No one knows more about entertaining guests and making them feel special than chefs and restaurant owners. They may not be throwing a party every night, but they come close by hosting hundreds of diners every month in their boites. Here’s their advice (and a few recipes) to make your soiree special.
Hadley Douglas, co-owner of the Urban Grape
“Plan every detail but keep it fun, fresh, and flirty so it looks effortless,” he says.
Douglas’s drink of choice: white wine and whiskey sangria
3 cups chopped fruit (apples, peaches, pineapple, strawberries, and oranges)
1½ bottles dry white wine (Douglas recommends Campogrande Orvieto, an Italian wine from Umbria that’s light and aromatic with a dry finish)
7 oz. Slane Castle Irish Whiskey
2 oz. Triple Sec
Ice for serving
Ginger ale or club soda to top each drink
Lime wedges, lemons, and oranges
Skewers of fruit to garnish (optional)
In a large pitcher, add fruit, white wine, whiskey and Triple Sec, but do not add lemons, limes, or oranges. Chill at least a few hours or a few days. To serve, fill individual glasses with ice and pour sangria into glasses with some of the fruit.
Top with club soda, or, for a sweeter taste, ginger ale. Finish with a squeeze of lime, lemon, an orange slice, or fruit skewer.
Alexis Gelburd-Kimler, co-owner of West Bridge
“Create a menu for the night and give each guest a copy at their seat,” he says. “I like a handwritten menu on butcher paper, or for ease, you can type it up. I always try and come up with a fun title and date it. You will be amazed how almost all of your guests will bring it home with them.”
Alex Saenz, chef at Ten Tables,
“The most important part of being a good party host is being organized and prepared. We all can throw a party, but a good party that people remember are those that are hosted by someone who knows what to expect and has everything ready.”
Katie Kimble, chef at Area Four
“Contact your neighbors to make sure they know you are having a party outside. That way they do not call the police.”
Ken Oringer, of Clio, Uni, Coppa, Toro, KO Prime, Earth
Oringer suggests serving rosé wine, and matching the wine’s origin to the style of cuisine you’re serving.
“Invest in a porron, which is a handblown glass pitcher used to pour wine directly into people’s mouths. It’s fun to get a lot of people using it to down rosé and you don’t have to worry about whose glass is whose.”
Unlike many experts, Oringer says guests should get involved in party preparation, such as assembling dishes and mixing drinks. Those drinks, he says, should include two or three signature cocktails. Finally, to keep the proceedings simple, he says “every summer party should be done tapas-style with an emphasis on cold (or room temperature) foods.”
Michael Leviton, chef and owner of Area Four and Lumiere
“Serve punch and sangria, all made in bulk ahead of time. Pour over big, fat ice cubes so drinks won’t dilute too quickly in the heat.”
Mark Goldberg, executive chef at Park Restaurant & Bar
“Base your outdoor party around beverages — berries muddled with mint and gin, sangria, or fresh fruit margaritas. With a few fresh ingredients and some decent booze, you are sure to kick off any event properly. The show of mixing a beverage in a shaker impresses almost anyone.”
Michael LaScola (executive chef) and Orla Murphy LaScola (general manager), co-owners of American Seasons
“Set up a few big tables and chairs with a selection of food already set. If everyone is waiting for the food they get anxious. This way hungry guests can graze on snacks while the host socializes and calmly prepares the hot food.”
Dave Becker, chef and owner at Sweet Basil
“To battle bugs at backyard gatherings, skip the citronella candles or cans of industrial-strength repellent and invite some bats to the party. Build a bat house, an enclosed wooden structure where bats love to hang, at the beginning of the summer and you’ll keep bugs at a minimum all season. Bats get a bad rap, but each one can eat 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour, so they make great pest-fighting neighbors and an excellent topic of conversation at your next cookout.”
Paul Sussman, chef at Back Deck
“For casual cookouts, prepare the meal in advance and finish everything in the backyard on the grill to show off your grilling expertise. By the time the guests arrive, the food should be 30 to 45 minutes away from being ready and the fire should be lit and ready for business.”
Sam Gabrielli, bar manager at Russell House Tavern
“To make life easier on yourself, pre-make a few cocktails and keep them cold (but not on ice). Two to four cocktails would be nice and diverse, and wouldn’t be too hard to pull off, even doing more batches as the night goes on.”
One of his favorites: Provencal Collins
2 parts gin (Beefeater or Plymouth)
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part lavender simple syrup (steep ½ cup dried lavender in 1 quart of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain out lavender and stir in 1 quart sugar until dissolved).
Shake with ice and serve on ice with soda water. Garnish with a lemon wheel.
Marc Orfaly, chef and owner of Pigalle
“Set the proper atmosphere with the music selection. I always like to stick with one style of music for my playlists, keeping in mind the demographic and interests of my guests.”
“Spend time with your guests, rather than slaving in the kitchen, or behind the bar. This ensures them that you are happy to be in their great company and are thankful that they are there. I would suggest hiring at least one server to walk around and help clear dishes and glassware. I would also suggest having a second person in the kitchen manning the dishwasher. This can alleviate the worry of running out of serving essentials.”
Chuck Draghi, chef and owner at Erbaluce
“Less formal outdoor parties seem to always involve paper cups and plates. These can be seen as easy-to-use, but short tumblers of acrylic or glass actually work much better. They are less prone to being knocked over by sudden gusts of wind or a slight bump to the table.”
“I like to set up several small tables around the periphery of the area that the party is going to be held in, and a few near the center, rather than one large table. This way guests can walk around and mingle with everyone.”
Gabriel Frasca, owner of Straight Wharf Restaurant, Ventuno, and provisions.
“We have hosted a few parties outside at our place in Jamaica Plain, and host nightly outdoor gatherings at Straight Wharf and Ventuno. It’s taught me one very valuable lesson: Have a rain plan in place well in advance of the party.”
Lydia Shire, chef and co-owner at Scampo
“When you have people over it should be an experience. Having a party means it’s time to bring out your best, all in the spirit of generosity. It’s not a time to skimp.
“I love to serve delicious soft shell lobster. In the late summer, New England lobsters molt and shed their skins. At this moment their meat is particularly tender, juicy, and sweet. I cook up a bunch of them and throw them in a galvanized bucket with a small hole in the bottom. I top them with lots of ice and let people go to town eating them with their fingers. It’s a luxurious treat that doesn’t keep you stuck in a hot kitchen.”
Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on