Life Audit

Business Casual


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.

SNACKING STRATEGIES

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.”


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