Plan a party like Tony Conway

Legendary caterer shares holiday hosting tips
Tony Conway

Photo by Sarah Dorio

As CEO and founder of A Legendary Event, Tony Conway puts on 2,000 events each year, including more than 200 during the holidays. Since the company’s inception in 1997, it has won numerous awards, from Catering Company of the Year to Best Tabletop Design. As the holidays approach, who better to ask for party-planning advice than Conway himself?

What advice do you have for those planning parties this time of year?
If you are planning the party at your home, be sure to remember you’ll have more people in it than your home is used to. Check your breaker panels, and make sure your lighting has dimmers on it to give off a warm glow. Have extra plungers because you’ll have more guests than typical and could have issues in bathroom.

Let your neighbors know that you’ll be hosting an event by putting a note in their mailbox, asking them to give you a call if their driveway gets blocked or anything.
Hire security for the evening—it will help with traffic flow. I always recommend valet parking if it fits within your budget.

You’ll also need a place for coats and umbrellas.

Be careful with your pets. Make sure they are used to having a lot of people around. It’s always better if there’s a place they can go to be more comfortable and not get so anxious.

Anytime you entertain, be sure everyone your hire is licensed and insured—ask for copies of those.

Why is it important to make sure companies are insured?
You want to make sure they are insured in case they have a problem, such as food poisoning. You want to make sure the food will be stored properly.

What else should hosts know about hiring outside help?
Never assume anything. If you have a question, ask. There’s never a dumb question: Tell me about your linen quality, your service staff, the timing, the food, the guarantee that thing will be on time. Talk about how everything gets cleaned up and left after the party. At A Legendary Event, we want to make sure we leave your home better than we found it.

How do you ensure the food you choose is a right fit for the occasion?
Do a tasting. I like there to be a balance of hot and cold. Remember to accommodate for vegetarian and gluten free. Roasted pork tenderloins and seasonal items—kale and root vegetables—are all great for the holidays. It’s always wonderful to have things that have been roasted, and dessert-wise have ample mini items for easy pickup.

What about beverages? How do hosts get the right mix of alcohol without making it so people go overboard?
If you have hired a reputable company to serve the alcohol, they have a lot of training that they can identify guests by a conversation or how many drinks they’ve served them. You have to look at the balance of number of hours of alcohol and serve a sufficient amount of food to balance it. A cheese and fruit platter might be a little light for three hours of alcohol.

What’s the number one mistake hosts make?
Not having enough service. They just want the food dropped off but you want to enjoy the time you’re entertaining. Make sure you have staff to assist you in keeping buffets attended, things cleared, bartending, etc. It can become a burden if you are trying to entertain and do all of that. People also forget about temperature during the holidays. When you bring people into your home, you need to bring the temperature down to 66 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, especially if you want to run a fireplace. Set an alarm when the party is over so you’ll remember to turn the temperature back up.

Anything else?
Remember to think about things that are sitting around. Your guests don’t mean to knock over anything, but it could happen. Put away the books on your coffee tables—make the space event-friendly.

If you are going to put on the party yourself, put together a timeline and get a lot done in the days before. That way, that day you are just getting dressed and putting on the finishes touches. Also, make sure you plan your music. You don’t want to have to take time to fiddle with those things during the party.