Last month, members of the Schoolhouse product design and marketing teams got together to share some delicious happy hour drinks and snacks at Schoolhouse Creative Manager Jorie Garcia’s house. There’s a reason Jorie is the Creative Manager around here; namely, she’s a wellspring of creative spirit, style, and energy. As you can see from the charming spread below, she’s able to channel all of this into one amazing backyard cocktail party. For those in need of a little bit of guidance for throwing their own summer soiree this year, we convinced Jorie to share her straightforward and inspired hosting tips with us.
Throwing a great party is all about preparing just enough so that you can enjoy your time with your guests. One trick I use is to set out the serving dishes ahead of time and to label them with what food will eventually go in them. I prepared a major portion of the food in the days leading up to the party to minimize my day-of workload. The food can be kept in the refrigerator or in its cooking vessel until it’s time to serve. This way, you don’t have to worry about cooking and setting out a beautiful tablescape at the same time.
Lists are a great way to keep organized. I often use spreadsheets, but that’s just the way my brain works. Do whatever works best for you! Remember that people like to help. If people show up early, have them set food out in the labeled service stations, take dishes out to the buffet, or fill the coolers up with ice. Many hands make light work.
When designing a menu, I always try to anticipate a range of dietary needs. This Middle Eastern spread worked well because many of the components were vegetarian or vegan, and guests could still make a paleo or gluten-free plate for themselves without missing out on the major dishes. Having numerous dishes in smaller quantities allows people to navigate their own personal dietary needs. For the meat eaters, we made sure to provide some grilled chicken as well. Sauces and additional seasonings are peppered throughout the tables for people to add as they please.
I’ve always preferred to mix tableware and dishes, not match. Mixed styles and design eras makes the table more visually interesting, and often, people enjoy picking out their own unique plate, bowl, or glass.
We created this low table and seating arrangement by laying down some painter’s drop cloth, stacking a few cinder blocks, and using plywood as tabletop. Once it’s covered with a few tablecloths, no one will notice how it was built. I always bring my indoor pillows outside during a sunny day for additional seating and of course, I love a sturdy floor cushion. Everything feels more friendly and relaxed when you're sitting low to the ground.
While the big table provided seating for most of the guests, we made another seating arrangement to give guests more options. Having a few smaller seating areas lets people mingle and encourages conversations to naturally develop. I like to bring in flowers and greenery that are in bloom and available around me. There’s no need to spend a mint on floral arrangements when nature will provide flowers that match the season.
Always spring for cloth napkins. They feel so much more luxurious than paper napkins, which just end up in the landfill anyway. A small investment in cloth napkins will pay off for years. For music, my boyfriend and I are always adding to our joint party playlist that we update throughout the year. Whenever I hear a song that I think would work well for a party, I just add it to the playlist. When party time comes, I don’t have to choose what to listen to.
Creating a “self-serve station” can really help keep things organized and orderly. We put drinks, ice, and glasses altogether. Next to that, we placed bins labeled for compost and recycling. A few basins full of soapy water (one for dishes and one for silverware) give guests a place to put their dishes once they’re done eating. This makes clean up much easier.
The most important thing any host can do for their party is be in the moment. People came to your house for a reason, so just be present and enjoy yourself! Don’t feel like you need to take it all on your shoulders - ask for help and try to take problems in stride. An overcooked dish or a broken plate isn’t going to ruin your party. Your guests will take your lead, especially if you’re having a good time yourself.