled together as a New York party planner. With more than four thousand invitations sent out, this party had to be impressive—and impressive it was.

The penguin house was turned into a caviar bar, the polar bear den into a sushi station, and the sea lion cave into a concert hall, complete with an opera singer. But that’s not all. More than a thousand colorful silk pillows were designed and made specifically for the occasion to add comfort and warmth to the otherwise bare park benches while pink Chinese lanterns dangled from trees throughout the zoo, spreading a romantic glow for all to see. It was as surreal as a scene from a Tim Burton movie—it took your breath away.

Parties of this magnitude can give even the most experienced party planner nightmares. No matter how hard one may try to throw the perfect” party there is always something that may go awry. The truth is, there really is no such thing as the perfect party—and that’s OK. Even great parties have their snags, and despite a few inconveniences,” my party at the zoo was a success, so much so that it ended up being nominated as one of the best that year.


WHETHER your guest list includes three or three thousand, the process is always the same when planning a party, and it starts with creative planning. Where will the party take place? What is your décor going to look like? What type of drinks will be served? The answer to these questions, and many others, will help you decide the concept and theme for any type of party and are the focus of creative planning. As a rule of thumb, for normal-sized events with 3-25 invited guests, you’ll want to start this process at least four weeks in advance. If the party will be a larger event, you’ll need to start your creative planning earlier.

Just remember, the goal of any planner should always be to plan a party that can be enjoyed by you and your guests where, for a few hours, you can hang out and experience something out of the ordinary together. Sound difficult? It’s not. Ask yourself these eight simple questions the next time you want to throw a party and you’ll be amazed at how simple it really is!

First, start with the most important question:


Maybe you got a new job and want to get to know your co-workers better. Perhaps you recently started your own business and could use a write up in the local paper. Whatever the occasion, the reason why you are throwing a party is one of the most important questions there is to ask because it decides how your party will evolve. And because every event is different, it’s no surprise that each aspect of planning can differ as well. For example, an event thrown with a specific goal in mind, like getting publicity or raising money for a good cause, differs from parties thrown just for fun. In this case, the guest lists for both events will be very different. This book focuses primarily on throwing parties for friends and family.

Don’t be bashful.

Bored with nothing to do? Don’t just sit around and wait for a birthday or wedding announcement. There are plenty of other reasons you can plan a celebration. Look around and you will find tons of reasons to throw a party to make your everyday life a little bit more fun, a little bit more often.

– You want to celebrate the end of winter and beginning of spring. Buy flowerpots, dirt, and seeds and throw a gardening party to usher in a new season of new growth! (Spring officially starts close to March 21 each year.)

– You’re sick of the cold and dark winter, but it’s February. Cheer up! February is also the month when Carnival kicks off in Rio. Play samba music, pass around spicy hors d’oeuvres and kick up the heat to fight off the chill of the weather outside.

– You’ve subscribed to a food magazine for over a year now. Isn’t it time to try out your impressive new culinary skills on your closest friends? Invite them to a three-course dinner and wow them with your mastery in the kitchen.

– It’s fall, and your front yard is a mess! Invite your friends over for some apple picking and leaf raking, then return the favor with a delicious fall-themed brunch.

Party for PR

In cities like New York City and Los Angeles, companies often throw extraordinary parties to get valuable media exposure and million-dollar budgets aren’t unheard of—good PR is priceless! Do you run your own company, or are you devoted to a nonprofit organization that could really use some press coverage? Invite local media reps from the paper, TV, or high-traffic blogs to a press breakfast, tea party, or whatever kind of function you find suitable. You’ll have a great opportunity to talk about your business or organization and the press, in return, will be able to ask questions and spread the word. Always have a theme for an event like this Always have a theme for an event like this and announce it on the invitation. For example, fall’s new flower trends will be shown and explained in your flower shop, or a club’s new soccer coach will be introduced. Keep the gathering short and preferably during the week. This way, writers and journalists get as much time as possible to work on a piece before deadline. The event should be held in a public space, not in your own home. Most importantly, you’ll want to let friends and family know that this is a business event— professionals only on the guest list!


When it comes to choosing the type of party you want to throw, the options are endless. With any type, however, you’ll want to avoid making your party more ambitious than your schedule allows. It should be fun to plan, not another stressful task on your already packed “to-do” list. Remember, there are always great short cuts you can use. Having difficulties fitting in that three-course dinner between work, yoga, and your weekly pottery class? There’s no need to abandon your idea altogether. Instead of stressing over a lavish meal, try buying some marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars and invite your guests to a s’mores BBQ. It may not be dinner, but it’s bound to be a whole lot of fun!


Now that you’ve chosen a reason to plan a party and what type of party you want to throw, whom will you invite? The guest list of any party will vary based on your answers to the previous questions, so try to go in order! Deciding how many guests you want to invite in the early stages of planning allows you to easily plan the party’s budget, choose the venue, and decided the food and drink menus. Diversity is great, especially when it comes to party guests, so be sure to always invite a mix of old and new faces for a dynamic and fun event. The smaller the engagement, the more time and thought it takes to achieve the right mix of guests. For a press event, you might want to kindly turn away friends and family so you can focus on the task at hand. Charity functions, on the other hand, are the perfect occasion to invite your friends—especially if they have a little extra cash.


Be open-minded while deciding when the party will take place—there’s no rule saying it has to be at night. It’s just as nice to meet and greet in the middle of the day as it is after dark. Party timing is very important as it affects the type of food you are expected to serve. If you don’t have the time or budget to cook lots of food, it’s perfect to throw a late-night cocktail party. Guests will have eaten before they arrive, and you can simply serve canapés that look luxurious but are simple to make and friendly to your wallet. To avoid awkward misunderstandings or starving guests, give a hint on the invitation as to what will be served. For example, Canapé and Cocktails, Dessert Buffet, Wine & Finger Foods…and so on.


It’s easy to get carried away when it comes to party expenses, but you won’t enjoy yourself much if you end up eating mac and cheese for weeks in advance, just to compensate for overspending on Champagne and caviar. Therefore, make a budget before you proceed with your party plans by writing down how much you want to spend, then add 10% as an emergency buffer for unexpected costs. Figuring out your budget early will leave plenty of time to call different stores to compare prices, and can truly make a difference when it comes to your total cost. Another cost-saving technique any party planner learns to use is the “DIY” approach. For example, if you’re good at creating flower arrangements, why not make your own? If so, use most of the décor budget on fresh flowers and greenery. Are you an amazing cook? Spend most of your money on food, and so on. If you are a notorious overspender, withdraw your budgeted amount and keep the money in an envelope, paying all your expenses in cash. When the envelope is empty you’re done shopping, even if things are missing. That’s the law! (Hint: always start with the most important things first.)


An important aspect of any party that can affect how much time and effort you have to put into your party preparations is the venue you choose. When it comes to planning, there are three major types of location: your home, a restaurant/catering hall, and raw-venues, all of which have their pros and cons. Restaurants are practical venue options but they are easily over-priced and it can be difficult to maintain the atmosphere you’re going for with restaurant patrons in the mix. Raw-venues are even more expensive since you have to arrange everything from furniture and decorations to lighting and food, which means you’ll be putting a lot more time and planning into the event. The upside of any raw-venue, however, is that it allows you to create exactly the atmosphere you want. Outdoor spaces are another type of raw-venue that can prove to be amazing—if the weather is on your side. In the unfortunate event the weather is poor; however, you’re in a bind. Most times, you will find the best venue for a party is in the comfort of your own home. There’s no rental fee, you can fit more guests than you think, the furniture and kitchen are in place, and you can easily create a new mood with the right lighting and decorations.


Now that you’ve answered the previous questions, it’s time to decide what type of food and beverages you’d like to serve at the upcoming party. Determining the menu for a party should be no more stressful than any other aspect of party planning, so keep your dishes simple, and make sure most items on the menu can be prepared in advance. This way you’re not stuck in the kitchen all evening and you can mingle with your guests, as a host should!


What makes any run-of-the-mill party go from simple to extraordinary? A theme! Even with the same menu, guest list, and budget of another party, a theme will help you create a unique experience so memorable that your guests will talk about it for weeks. So what kinds of themes are there? They can be as simple as a color theme,piña coladas, and all. Planning with a theme in mind not only adds a twist that makes your party special, but it also helps provide inspiration. No matter what your theme, it should be reflected in everything you do, from the invitation design to the dessert choice.

What to Eat When?

Among the many things there are for the perfect party host to know, one is that certain foods should only be served at certain hours—so memorize the information below. The chart’s time intervals indicate between which hours the party should start:

9–11 AM: Breakfast

11 AM–1 PM: Lunch/Brunch

2–4 PM: Tea party

5–9 PM: Cocktail party

6–9 PM: Dinner/Buffet

or a more advanced theme where you transform your home into a tropical oasis—cabanas,



answered all eight questions in the creative planning phase, you now have a great party concept. Now it’s time for the next step in the process: practical planning. During this phase, you’ll take all your great ideas and make them a reality. Everything from making the invitations and sending them out on time, to calculating when the rice goes on the stove so it’s ready at the same time as the chicken entree. The more exact you are with your practical planning, the smoother your party will run and the more time you’ll have to enjoy yourself. As with creative planning, it’s best to start with practical planning approximately four weeks before your event. Use this “slacker’s guide,” or cheat sheet, to avoid forgetting any important details or loose ends.

First aid for an event planner is a toolbox overflowing with gear such as staple and glue guns, tape measures, adhesive tape, Band-Aids, and other indispensable equipment.

Slacker’s Party Guide

Use this slacker’s guide to help plan a party in your own home. If it’s a truly grand occasion, like a wedding or a family reunion, keep in mind that you’ll need much more than four weeks to prep for the celebration. Every party is different, so use this guide only as a model, then mold it to fit your specific needs


4 weeks before

– Decide on a theme.- Pick your venue

– Measure the space where your event will be held.

– Draw a floor plan and make sure all your party décor fits.

– Design the invitations.

– Create a budget.

3 weeks before

– Send out the invitations.

– Decide on menu and beverages.

– Make a shopping list with approximated costs and compare it with your budget.

2 weeks before

– Plan the décor in detail and where you can find needed materials.

– Approximate your décor costs. Compare with budget.

1 week before

– Verify your RSVP list. Call or send emails to guests you haven’t heard from.

– Buy beverages and decorations, except flowers and other perishables.

– Call your florist. Make sure what you need is in stock or can be ordered.

– Borrow or rent extra equipment like chairs, tables, and china if needed.

2 days before

– Make a “service schedule.” Write down your exact plan for the event and be as precise as possible. For example, which food and drinks are you going to serve, and at what hour? The schedule will help you find things you might have forgotten about and make your party run smoothly.

– Purchase the food.

– Double-check your shopping lists and make sure that you have everything you need.

– Decide what to wear to avoid last minute fashion stress.

The day before

– If you are having a seated dinner, make your seating arrangements. Don’t make it sooner since last minute changes and cancellations are common.

– Pick up the flowers if you are creating your own flower arrangements.

– Prepare all décor, except flower arrangements.

– Set the tables and make sure everything fits.

– Set up the bar(s).

– Prepare as much of the food as possible.

The day of the party!

– Create the flower arrangements in the morning.

– Buy ice.

– Get some good music going and cook the rest of your food.

– Chill the bottled beverages that are supposed to be served cold. It takes about 30 minutes for a 25 oz. bottle of wine to cool down in an ice bath.

– Get dressed and have all preparations done except last minute food one hour prior to your party. Make all final preparations, sip on a drink, and double-check everything—twice if it will make you feel better.

– Welcome your guests and let the party begin!

Budget Tips

Having trouble making ends meet with the budget? Here are some great cost-cutting ideas to use when planning your next party:

– At larger events, the best way to save money is to cut down on the alcohol. Don’t bother with a full bar, simply serve a few of your favorite cocktails mixed in bulk.

– At smaller gatherings where you plan on serving a full meal, such as a dinner or a buffet, decrease the number of guests invited.

– Can’t afford dinner? Have a function where you just serve dessert and cocktails.

– Share the responsibilities and the budget for a party by planning and hosting with one or two friends.

– Do you want to invite lots of guests, but save on food expenses?

Send out two different invitations. One dinner invite for a select number of guests, and a larger invite for a cocktail gathering that starts when dinner has ended.

Save Halloween

It’s a fact: holidays like Halloween and the 4th of July occur each and every year. To save cash, plan them one year ahead and bargain-hunt tablecloths, china, hats, and other accessories for half the price, just when the current season is over.

Balance Your Budget

Divide your budget into separate expense groups, and write down different costs under its corresponding


group. When done, add all your costs together and there it is: your budget.

Invitations: Cards, envelopes, pencils, and other supplies needed for your invitations. Don’t forget to include postage.

Food: Everything edible that is served at the party.

Beverages: Everything drinkable, and everything you need when garnishing your cocktails (lime wedges, straws, etc.).

Décor: Candles, flowers, light bulbs, tablecloths, table seating cards, napkin rings, fabrics, napkins—in short, anything and everything used to decorate the event.

Entertainment: Music, the fee for your favorite local rock band, a belly dancer, a DJ, the DVD for movie night, games for board game night, rented speakers, and so on.

Other Expenses: Venue fees, rented china, glasses, tables and chairs, wait staff, photographer fees, cleaning products, extra toiletries, and other costs that pop up and don’t fit under any of the other expense categories.

10% Buffer: The unexpected does happen, especially when planning a party. Be prepared by adding up all of your costs and adding 10 percent to your budget to use as a buffer for last-minute expenses.

Planning is key to a successful party. Get a big folder out, and start collecting all your information and facts for the event; the budget, telephone numbers, sketches of your decorations, ideas for the menus, and shopping lists.


As a professional event planner, you meet a lot of celebrities and over the years I’ve learned that they all have very different preferences. Donald Trump doesn’t drink alcohol but loves Swedish meatballs. Nelson Mandela likes spicy food, while Salma Hayek detests curry. In hindsight, some encounters have been more pleasant than others. At one party I inadvert ently bumped into Woody Allen so hard that he ended up crumpled on the floor, and at a fashion event I lost my assistant when Justin Timberlake hired him as his new background dancer on the spot—just more evidence that no matter how much you plan, anything—and I mean anything—can happen.

With any well-planned event, it’s important to remember that different types of parties call for different types of guests. For instance, when organizing a gala or launch party, it’s crucial to get interesting or well-known guests to attend since companies spend a lot of money on those types of events, sometimes even millions of dollars.

Because celebrities may get invited to several parties a day, you’ll want to create an invitation that stands out from all the rest in order to get their attention. Gift bags never hurt either. Once I sent out one pearl earring as part of the invitation; the matching earring was given to the guests as they arrived at the party. I’ve also delivered flowers with invitations in the bouquet, praline boxes with party essentials written on the bonbons, and I’ve even sent people off to the tailor where they’ve had their measurements taken for a free custom-made shirt scheduled to arrive after the event. Perhaps the most expensive gift bag I’ve ever handed out, however, was a specially-designed Burberry bag that contained luxurious products worth tens of thousands of dollars.


YOU CAN COOK a buffet with the most sensational of flavors and transform your living room into a lavish oasis, but no matter what, it is still the guests that set the tone of your party. Always follow the “golden rule” of party planning and invite a mix of old and new faces to make things more interesting for you and your guests. Let’s be honest—everyone appreciates an invitation to a party! So although it may feel a bit uncomfortable inviting people you aren’t best buds with at first, it’s worth mustering up the courage for. When it comes time for the party, you’ll quickly see how a dynamic group of guests will create new friendships, inspire interesting conversations, and offer

great networking opportunities for your guests. There are, however, exceptions to the golden rule. If you’re planning a more intimate event such as your friends’ bridal shower, for instance, you’d only want to invite close friends and familiar faces.

Party Memories

Create a fun party memento by leaving a guest book on the table at your next event and ask your friends to write something down before they leave; you’re bound to receive plenty of great feedback!. As an added bonus, keep a Polaroid camera next to the book so guests can take their pictures as well. Attach the pictures in the book or give them as gifts to your guests as souvenirs.

What should I do if someone calls last minute and asks to bring extra guests?

As the saying goes, “the more the merrier,” and in most cases that absolutely holds true when having a party—but it’s also OK to say no. A seated dinner with extra guests might, for example, require major rearrangements or a higher budget in order to buy more food. One option to avoid stressful, last-minute changes is to invite the extra guests to join you for dessert or after dinner cocktails. In the event you do allow for extra guests, be prepared! Always have extra bread, cheese, snacks, and dip for your buffet or cocktail party. As a rule of thumb, keep in mind that most people prefer to RSVP + 1.

Do I really have to invite all my relatives to important occasions like birthdays or weddings?

Not really, but always be cautious when it comes to family. You can easily hurt someone’s feelings if you invite just a few of your relatives and leave others out.

Can I pull back invitations that have already been sent out when I realize I’ve invited too many people?

No, but you can save face gracefully if someone RSVPs last minute or after the set date. Tell them that you are sad to have to inform them that the response has been greater than you expected and that the guest list has already been filled up. If everyone RSVPs on time you have to bite the bullet.

What should I do if a guest doesnt follow the dress code written on the invitation?

Don’t judge a book by its cover (especially not this one). If you really want everyone to follow a specific dress code, such as for a theme party, stock up on extra masks, flowers, and other suitable props so you’re well prepared when guests show up and haven’t dressed the part.

If I write an RSVP date on the invitation, can I expect everyone to reply, even the ones that can t attend?

Of course! As a host, if you’ve taken the time to invite someone, that person can take the time to get back to you—even if he or she can’t make it. If you haven’t

heard from people a week before your party, go ahead and call or email to ask if they received their invitation, and confirm if they plan to attend or not.

My feet hurt and its getting late. How do I get my guests to leave?

Set up a small coffee bar for your late-nighters. The same way coffee after a meal signals that dinner is over, this gesture hints that the party will soon come to an end. If this doesn’t work, try slowly turning down the music and even discreetly switching on a few lights in the room. Whatever you do, don’t start cleaning until all your guests have left. Another foolproof way to avoid lingering guests is to state the hours of your party on the invitation. This is especially recommended for daytime or early evening affairs.


ONCE YOU’VE SETTLED on what old and new faces you want to see at your party, it’s time to invite them. Put effort and thought into your invitation since it will be the guests’ first impression of your affair. Let the invitation design reflect your party’s theme and give a glimpse of the extraordinary party to come. Think of it as marketing.

An eye-catching invitation is the best way to ensure a great turnout at any celebration. Need help getting started? There are plenty of free online invitation services that offer an inexpensive and quick way to send out your invitations. It’s also convenient for you and your guests to RSVP via email as you can easily tally up how many guests have agreed to attend and how many have declined. An extra treat is that the guests can keep in touch online, and you can send out reminders as the big day (or night) draws closer.

E-vites may be simple to create and manage, but nothing creates bigger buzz for an occasion than a traditional paper invitation. You’ll want to decide how important the invitation is for the party you are having and how much time and money you are prepared to spend on it. If you’re celebrating the season premiere of your favorite TV series, an email with a retouched picture of you, posing with your favorite star, should be enough. For a twentieth anniversary or other grand affair, a paper invitation is definitely more suitable. After all, it’s a big occasion, and a paper invite gives a more serious impression to guests. A third alternative is to call and invite your guests over the phone when throwing a smaller gathering. It’s less expensive than a paper invitation, it’s much more personal that an e-mail, and you’ll generally get a “yes” or a “no” while you’re on the phone!


THERE ARE TWO types of invitations — classic and creative. Go for a classic invitation when throwing a milestone event, like a baptism, wedding, or fiftieth anniversary. It may also be suitable for a glamorous themed party, like your own Oscar party or Nobel Prize banquet.

Because classic invitations suggest a grander event, the language on the card should be short and direct. Instead of writing out all of your punctuation, start new sentences on a new line. It’s a good idea to state the event’s attire, even if there isn’t one, just to avoid confusion and stress over what to wear. You can order custom-made classic invitations online, or in your local paper shop. When buying in a shop, you can ask for help to ensure you get the quality and design you like. If you are on a budget you can easily make your own beautiful knockoff classic invitations at home. Choose a paper of thicker quality—this will give a luxurious feel to your invite. Before starting with your self-made card design, head down to the paper store to get ideas and inspiration by looking through their books and selection.

SOURCE: Perfect Parties: Recipes and Tips from a New York Party Planner BY Linnea Johansson, Marcus Samuelsson