Entertaining at Home

Perhaps nothing says more about who you are, what you love and how you most like to spend your precious leisure time than your home. So when you want to host a party or special celebration with family and friends, that special “oasis” you’ve worked so hard to create for yourself might seem like the ideal place to do it.

But the notion of hosting a large event in your home also typically conjures up enough visions of muss, fuss, expense and other headaches to deter many people from actually going through with it. A restaurant or catering hall must be an easier choice—right, since they’re prepared to do the work for you?

Well, that’s simply no longer the case. As more and more reality tv shows chronicle people creating and hosting their “dream parties” in their very own homes, experts say it is becoming an exponentially popular trend off camera as well.

Long Islanders looking to showcase their meticulously decorated suburban sanctuaries are no exception. Now more than ever, folks are looking to in-home caterers and party planners to help them create the perfect affair. And savvy providers are ensuring that you needn’t be a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills to be able to afford it.

Some area caterers will prepare sumptuous gourmet delights right in your home, while others will bring the food freshly prepared and serve it to your guests for you. You can show off your finest linens, china and silverware—or the have the caterers provide it all for you. And, rest assured, they typically have plenty of people on hand to set everything up, serve your guests and leave your home spotless afterwards.

It’s become fairly easy to create a celebration for family and friends in your home that also lets you feel just like one of the pampered guests. We asked some of Long Island’s premier caterers and party planners what to consider when planning a memorable in-home celebration.

Determining the Number of Guests

The first step is deciding how many guests you want and how many you can actually comfortably fit, says Liz Cann, Client Services Director at PTG Event Services in Islandia. If the numbers don’t match, you needn’t panic. “That’s precisely where companies like ours come in. We can creatively expand your space—even into the yard in the winter with specially heated tents. There are air conditioned tents for those hot summer days, special cooking tents, literally endless options to maximize your space.”

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Creating Your Environment

Next, Cann says, decide how you want to populate that space. “Many people want to showcase their furnishings, and we can expand on that. We’ve created a large array of specialty furniture that you can rent which is high end, plush and can be easily integrated into your exciting décor.” Specialty items like tiki bars, lighted holiday-themed bars, dance floors, etc. can all be added relatively affordably, she says. There’s also a growing trend in party hosts looking for rental furniture that does not require linen. “It’s easy to keep clean during the event and the furniture doesn’t look like a rental item. We rent tables with a variety of finished tops in different patterns, colors and materials to create a certain theme or color scheme, or to blend in with the rest of their furniture.”

It’s important to determine your budget, Cann says. Once you do, caterers and party planners will be able to make the best recommendations to help you create the environment you want. “A lot of people see creating custom parties and wedding receptions at home on reality tv shows and they wish they could do something that extravagant. We’ve been helping people do it for over 13 years now—so we’re ahead of the curve. We have so much in the way of equipment, decorations and other supplies already in stock that we can help you create what you want a lot more affordably.”

Event planners like PTG typically have a variety of specialists on staff—each with expertise in creating specific kinds of events like bar mitzvahs, weddings, dinner parties, etc.—who will work with you every step of the way. Virtually everything needed to create the environment you want can be completely set up in just one day, Cann says.

Choosing A Menu

“Select a menu that translates well into your home environment,” suggests Myra Naseem, co-owner of Elegant Eating in Smithtown. While caterers can create cocktail parties, sit-down dinners and everything in between, she says sizable sit-down meals are still most easily and affordably done in catering halls or restaurants, because those venues are simply better equipped for the job.

But, rest assured, buffets are no longer about baked ziti or sausage and peppers in chafing dishes. “There is a very wide variety of food that can be served buffet-style.” Naseem suggests room temperature menus for the tastiest and most elegant buffets. Grilled shrimp, fish, duck, salmon, beef tenderloin and chicken are all popular dishes that can be displayed and served at room temperature. “They don’t need to be reheated, so they won’t dry out and lose their flavor. And they can be beautifully decorated and garnished,” she says.

Which is not to say that large, sit-down dinners cannot be smoothly executed in your home as well. But, to do it right, Naseem suggests foods be prepared in convection ovens or on extra large barbecue grills that firms like hers will rent out. “It’s very exciting to watch the food being cooked by a chef—or barbecued to your specifications. It just requires more sophisticated equipment than most folks typically have at home.”

Variety Is The Spice

When planning an event, don’t underestimate the excitement and appeal of a “gourmet” cocktail party. When Long Island native and French Culinary Institute graduate Mark Chabus—owner of Manhattan-based Heavenly Chef Catering—started his business ten years ago, he says, “I was planning on doing meals like most other caterers.” But, it was at the same time as the rise of The Food Network, he explains. “People were becoming more fluent in haute cuisine. They were becoming bold and confident and experimenting with all kinds of taste and flavor combinations. And, I was inundated with requests for all different types of hors d’oeuvres,” he says. Today, Heavenly Chef’s seasonal menus boast some 45 different elaborate gourmet hors d’oeuvres from which to choose. All are hand-made using local ingredients.

image“The notion of a cocktail party often leaves people with visions of folks who are left feeling hungry,” says Chabus. “So, when I decided to go in this direction, it was imperative to me that everyone would feel completely full and satisfied—and that no one was ever overlooked.” Guests at cocktail parties he caters are continuously treated to some 15 different decadent concoctions—which the host has selected—over a three-hour period.

And, we aren’t talking about pigs in blankets. Among Chabus’ most popular hors d’oeuvres are a gorgonzola and broccoli rabe skinny pizza with fresh ricotta cheese, a seared tuna wonton cup with guacamole and Wasabi sauce, and juicy sliders made from beef that he grinds himself, topped with caramelized onions and melted Vermont cheddar cheese—all served with homemade condiments. “We even make our own ketchup,” he says.

Chabus points to some additional benefits of hosting a catered cocktail party. “People actually tend to eat more, because they usually want to try at least one of everything. And, you don’t need as much seating space to accommodate guests, because people are frequently standing, talking, moving about.” Perhaps not surprisingly, about half of the functions he’s asked to host are in Manhattan apartments—where seating is often limited, while the balance tends to be on Long Island, where hors d’oeuvres extravaganzas can easily be extended outside onto decks and around swimming pools when the weather permits.

Save Room For Dessert

Dessert time is probably the most important stage of your party, since it is the last thing your guests will remember. A commemorative cake is typically the crowning touch of any celebration, and most caterers can offer a vast array of possibilities from which to choose. But, variety is what really makes dessert time stand out, says Long Island pastry chef Melissa Felice, who owns Little Miss Cake Company & Desserts in Deer Park. “Big cakes are really becoming more tabletop decorations,” says Felice, “as other dessert options have become increasingly interactive and entertaining. A lot of our clients order chocolate fountains from which different types of liquid milk and/or dark chocolate will continuously flow,” she says. Guests take skewers of fruit, pound cake squares, graham crackers and more, hold them underneath, and then enjoy. “Mini cupcakes will also never go out of style,” she says, “because people love variety.”

Chabus’ “cocktail party” approach to food continues through dessert. Instead of cake, guests are treated to a selection of 15 hors d’oeuvres-size desserts. Miniature red velvet cupcakes, brownies, chocolate chip cookies and bite size pies in flavors like pecan and raspberry are among his most popular concoctions.

Naseem says her “Cheesecake and Molten Chocolate (non-alcoholic) Martini Bar” is a client favorite. “It seems to satisfy everyone,” she says. Four ounce slices of cheesecake and chocolate molten cake are placed in large martini glasses. Guests grab one and top it with fresh fruit, crushed Oreo cookies, chocolate chip cookie dough, the list goes on.

And she, too, says mini desserts are really where it’s at. “People love trying different things without feeling too guilty.”

Don’t Forget To Get References

The key to going “big at home” is deciding what you want, and finding experienced caterers and party planners with solid references. As in most service areas, professionals with a positive track record will meet or even exceed your needs, while keeping the costs within your budget. Choosing the right crew ensures everyone—including you—will be well fed, satisfied and totally impressed by your amazing party-hosting abilities.