After living in Edinburgh for six years I’ve found that the Scots like to do things a little differently, from New Year’s Eve Street Parties and concerts in Princes Street Gardens to month-long festivals with performances in the cities biggest venues and tiny old police boxes. One thing that’s always been evident is that the Scots know how to throw a party. As I was searching for some inspiration on throwing the ultimate bash this festive party season I decided to go to Edinburgh’s finest party hosts to get a few tips.
Colin Church and Martin Luney at Big Red Teapot run some of Edinburgh’s best bars, including The Blackbird and The Voyage of Buck, which opened to massive fanfare in October, whilst Barry Bryson is one of Scotland’s leading private chefs and event planners.
Between the three of them they’ve hosted the best private parties in the homes of Edinburgh’s elite, catered for the Scottish launch of the James Bond film “Spectre”, thrown events for Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Burt Bacharach, Richard Branson and are the go to events planner for Louis Vuitton’s annual Scottish Christmas party.
What these three don’t know about party planning isn’t worth knowing and I have got them to share some of their party planning secrets.
- Don’t be too ambitious if you’re tight for time. Plan a menu that combines a good number of tried and tested elements with some new ideas.
- Do prepare well in advance. Write down your food ideas and divide the tasks into lists. There are many parts of a menu that can be prepared in advance: most sauces, marinades, doughs and batters can sit in the fridge for a couple of days without impairing quality, for instance. If you put in the legwork in the days before an event, things will go much more smoothly. This is a trick that all professional caterers really understand.
- Do think of dishes and canapés that need minimal finishing touches. Sometimes a mixture of hot and cold dishes helps keep you on track. If you’re able to get last minute elements to simply garnishing and slicing you’ll have more time to spend with your guests. It really detracts from the event if the host has to spend a good part of the evening in the kitchen.
- Do de-clutter your surfaces. When you’re cooking for more people than you’re used to, you’ll need much more space than you think you will.
- Do remember how useful canapés are. They’re really the best option if you’re cooking for ten or more guests and you can go to town with creative ideas. There’s lots of kitchen kit widely available on the high street that can help you give extra flourish. There is an element of classic technique in creating canapés – you need something that will hold together, for example – but it’s an area you can have fun with.
- Do see what’s in season. Food fashions come and go but if you choose a menu based on what’s in season, you’ll always be on trend. This also helps narrow down the almost infinite number of menu options when you’re planning too.
- Do buy your drinks from a company that will also lend you glasses and deliver to you. Lots of companies (both chains and local independents) do this now, so it’s always worth asking. This means you don’t have to struggle to find the right number of glasses but it also saves on washing up and avoids breakages of your own glassware.
- Do consider hiring a butler. This isn’t as weird it sounds and you soon get used to having a stranger helping you in your home. It’s surprisingly affordable to have a professional and really helps things go smoothly. I’d suggest hiring a butler for four hours and using the first half hour to brief them on the event.
- Do make an attractive and distinct bar area with drinks and glasses lined up and ready. This means you can forget about topping up your guests’ drinks and saves people having to rummage through your cupboards to look for extra glasses.
- Do be specific if it’s BYOB. You’re familiar with your menu so ask guests to bring wine varieties that will suit the dishes. It’s much simpler to have fewer different kinds of wine.
- Don’t serve drinks in the kitchen. It’s somewhere people congregate so serving drinks there will just cause congestion.
- Do recruit nieces and nephews to help you serve. Brief them with a few basic guidelines and reward them afterwards. Many teenagers get really bored at grown up parties so get them involved.
- Do keep table arrangements at seated meals low. Flowers at the wrong height on a table make conversation for guests really difficult.
- Do think carefully about lighting. Some dishes are all about colour, detail and drama so make sure your guests can see it! On the other hand, low lighting may suit a cosy evening with a rustic bowl of stew, for instance. Candles are a great way of creating an atmosphere too.
- Do make your garden into usable space if you have one. Prepare an area with rugs, throws and outdoor candles so that guests can enjoy your outdoor space in comfort.
- Do create a flow. Think about how your guests will use the space in your home from the moment they come through the front door. It’s always nice to create a separate area to enjoy welcome drinks before dinner. I think guests like being moved around like this and post-dinner drinks by the fire marks a line under the more formal section of the night, as well as giving guests a chance to leave. No one wants to break up the party from the table!
- Don’t panic! Relax and enjoy yourself; it’s meant to be fun!
Colin and Martin’s tips
- Have an arrival sharing drink of some sort so you can easily serve or allow people to serve themselves. They will have a drink in hand as soon as they arrive and you don’t need to take drink orders and run around when people are arriving
Good ideas –
Mulled wine or mulled cider, rum punches, non-alcoholic punches (good for drivers etc.)
Leave some spirits at the side to allow people to add their own favourites should they wish.
- Never use main lights. Always use side lamps etc. for a warmer atmosphere. If not enough then fill the place with candles. Scented candles are also great to give a festive atmosphere.
- Have a table of food rather than starters and main courses. Use mostly cold salads etc. and a few hot dishes made ahead of time. People can help themselves to what they like or leave what they don’t like without any embarrassment. If all food is buffet served – the host gets to enjoy the party too without having to serve
– Never offer food that has cooking methods rare / medium etc. All food can be served the same way
- Ask people to bring their own vinyl or iPod. Everyone can feel involved in the party and share their music / playlists etc.
- Always have more ice and citrus than you think you’ll need.
- Table decorations set the scene – throw some cinnamon sticks, pine cones, star anise, holly leaves etc. around the table.
- Afternoon parties work well and people will then leave earlier to give you your house back.
- Always stay up and tidy the night before – you’ll be glad the next day when you can walk into a tidy room and relax.