Entertain Like a Pro

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Fourth of July is a week away, and as America celebrates its 237th birthday, three professional party planners have tips to make anyone’s backyard bash a hit.Mark Addison, founder of EVENTSTYLE, has been writing recipes and throwing dinner parties since he was 13 years old. He says that creating a unique and surprising plan that guests will enjoy is the foundation of any great party.

Matthew David Hopkins, the founder and creative director of Matthew David Celebrations and 360 Design Events—two companies that design eco-friendly weddings and events—says that intimacy and fun while reusing and recycling are keys to a Matthew David party.

And Brett Galley, the director of special events at Hollywoodpop.com, shared her tips on how to make any July 4 celebration a family-friendly party. Fun decorations, classic lawn games and anything vintage-Americana is her recipe for a simply elegant party.

FoodPreparation, organization and timing are the mantras of any good chef. They should also be the mantras of anyone who wants to throw a killer party at home, according to the experts.

“Most important is making sure everything is timed well. Over 50 percent of what you’re serving should be room temperature so everything isn’t cooked at once,” Mr. Addison advised.

If half of the food is prepared ahead and served at room temperature, it takes a lot of the pressure off the host. Worrying about the grill, oven and stove all at the same time is a guaranteed way to get stressed out and burn something, he reported. Another of Mr. Addison’s rules is to always have nibbles out when guests arrive.

A food rule that Mr. Addison and Mr. Hopkins are both adamant about, especially when it comes to throwing a party here in the Hamptons, is to buy local fish, meat and produce.

“Party like a locavore, buy what’s in season, grown locally,” Mr. Addison said.

“One of the things that is really hot in entertaining is using organic local produce and meats,” Mr. Hopkins said, adding that buying local is more eco-friendly, even when it comes to the non-food items. “We recommend when you’re entertaining is building a closet or pantry of entertaining items.”

The green party planner suggested buying permanent party ware—such as utensils, serving ware, and glassware—locally, on eBay, at CB2 or at Ikea instead of buying throw-away items.

“I never use disposables because they are just that, it’s more stylish to use off-the-shelf or gently used,” Mr. Hopkins said.

He also suggested buying items in the color red, which can be used for celebrations during the Fourth of July, winter holidays and Valentine’s Day. Additionally, he recommended buying colored flatware in sets of four, and dared party-throwers to mix and match different sets for a sense of creative style.

And lastly, when it comes to food, offering choices is very important.

“We live in a world now where there’s choices everywhere,” Mr. Hopkins said. “When you do an event you can do four different burgers: turkey, beef, veggie, or salmon.”

DrinkIce is the most important and the most underestimated element for a party at home, the experts agreed. However much ice a host plans on getting, that amount should be doubled, they advised.

There should be one batch of ice for keeping beer, wine, soda and mixers chilled, and another batch for making drinks. You can never have too much ice, they said.

In order to keep the host from getting frantic, and to keep the party under budget, Mr. Hopkins suggested not doing a full bar, but having one or two themed cocktails, plus beer and wine.

A Fourth of July barbecue is the perfect venue for making “firecrackers,” according to Mr. Addison, explaining that his idea of firecrackers are fun, festive, thematic cocktails. He recommended infusing tequila, gin or vodka with a spice, such as black pepper, jalapeño, or Thai chili to add a kick to the booze. Temper it with fresh lemon or lime for a simple Collins or margarita.

For an extra kick, mix cayenne pepper with a thick granule salt and coat half the rim of the glass. But, Mr. Addison warned not to leave peppers in the cocktail the whole time or it will be too spicy to drink.

KidsDecorating with the kids is a great way to create ambiance for a Fourth of July party, according to Ms. Galley. For this holiday, she recommended kicking it old school.

“Vintage Americana style is fantastic, anything rustic. Adults be stylish, kids be homemade, if you can come to a meeting of both of those minds everyone will be happy,” Ms. Galley said.

She also recommended filling canning jars with different red, white and blue dried beans to create that homemade vintage look and feel. Or taking white paper bags and drawing red and blue stripes on them and adding cut-out star shapes.

“Put sand in the bottom and tea lights and you have a pretty red, white and blue glow,” she added.

Aside from decorating, lawn games can also make for a great party. Tried-and-true standbys, such as sack races and egg spoon races, are old-fashioned things that people like, according to Ms. Galley.

But she also shared a few new games as well. One she recommended is called the “Color Run,” where the entire family can make an obstacle course around the yard decorated for the holiday.

Divide everyone up into teams, and as one team finishes relay-style the other is at the finish line with non-toxic powdered paint. Everyone then douses the teams in patriotic colors as they cross the finishing line.

“We call it fireworks on the ground,” Ms. Galley said.

Another of her suggestions is to play “Lady Liberty.” Divide everyone into teams and each team elects someone to pose like the Statue of Liberty. The rest of the team decorates them with toilet paper, markers, crayons and non-toxic paints. The most creative Lady Liberty wins.

One final idea Ms. Galley shared was to have red, white and blue buckets on the table filled with trivia questions about the Fourth of July. Put questions on one side and answers on the other. It’s a great way for kids to learn about the holiday, she said.

Remember, It’s a Party, 
So Have Fun!With all of the planning, cooking, serving, mixing and entertaining going on, it can be easy to forget that the end result is to have fun. All three planners agreed that the energy of the host rubs off on the rest of the party. If the host is in control, relaxed and having fun, everyone else will be too, which is why preparation is so important.

“Do plan ahead, be absolutely sure that you are able to entertain your guests and do not get stuck doing all the work and looking frantic,” Mr. Hopkins warned. “I think people often take on too much, I recommend entertaining with somebody else to split the work. Bring other people into the hosting position so it’s not all on you.

Reach Mark Addison at eventstyle.com or markaddison.com. Reach Matthew David Hopkins at matthewdavidcelebrations.com and 360designevents.com. Reach Brett Galley at hollywoodpop.com.

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