Planning a Party?

Something fun to share...

I was recently featured in Chicago's RedEye paper where I shared some tips on entertaining and parties. You can read it through THIS LINK or the entire article below (specifically, in the 'Make it Interactive' and Throw an Educational Party' sections). Before you know it, the holiday partying will be in full swing so keep some of these great tips in mind!

We came to party

Make your bash a hit by shaking things up

By Danielle Braff
For RedEye
Published October 11 2008

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's are just around the corner--and means one thing: The party season is nearly upon us.

But if you've burned a few too many brain cells while roasting in the sun this summer, we have a few reminders to help you make sure your bash is the best.

First off, even if you're super-excited to be throwing the first party of the season, don't go overboard and invite too many people. Everyone knows what it feels like to be packed onto an "L" train, and no one wants to revisit that feeling at a party, says Robyn Bruns, president of Red Letter Event Planning in Chicago.

Keep in mind the square footage of your home and the number of bathrooms before making up your guest list. If you really must invite everyone and his mother, make your party an open house so that your guests will be staggered, Bruns suggested.

And while it may be tempting at the moment to charge people to come to your parties, it's a major faux pas to ask people to pay up, says Debi Lilly, owner of A Perfect Event, an event planning company in Chicago. "When you're throwing a party, you are the hostess and you're inviting guests. So you'd never want to charge people to come to a party," Lilly said.

Besides, just because you can collect enough money to buy a keg doesn't mean you have a hot party on your hands. Instead, get creative with your party planning. RedEye collected tips from experienced party planners to help make your bash the talk of the town.

Pick a good theme
Theresa Winters, 27, and her roommate Nora Best, 28, say they are legendary in certain Chicago circles for their elaborate Logan Square house parties. Before each event, Best and Winters figure out a theme that they think will get guests excited.

"One of my best parties ever, which people still talk about, was in 2002," Winters said. "It was pirates versus dinosaurs. Random? Yes. Hilariously fun to throw? Of course."

Other themes they've tried: "Three's Company" ('70s-style dress), Roaring Twenties (men wear newsboy caps and women dress as flappers) and White Trash vs. Eurotrash (one guy came dressed in a white garbage bag).

When deciding on a theme, it's OK to think outside the box.

For instance--sure, summer and its beautiful weather have gone away. But that doesn't mean you have to resign yourself to sitting inside the house till April.

Libby Langdon, interior designer and commentator for HGTV's "Small Space, Big Style," suggests fall picnics--a little cooler, but still a lot of fun. Tell everyone to meet in an apple orchard, pumpkin patch or local park, Langdon said. Bring cider, Frisbees and extra sweaters.

Make sure your guests remember the theme and the party by giving them a party favor they can use and enjoy, said Susan Cordogan, owner of Big City Events Chicago.

Hand out pumpkin-scented candles, Cordogan said. Or, if you're hosting a bonfire, give guests a fleece blanket they can use at the party and then keep.

Be careful not to make the party too theme-oriented, however. A dress-up theme is always fun, Bruns said. But "paper leaves and tissue pumpkins are for grade school, and not for your chic party," she said.

There's a fine line between a fun theme and a cheesy party. So before sending out that Evite, think to yourself: Is this something that would have been good when I was in kindergarten? If so, go back to the drawing board.

Make it interactive
Your guests have probably been to hundreds--if not thousands--of parties where they stand around chugging beers and noshing on chips.

But Joan "Joelen" Tan said her meet-up group, What's Cookin' Chicago, always gets booked full whenever she schedules a food swap. Similar to a holiday cookie swap, Tan, an employee benefits consultant who lives in Rogers Park, takes it one step further by swapping throughout the year.

Successful parties have included brownie, cupcake, fudge and candy swaps, Tan said. But she added that there's no need to stop at food. Friends can share books, purses and accessories they no longer want.

Serve a signature drink
Every year, the folks at North Center eatery Sola offer The Great Pumpkin martini ($10), and it's a huge hit, said Carol Wallack, Sola's owner and executive chef.

To copy her recipe, Wallack said you can mix Stoli Vanilla vodka, pumpkin puree, cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger and nutmeg for a drink that tastes just like pumpkin pie with a vodka chaser.

If that sounds too complicated, simply serve a pumpkin-flavored ale, which can be found at World Market or at a liquor wholesaler.

Pick the perfect date
Three-day weekends, New Year's Eve and big holiday weekends may seem like the perfect time to throw a party, but, of course, those also are the dates when everyone already plans penciled into their calendars.

To make sure you get a full house, choose a date when everyone's sure to be free, said Best and Winters. They throw an annual "Eve of the Eve" party.

"No, it's not a reference to a Sapphic love affair between her and her two girl roommates, but rather references the fantastic party thrown on the eve of New Year's Eve," Winters said. "Picking the day before means everyone can come for the entire night."

Throw an educational party
Tan said her friends always enjoy themselves when she invites them over for a cooking demonstration. Since it's really expensive to host a party at a professional cooking class, Tan said she tackles a specific dish with her friends--so they teach each other and learn to cook together in a party setting.

"I purchase the tools and supplies we need so each person has their own prep station," she said. "After we enjoy all our creations, they get to keep the tools and supplies they used so they can continue making the recipes on their own."

Play dress-up
Even a party tied to a sporting event can be more extraordinary than ordinary if you put a little effort into it, said Tracey Stewart, who hosts Cubs and Bears parties in her Lakeview home.

"Color schemes to match your favorite team are a must," said Stewart, who insists that her guests dress as if they're actually going to a game instead of watching on her TV.

Stewart reminds hosts to keep the bar stocked. Hey, it never hurts to emphasize the basics. Danielle Braff is a RedEye special contributor.


  1. congrats..that is awesome!!!

  2. What a fun article - congratulations! I loved the sample theme ideas!

  3. Good for you! I would love to start up a cooking group like you've done. How did you even get started? It just sounds like so much fun.

  4. How cool! Look at you, getting all the press...soon you'll need a publicist :)

  5. congrats joelen! this is so exciting! :)