Tuesday, March 29, 2011

KC Taste Maker's Dinner

Below is an article written for the KC Star Magazine that tells a little about the dinner party we were so lucky to be a part of. The idea was to round up some taste makers of KC and host an intimate dinner where people could share ideas and their thoughts on trends in their field of profession. The result was a spectacular evening that the guests are still talking about! I will be posting pictures from the event soon, so be sure and check back for them!

I am a novice at real entertaining. I have the basic guidelines for a successful party down: keep drinks and music flowing, and most guests stay happy for several hours. But throwing an actual dinner party where insightful conversation and idea-making ensues? Well, that is a bird of a different feather.

Recently I had the honor of co-hosting such an event. Kelly LaPlante, the editorial director of Standard Magazine, approached me about having a Kansas City Taste Makers Dinner at my store, Urban Dwellings Design. Kelly and her crew are traveling the country and hitting up hip cities to discover what the movers and shakers are up to. K.C. was the second city (the first was L.A.) to make the cut for this intimate and interactive approach to a dinner party. The party was a smashing success, and here is what I learned along the way about making the evening especially memorable.

Carefully curate your guest list. Decide how many people you can manage to entertain, which in our case, was 20. Our focus (the theme of the party) was on taste makers, but we wanted a variety of creative professions represented. Guests at our dinner included writers, general contractors, chef/restaurant owners, stylists, boutique owners, social media/branding specialists and, of course, interior designers. Also, it was important that not everyone already knew each other, so guests could take away a few new friends after the evening. Most important, choose people that you think will have good synergy together.

Do pre-planning legwork. Our evening was catered, but finding out guests’ dietary needs in advance was helpful. If you will be preparing the food yourself, make sure it can all be made in advance so you’re not tied up in the kitchen as guests arrive. I have seen more than one host become bitter after slaving away and not getting to actually enjoy the party itself.

Set the mood. Admittedly, we have pretty good resources in the store for creating an inviting atmosphere. Our table was adorned with a row down the center comprised of an interesting mix of objects d’ art, bud vases with fresh flowers and tea lights. Make sure to dim the lights or only use lamp lights and candles. Bright or harsh overhead lighting is really just the pits for creating an intimate mood.

Play music. These days, creating a playlist on your iPod or selecting a swanky station on Pandora is easy, and greatly adds to the party atmosphere. We chose the Pink Martini station on Pandora for cocktail hour and then switched to Billie Holiday for dinner.

Use place cards. I once thought place cards were snobby. But in a situation like this it is helpful to position guests where you think they will be most comfortable but still have the chance to meet someone new.

Create a warm welcome. Try to greet each guest as they arrive and let them know how special it is to have them join you for the evening. Having pre-made drinks to hand out upon arrival is also nice. We had a warming urn full of a spiked apple cider that smelled and tasted delicious, and added a quick warm up to the cold night.

Consider conversation starters. For our Taste Maker Dinner, guests were asked to fill out cards on their trend predictions for 2011. After dinner, we would share our ideas at the table. This gave guests something to talk about and bond over the remainder of cocktail hour and into dinner. The concept can be adapted for a party at home by correlating it to the theme of the evening. A few of the noteworthy predictions from the taste makers:

“America will continue to produce artisan products. European-style butchery will continue to grow. Pigs, hogs, pork, bacon, fat!” Michael Smith, chef/owner of Michael Smith and Extra Virgin restaurants.

“Challenging economy + a desire to nest at home = SMALL LUXURIES. It’s the little things in life that matter MOST! (For example) A heartfelt hug when you walk in the door!” David Jimenez, vice president of store design for Hallmark Cards.

By combining basic party guidelines with thoughtful advance planning, you can create a great dinner party. But if you also engage your guests and open a forum for interesting thought and conversation, you will create a memorable and exciting experience for all involved.

By Jaclyn Joslin, Special to The Star

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