Events planner and author of Party! How to Organise a Brilliant Bash, Polly Betton, gives us tips on how to throw a memorable party. Polly is one of London’s premier events organisers, throwing everything from extraordinary experiences to celebrity dinners
1 Think outside (your) box
When planning your party, rather than opting for the obvious – your own home, a bar down the street – consider something a little more interesting. You may have to structure your event a little differently, but it’s worth it to make use of that lovely secluded beach, your favourite spot by the river or the rooftop that never gets used. There are loads of free venue options out there if you apply a little lateral thinking, and the benefit of changing things up is that you end up with a much more memorable event. (Do double check any possible regulations beforehand though! No-one wants a fine…)
2 Crafty garlands
One of our favourite – and most inexpensive – materials is paper. If your venue isn’t the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, the cheapest, most effective way to draw the eye is with paper garlands, whether outsized or in large quantities. Whatever you do, go big. It may take a little time, but it definitely won’t take much money and it’ll more than pay off in impact.
3 Finesse your flowers
Flowers are one of the elements that can really elevate a party, but they’re expensive, right? Not necessarily… in this case the supermarket can be your best friend. Supermarket flowers are cheap partly because of the bulk buying power of the big chains, and partly because they won’t be of the same quality as florist flowers. But if you only want them for one night they are a great way to save money. Buy armfuls of the cheapest flowers on offer and fill lots of containers all over your venue. (You may need to buy them a couple of days before the party so they’re at their peak on the big day). If you’re feeling adventurous buy a selection and check out some of the amazing floristry how-tos available online, the ones at Designsponge’s website are our favourite.
4 Raid your cupboards
Empty jam jars and glass bottles are a DIY host’s best friend. They can be glamorous, modern or rustic, serving time as drink containers, candle holders, vases and lanterns, all with very little effort. Put the word out to friends and family to start collecting for you a few weeks beforehand and spend some quality time on Pinterest checking out other people’s projects before you get started. You can find a fun how-to on making a jam jar hanging lantern using ribbon on our blog. See teaparty.org.uk
5 Go for snazzy disposables
No-one has enough china and glass to serve a whole party, and even if you do it won’t be a complete set by the end of the night. Disposables are no longer those depressing crunchy plastic cups and nasty opaque forks of your childhood. Sainsbury’s in particular has a nice range of affordable, colourful disposables but buy your fancy paper straws online for the best deal: we like to buy boxes of Kikkoman straws from the Fred Aldous website, they’re around £8 for a box of 144. We also love the MyDrap range of disposable linen napkins – they come on a tear off roll but are proper linen and are available in a rainbow of colours. If you’re feeling creative you can customise your disposables, for example painting, glittering or printing your wooden cutlery. Our favourite bit of personalisation – particularly good for weddings – is to have a personalised stamp made up, which can be used on napkins, among many other things.
6 Crowdsource your playlist
A nice way to involve everyone ahead of your event is to ask them to submit their choice of three tracks to be played on the day. People are so pleased to be able to contribute and they will get very excited when they hear their track, which keeps the energy up all night.
7 Go big with your cocktails
Setting up an event bar is never cheap. Aside from cost, who wants to spend all night doling out ice and lime wedges? These two birds are easily sorted out with one stone: treat your bar like a buffet. Prettily arrange containers of ice, garnishes and straws with piles of napkins and glassware so that guests can serve themselves. Set aside an area for people to place any bottles they’ve brought along and make your contribution to the bar two or three large punchbowls or glass urns, each filled with a different delicious – but low cost – cocktail, for example Pimm’s or Sangria. Plenty of drinks to go around, very little legwork for you and excellent value to boot.
8 Wonderful waters
Spare a thought for those among your guests who don’t drink alcohol and are bored to death with the usual range of soft drinks. Make up some bottles of flavoured water ahead of your party, they look pretty and taste wonderful. Experiment with combinations of fruit and herbs, for example cucumber and mint or elderflower and strawberry.
9 Go for a bountiful rustic buffet
Aside from the bar, the major time and money drain of any event is feeding your guests. Go rustic for a good looking, tasty and low cost solution to this problem. The materials needed to get this look are cheap: wooden veg crates, hemp matting, jam jars and brown string. Stock up on lovely fresh fruit and veg at your local greengrocer or market (much cheaper than the supermarket) and serve up enormous leafy salads, heaving piles of couscous, big slabs of fresh bread and crudites (our favourite is a bunch of radishes accompanied with salt and butter in the French style). Make a few large quiches, pies or tarts in the days before the party and all you have to do is lay everything out on the big day. It’s also a super easy theme to ask guests to contribute to if everyone is bringing a dish.
10 If you’ve got it, use it up…
The number one rule of the creative host’s playbook is that if you have a lot of something in the house, find a way to use it up. Better to use something you already have and don’t need than to go out and spend money on more stuff. Have a dig through the cupboards, you may be surprised at what you’ve forgotten you own. Once you’ve done a thorough stock take, have a browse through Pinterest to see what other people have done with the same stuff, you’ll be amazed at the creative solutions you’ll find.
We’ve been all about the giant balloons for years but at the moment we’re seeing them cross over from weddings and high end party designers to DIY events of all types, with wonderful results.
Creative celebration cakes
The trend that brought us ‘cheese cakes’ (stacked wheels of cheese in place of wedding cakes) and Bompas and Parr’s ‘jelly cakes’ continues onwards with ‘meat’ cakes (cheese cakes with the addition of cured meats and decorative antipasti), ‘deconstructed’ cakes (cakes taken apart and re-arranged in delicious, experimental fashion) and even edible installations in place of cakes. Half the fun is working out how to represent the ‘cutting moment’.
Taking a cue from kids parties
We’ve noticed people having a lot more fun with events lately, and we’re totally behind it. From dressing up boxes to bouncy castles, if kids like it, adults will love it too.
Fun with photo booths
Photo booths are here to stay, from the amazing flat pack booths supplied by Booth Nation (so you can get them into any venue) to the equally amazing DIY versions put together by creative hosts. Guests love the opportunity to play and hosts love the opportunity to see a side of their party guests they never imagined existed.
We’re really enjoying the increasing use of seasonal herbs, vegetables and fruit in event floristry. It gives a real sense of the season and brings the most amazing subtle aromas.
Teaparty is giving one reader 25% off the production their event and a copy of Polly’s book Party! How To Organise A Brilliant Bash
Teatime Productions is credited with putting on some of the UK’s most trend-setting and stylish events and even for bringing back the country house party. It has now launched Teaparty Events, a one-stop wedding and party planning service. Heralded as Britain’s top party planner by those in the know, Teaparty’s founder Polly Betton has played host to many notables including Jonathan Ross, Stephen Merchant, Ray Winstone and Keira Knightly to name a few.
Author of Party! How To Organise A Brilliant Bash (Kyle Books, 2011) Polly first came to notice as creator of The White Blackbird, a series of unusually-themed events held at a country manor that included a futurist aerobanquet and pyjama party complete with giant pillow fight.
She is Creative Director of Edible Cinema in which filmgoers experience movies through the addition of aroma, texture and taste. Her parties have featured 3,000 hand-crafted feather butterflies, identical triplet French maids singing French pop songs, a giant seafood platter made of cake and miniature petting zoos.
Terms and Conditions: This offer is valid up to 1st January 2015 and is valid for one party only. It includes 25% off production services only (i.e. time spent by an event manager on the production of the event). Services are booked by the day (up to 8hrs), part days are not available. Number of days to be agreed at time of booking. Should extra days be required they will need to be signed off in writing by the client prior to commencement of the extra days. Unused hours and days are not refundable unless cancellation takes place at least 14 days prior to the days booked. All travel outside Central London (zones 1 & 2) and outside the hours of 8am – 8pm to be charged as a pre-agreed additional cost. Where food is not supplied by the client a per-diem will be charged. 50% payment is required to confirm booking, 50% remainder to be paid within 14 days of the event date. See Service Agreement for further terms and conditions.