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Park City Home: 10 Steps to a Five-Star Dinner Party


Marcy Blum has orchestrated parties for a glittering clientele that includes Padma Lakshmi, LeBron James, Kevin Bacon, Katie Lee, and much of the Rockefeller clan. As Covid-19 forces all of us to rethink events, she says it also helped her clarify one personal bias. “If I could get away with doing 20-person parties all the time, I would. That’s my sweet spot. Everything from the place cards to the quality of the wine is so much more special than what you can do for 300 people.” The secret, she says, is “embracing the intimate quality of the party rather than wanting more people. Make it lovely and luxurious.”

If you have a space that allows for a socially distanced party, and if local regulations permit, Blum has advice on how to make it safe and memorable.

1. Rethink the Head Count
First up: the guest list. “Generally you’re going to have to figure on a third of the people you’d ordinarily fit into a space,” says Blum. Maximize your square footage by clearing out as much extraneous furniture as possible. Blum seats people from the same pod — couples, families — close together, using banquettes, sofas, and love seats.



2. Be Upfront About Rules
Your guests will feel more comfortable about attending if they know what to expect. “If you’re someone who believes in masks, put it right in the invitation. ‘We can’t wait to see you at this socially distanced, masked party.’”

At the door, custom masks that echo the event’s look underline the message. And Blum is doing 20-minute rapid testing before guests enter the party. Worried that people will be offended? “Recently a colleague was working on a 50-person wedding, and one person left after testing positive twice. The rest of the guests were pretty relieved.”



And speaking of invitations, a small guest list is an opportunity to go a little crazy. Elaborate calligraphy and boxed presentations make a huge impact. If your event will have a Zoom component — people joining remotely — Blum says to pull out all the stops. “For a recent wedding, we sent everyone a bottle of Tito’s vodka, dirty olive juice, a shaker, and two martini glasses, so they could join in the toast wherever they were. People got a big kick out of it.”

3. Consider Filtration
Now that scientists understand the virus is largely airborne, it might be smart to invest in your indoor air. Blum says that at the very least, “Check on your HVAC and filter situation, see how up to date it is and how to keep it cleaner. We are changing our own filters constantly.” Ask the company that maintains your home’s heating and filtration system if it makes sense to invest in a personal HEPA air purifier, or a MERV 13 filter. A pro should be able to make recommendations based on a room’s size and usage.

4. Hire a Bathroom Attendant
Blum says it’s not so much the number of restrooms that are available to your guests, but cleanliness. “We’ve taken to having attendants standing outside so bathrooms are cleaned constantly. After someone uses it, the attendant disinfects it thoroughly with Lysol. It adds peace of mind.”

5. Tweak the Timing
Instead of a cocktail “hour,” when guests circulate and mingle, drinks should be a quick 20-minute prelude to the evening. And finger food is largely a no-no. “Passed hors d’oeuvres aren’t happening unless it is an individual glass of crudité and dip, or single portions of quiches or empanadas. Nothing that’s shared.”

6. Plot Out the Tables
There’s going to be more empty space around each table, but it doesn’t have to look bare. “Rather than leaving a hole between seats, we do installations of flowers and candles.” Make it look intentional rather than makeshift, and the effect can be stunning.

7. Add a Course
Once your guests are seated, treat them to a full-blown feast. “Because you can’t dance or sit on someone’s lap for an hour drinking cognac, the food and wine are going to be the stars of the evening. Plan a three- or four-course dinner. Make the menu more elaborate and give it some attention, with things like individual baguettes.” Family-style meals are out of the question (“too spooky”) so serve composed plates or prepare individual plates tableside. For drinks, an elevated ‘bottle service’ strikes a fun note. “Think of airline drinks, delivered in miniature bottles so you can mix your own, but done with really good brands.”

8. Personalize, Personalize, Personalize
One of the beauties of a small party is how thoughtful you can be. Start with the place cards. Blum says, “One of my clients wrote a note on every guest’s place card, along with photos of them together. People were so touched by it.” You can be similarly detailed with food. “Dietary restrictions are easier to keep track of, and every guest can get a meal plated just for them.”
Another lovely element: acknowledging the entire group. With seating spaced further apart, everyone can stand and make their own toast. (Just no clinking glasses.) Additionally, “The host and hostess get to welcome each of their guests, mentioning every person in their toast.” It’s the ultimate way to make people feel warm and fuzzy.

9. Seduce with Music
Blum says this is a chance to do something you don’t ordinarily see at a small dinner party: live entertainment. “Our fallback is always a playlist, but it’s so much nicer to have a singer and a pianist or guitar player. Singing does spread the virus further than conversation, so microphones need a Lucite shield, and performers should be 15 feet away from any guests.”

10. Limit Your Helpers
Blum says that, “It’s important that you’re fully staffed, but not overly staffed. People don’t want a whole team of caterers in their house. If there’s a garage people can work out of, even better.

“People aren’t concerned about the virus being spread on the food you’re serving, but it’s the waitstaff serving it you need to think about.” Blum recommends having anyone who’ll be coming face-to-face with you or your guests be tested, and that you avoid keeping workers on site longer than necessary. That means that instead of having plates or glassware washed during the party, you should rent enough that dirty glasses can be placed right back in their boxes and picked up the following day. “You want as little commotion as possible.”

And more than ever, tip generously. This is your chance not only to be a gracious host, but also to contribute to the greater good of the community.  


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