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Ask The Experts: The Event Planner

David Stark, President and creative director, David Stark Design and Production

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What are some simple ways to make a party memorable?
When entertaining at home, I never want it to look like a designer came in and transformed my house into a stage set. Small, thoughtful details are what people remember. Use potted herbs or even mixed lettuces for centerpieces. If you have a friend who’s a singer or plays the guitar, it’s nice to surprise everyone with a musical interlude. And this might sound ridiculous, but I think the linen napkin is vastly underused. Napkins are what stay with you the entire evening—they should be high quality. Think beyond the dinner party. Sometimes I’ll just buy a bunch of pies, cakes, and cookies and have my friends over for drinks and dessert.

What are your thoughts on the signature cocktail?
Cocktails that need to be shaken or stirred, then poured into a special glass and topped with fruit, are a lot of work—and they take you away from your guests. I tend to avoid what’s hot in the new mixed-drink category. You can’t go wrong serving great wine, prosecco, or Campari and soda.

Is it true that dinner-party guests should be seated next to someone they’ve never met?
I’m a huge fan of doing that. It’s very easy for people to hang back with their cliques and leave a party without ever speaking to someone new. A good host makes a concerted effort to ensure that guests are making friends and having great conversations.

If you’re doing assigned seating, should you use place cards?
Absolutely. Even for a dinner party of eight, place cards are an important gesture. They don’t have to be heavyweight card stock. I use manila hangtags from the hardware store, recycled paper, or the backs of holiday cards. I know it can seem dictatorial to say where people need to sit at the table, but I think it’s quite the opposite. It shows you’ve thought about who would get along, who would have business to attend to, even who might fall in love.

Thoughts on the e-vite?
E-vites can actually feel a bit fancy these days, and I’m fine with that for large gatherings. But you don’t need those bells and whistles for an intimate affair. My rule of thumb is that if you’re having ten people over for dinner, an email or phone call is more personal and more appropriate than a formal invitation, be it paper or digital.

Any go-to hostess gifts?
A cookbook from your favorite restaurant, a cutting board, or a bottle of olive oil. I don’t like to get too personal or ostentatious.


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