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The party planner

Melbourne’s caterer to the stars, The Big Group, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. We asked CEO Bruce Keebaugh for his top 10 (or 13) tips on hosting a great bash.
Antonia Pesenti

1 Get the idea right from the beginning

Envisage the kind of party you want to throw, and be true to the dream. A party should be an expression of you and your true style.


2 Plan

Establish realistic timelines and deadlines, and stick to them. This is vital for remaining organised and keeping stress to a minimum. Creativity paired with administrative efficiency and financial understanding is a party match made in heaven.


3 Set a budget**

This will allow you to engage the best and most appropriate suppliers for your needs.

4 Know your audience

Understand your invitees’ likes and dislikes. If you’re having a dinner party, seat guests appropriately because, at the end of the day, this is what makes the party work. I never seat couples or best friends together and I even like the idea of switching seats after each course (when there are, of course, not too many guests) – it gets people talking.

5 Create a point of difference

Not just for the sake of difference but to ensure you give guests a heightened experience. Read magazines and books, travel, dine out and listen to other people’s experiences – you will gain plenty of ideas from this kind of activity.

6 Stay true to the original concept

Write down ideas, create a concept (where required) and stick with it – deviation will only cause disintegration.


7 Appeal to the eyes as well as the tastebuds**

Food stations or buffet installations are great at cocktail parties because they allow those with a large appetite to graze throughout the entire evening while providing the host with a catering expression of generosity. Food needs to not only be delicious according to your tastes, but visually exciting, too. Simplicity is de rigueur – there’s nothing like a perfectly ripe peach or a big bowl of beluga.

8 Set your stage for the right occasion

Lighting and candles, music, table settings, flowers and place cards all create ambience. The lighting is key to making everyone look sexy – votive candles are best as they are inexpensive, easy and you can spread them everywhere.

9 Don’t say no to help

One man or woman can do nothing – a team of creative people collaborating is what makes a party. Find people you work well with; mutual respect is paramount.

10 Make sure your chosen environment can handle what you are trying to create

If there is not a lot of room in the kitchen for extra ovens, pots and pans, be clever with the menu. Devise it so that all the courses don’t need cooking or heating – a fresh lobster tail with crunchy iceberg, avocado, citrus mayo and a wedge of lime is simple yet so luxurious.

11 Chic invitations

Invitations set the scene for your party and build anticipation for your guests, so take the time to get them right. Make sure all details are correct and instructions are easy to understand – a map reference, information on where to park, dress codes, clear RSVP details and so on. The new luxury is writing invitations on the thickest paper stock available.

12 Enjoy the process

Enjoying yourself is both the hardest and most important thing a party planner must do. The event itself is actually the least amount of the overall time you spend on creating the experience – ensure you have fun in the lead-up and after the event. If your guests see you enjoying yourself, they will too.

13 Embrace excess

Lots of food, lots of drinks, lots of ice. It’s a bore to run out of anything and more means more fun. If your budget doesn’t allow for an entire range of things, then have just one thing really well done – and lots of it.

Bruce Keebaugh is the CEO of The Big Group.

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