Cocktails and Light Bites Are Best When Entertaining Colleagues and Clients
Posted Jun 1, 2004 5:30 PM CDT
By Jill Schachner Chanen
The thought of throwing a party can strike as much fear in some people as speaking before an audience.
Not for Vikas Dhar.
Dhar and his wife, Sheila, both 27, love to entertain. They think nothing of having friends over several times a month for casual dinners and have even larger groups over to their home three or four times a year.
Now Dhar wants to gather his co-workers, colleagues and even some clients at his Boston apartment. His home has a large outdoor patio that would be the perfect spot to host a summertime party with as many as 50 guests.
But while Dhar’s gracious nature and carefree attitude about entertaining make him a natural when it comes to casual gatherings with friends, the idea of hosting a party for business associates is daunting. He wants the event to leave a good impression on his colleagues and clients but wonders whether he knows how to make the transition from casual party-giver to business entertainer on a budget that is a lot less than the senior partner might have for a similar event.
“When and how do you socialize with fellow attorneys? The boss? Paralegals and support staff?” he asks. “Is asking them for drinks OK even if you don’t know them well? What types of food would be appropriate to serve? Drinks? How do I balance alcohol and other, nonalcoholic drinks? Attire? Entertainment?”
Life Audit entertaining expert Jennifer Kaye says the key to entertaining business associates is all about creating a professional image.
“Having a party with 24-year-olds to 27-year-olds is a lot different than having a party with the senior partner. He wants to portray the image of being a professional, not a kid right out of school who is trying to make a good impression.”
To create that image, Kaye wants Dhar to host a weeknight cocktail party at his apartment. The setting will allow Dhar to do more on less and still create a sophisticated atmosphere that even the boss will appreciate. “If you throw an event during the week, people will swing in and not stay for a long time. If you have it on a weekend night, you have to serve heavier foods and a greater variety of drinks because people will stay longer. That all goes into costs.”
To start, Dhar should spend the money to hire professional servers to help set up, serve guests and clean. More importantly, they will bring glasses, plates, linens and utensils for large groups. Most young people do not have barware, plates and utensils for more than 12 people. Using paper and plastic is definitely something Dhar wants to avoid if he wants to be seen as an up-and-coming lawyer, says Kaye.
Another benefit of hiring help for the party, she says, “is that you as the host can spend time with the guests, networking and entertaining them.”
Large cities like Boston always have big-name caterers to provide these services, but Kaye suggests that he find a smaller, lesser-known one to defray expenses. The costs may also be less on weeknights.
Dhar also needs to carefully consider the kind of food and drinks he plans to serve.
Because the setting will be a weeknight cocktail party, Kaye recommends limiting the drink options to wine, bottled beer and sparkling waters. “Stay away from hard liquor. This kind of cocktail party does not require it,” she says.
“Also stay away from kegs.”
Although Dhar and his wife love to cook, Kaye says neither of them should be in the kitchen during this party. It sends the wrong message.
Turning on the oven during the summertime also may make his apartment uncomfortably hot.
Instead, Kaye suggests a menu of finger foods or those that require nothing more than a fork to eat such as cold pasta salad, shrimp, chicken skewers and poached salmon. If he wants to infuse some of his ethnic background into the party, foods are the perfect place for it. Kaye suggests adding some Indian breads and dips to spice things up.
Dhar also wanted to incorporate a theme into the party—an idea that Kaye says should be immediately nixed. A theme would only undermine the sophisticated atmosphere that Dhar is trying to create, Kaye says. “If you are doing a low-key meet and greet networking opportunity, you do not need or want a theme. Do not overcrowd the purpose of the event.”
Instead, she recommends buying fresh flowers that will serve as a centerpiece for a table and also as décor in other key places in the home.
With careful planning, Dhar should be able to pull off this party on a budget of $30 per person or less. Kaye advises him to go to a warehouse club, like Costco or Sam’s Club, that offers significant discounts for buying in bulk to get the food and beverages. They also offer a wonderful selection of hors d’oeuvres.
No matter what Dhar ends up serving to his guests, Kaye wants him to make it look easy. Nothing projects a better image than a cool, calm and gracious host. “You can make it look easy by having everything prepared ahead of time and greeting people at the door.”
Vikas S. Dhar
Position Associate, Law Offices of Jeffrey B. Rubin, Boston Age 27 Goal To entertain co-workers, professional colleagues and clients at home
Jennifer Kaye is the founder and CEO of Beatrice Productions, a Washington, D.C.-area event planning and fundraising firm. She has produced events for such clients as America Online, Sony and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as private parties in the homes of some of the most discriminating residents of the nation’s capital.
Life Audit HOT TIP: INVITATIONS SAY IT WRITE
Invitations help set the tone for a party, but they don’t have to cost a lot of money, says Life Audit expert Jennifer Kaye. Stationery and copy stores offer a selection of beautiful papers for laser printers that can be used to create invitations on a computer. Or consider e-mail. Sites like evite.com offer creative electronic invitations. Most importantly, invitations make guests RSVP, a necessary planning tool because you never want to run out of food and drinks.
COCKTAIL PARTY GUIDELINES
AVOID THEME PARTIES. It’s unsophisticated. But if you insist, say it with food, drinks and flowers.\
NO LAST-MINUTE COOKING. The food should already be prepared when the party starts. Your colleagues did not come to see you trapped in the kitchen.
DON’T SWEAT EXTRA SEATING. Cocktail parties are an opportunity to mingle. It’s not necessary to have a chair for every guest.
KEEP MUSIC MELLOW. Guests are there to talk to one another, not to rock out. Load up your CD changer with classical music or jazz, and let it play.
WE NEED YOU! Got some room to improve? Get free advice from the experts on health and fitness, finance, trial technology, entertaining, travel and wardrobe—plus your mug in this mag—with Life Audit, the Journal’s monthly Lifestyle feature. It’s fun, fast and free. If you would like to participate in a future Life Audit, please e-mail Jill Schachner Chanen at firstname.lastname@example.org.