Follow these hassle-free tips to impress your guests—and you might even enjoy yourself, too.
By: Adam Erace, James Gaddy, Nojan Aminosharei, and Bret Begun, Photographs by Jeremy Liebman
HAVE IT DELIVERED
Since when did throwing a party imply that you had to do everything yourself? Sometimes, being a good, attentive host means not worrying about optimal paprika placement on your deviled eggs. This summer, outsource your operation to professionals who will make your life easier, whether you’re hosting a cochon de lait in the Carolinas or a clambake at your house in the Hamptons.
Pick a plot of sand and Long Island Chowda Co. (pictured, above) does the rest: personalized lobster bibs, cauldrons of chowder, grilled skirt steaks, and local fruit pies. Then there’s the clambake.
Starting at $5,995 for 60 people; lichowda.com
Douglas Coffin’s Big Green Truck Pizza will park at your Connecticut doorstep in a 1940s International Harvester KB-5 with a 750-degree wood-fired oven inside. The pies come with salad, gelato, and coffee.
Starting at $1,200; biggreentruckpizza.com
Seven options—like chili-garlic-marinated chicken—fill the soft tacos at Peached Tortilla, an Austin food truck. Owner Eric Silverstein will build a custom menu with kimchi arancini and bacon-jam fried rice.
Starting at $800 for 35 people; thepeachedtortilla.com
Poi Dog’s Hawaiian feasts include bigeye poke, kalua pork, coconut mochi—and a hula lesson, if you want to fly in co-owner Kiki Aranita’s aunt from Oahu.
$200 per person ($3,000 for airfare); poidogphilly.com
Panzanella salad with heirloom tomatoes, anyone? When fashion-industry favorite Poppy’s does a picnic, the menu echoes Brooklyn’s best restaurants.
Starting at $1,000 for a group of 20; poppyscatering.com
Pastrami sandwiches and chocolate babka are just two of the options when San Francisco’s Wise Sons Deli comes over for brunch.
Starting at $35 per person; wisesonsdeli.com
Jim ‘N Nick’s, a small chain of barbecue joints across the South, will roll over in one of its “BBQ rigs”—mobile smoker, ready-to-roast hog, and sides in tow.
$30 per person; jimnnicks.com
In-N-Out will bring those double-double Animal Styles to you (if you live in L.A. or Dallas–Fort Worth) in a “cookout trailer.”
Starting at $1,400; in-n-out.com
MAIL-ORDER—IF YOU MUST MAN THE GRILL
Don’t want to leave it to the pros? These high-end purveyors ship nationwide. LaFrieda Meats’ sampler ($99) includes one 2-inch-thick, 32-ounce prime bone-in rib steak for two, four 6-ounce Original Blend Burger patties, one and a half pounds of Grandpa’s Sweet Italian Sausage, and one pound of Pat LaFrieda Hot Dogs. If you’re more surf than turf, try the XL Alaska Seafood Feast ($330) from Captain Jack’s Seafood Locker, which delivers a sustainably harvested trove of sockeye salmon, halibut, scallops, and red-king-crab legs.
INVOLVE EVERYONE EARLY ON
"I love starting with oysters and bubbles," says Ignacio Mattos, co-owner/chef of New York City’s hot downtown restaurant Estela. And yes, let your guests do the shucking: "It helps if someone is around and they’re good at it. Everyone feels like they’re participating." He recommends Island Creek oysters (with variations on a mignonette, like one made with Meyer lemons) and three options for bubbly: German Gilabert Cava Brut Nature Reserva, Alexandre Monmousseau Vouvray "Ammonite," and J. Lassalle Préférence Brut champagne.
LET THERE BE (THE RIGHT) LIGHT
"To make something sexy, darkness is definitely involved," says Ann Kale, lighting designer for Per Se in New York City. "It’s every bit as important as the light." Here’s how Kale strikes the perfect balance:
A / Play With Fire
"The best source of ambient light is candles—any kind. Everyone looks good under candlelight."
B / Embrace the Dimmer
"It’s crucial. Think of it as the lighting equivalent of the volume control for your stereo. Lighting is sensual, just the way music is."
C / Know Your LEDs
There’s cool white, warm white, and daylight—don’t choose daylight, she says. “At night it looks blue, and when you dim it, it goes dingy. Always go for warm white any time you’re creating a sexy atmosphere.” The optimal bulb is 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin.
HIRE A SKILLED BARTENDER
He doesn’t have to have a waxed mustache, but neither should you seek help at the same place you rent party tables. Just hit a bar that serves drinks you like and assess the talent there. “Then go to the head bartender or GM and tell him you want so-and-so person” to work your party, says David Kaplan, co-owner of New York’s Death & Co. and Honeycut in L.A. But if you insist on making your own drinks, leave your copper-press ice-ball-maker alone and keep it simple: Theo Lieberman, head bartender at Milk & Honey in New York, suggests the versatile Gold Rush (below).
THE GOLD RUSH: Pour into a shaker filled with ice, shake, and strain into a Collins glass over rocks.
Switch out bourbon for gin and it’s a Bee’s Knees; swap bourbon for rum and lemon for lime, serve it up in a coupe, and it’s a Honeysuckle.
BUY IN BULK
How much wine to buy depends on whether you’re also serving beer and liquor, how long your party will last—and how drunk your friends get. If there’s other alcohol available, plan for two people per bottle, says Eric Lippert, GM of Bin22, a wine bar/restaurant/store in Jackson, Wyoming. Lippert’s colleague Neil Loomis says “bump it up” if you’re serving only wine: “I like to have a bottle per person. You’re not going to run out.” At right, his ideas for good summer bulk buys (Bin22 ships nationally).
CHATEAU RIOTOR ROSÉ
KING ESTATE PINOT GRIS
GUIGAL CÔTES DU RHÔNE
More Than $20:
WHISPERING ANGEL ROSÉ
CRAGGY RANGE SAUVIGNON BLANC
DECOY PINOT NOIR
SCREEN A GEM
It might seem rude to power on a TV at a party, but movies (on mute) can be a conversation starter. The 46-inch SunBrite ($2,895) is made for outdoor entertaining. It can handle temperatures up to 122 degrees, and its powder-coated aluminum casing protects against rain, humidity, salt, dust, and greasy fingers. The screen is glare-free, too—perfect for showing films like Giant, Endless Summer, Rad, and, if your guests have a sense of humor, Jaws.
Don’t redecorate—just move things out of the way, says Rafael de Cárdenas, whose firm, Architecture at Large, has designed interiors for Barneys and Nordstrom. He’s inspired by the dinner party that Nilufar Gallery’s Nina Yashar hosts during the Milan Furniture Fair: “She pushes her furniture to the edge of the room, so each wall is lined with sofas, benches, or chairs. Everything in the middle is open. It’s like a high-school dance.”
FORGET THE B-SIDES . . .
Gregg Gillis, a.k.a. Girl Talk, the master of the mash-up, says, “The most powerful tool can be that Top 40 or hit track everyone forgot about.” His daytime chill-out playlist includes:
… THEN GET FUNKY
"When you’re DJ’ing, there are two lanes to pick: Please the crowd, or direct the crowd," says George Lewis Jr., whose third album under the moniker Twin Shadow comes out this fall. "I start with disco—it’s like a cup of warm soup. If you play Disclosure, people just go crazy. Sometimes, when I’m DJ’ing with my friend, we’ll throw on Prodigy to see what happens. That’s either a huge failure or a huge success. Play Migos’ ‘Versace’ at the end of a party. The whole floor can feel like it’s about to cave in."
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