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On the Eve of New Traditions

On the Eve of New Traditions

Create a New Year’s Eve Celebration to Remember

It doesn’t have to be a standard-issue prix fixe New Year’s Eve fete this year. Get busy and create a fab theme, then watch the fun unfold. A party planning pro offers tips.

Rachel DeMarte doesn’t mince words. “New Year’s Eve prix-fixe dinners are a little lame. It’s done so much,” says the Chicago-based event planner and restaurant owner. “Overdone, really.”

It would be hard to dispute that many, if not most, restaurants playing the New Year’s Eve game will plan a special tasting menu and offer it at one or two seatings. There will be sparkling wine, party hats and a choice of entrees that surely will include filet mignon, among other options.

“And a lot of people will leave, saying it wasn’t memorable,” DeMarte warns. “It’s the same year after year. At one of the most festive times of year, people are stuck in their seats wondering when it will end.”

Her antidote to dullsville?

“Get the whole staff involved and create a theme that fits your restaurant. You can start in the morning and transform the space, make it magical, creating a full experience for guests,” DeMarte recommends.

That means décor, music, food, beverages. “It has to look and feel the part,” she continues.

“Think about a white party where invitations (or marketing materials) are white, guests dress in white, the room is draped in white and food is white. It’s very chic and memorable,” she says, adding that it doesn’t need to be black-tie formal.

“More casual might create a better vibe for your concept.” DeMarte recalls a David Bowie-themed party a restaurant hosted a few years ago. “The minute the flyer arrived, you had a sense of fun, like this was a can’t-miss event that guests would remember for a long time.”

“Get the whole staff involved and create a theme that fits your restaurant. You can start in the morning and transform the space, make it magical, creating a full experience for guests.”
- Rachel Demarte, Event Planner/Restaurant Owner

Get the Party Started

  1. Think realistically if you and your team can execute the event with internal resources or if an events planner will be helpful. “If you do a lot of special events and parties, you probably can handle it. If not, bring in help.”
  2. Once the theme is solidified, build it out to all aspects—invites, marketing, F&B, décor, entertainment. “Be mindful of your brand and how the theme fits,” she says. “But don’t be afraid to take a risk and go a little out there.”
  3. Have strong and appealing graphics for all materials. “It’s the first experience people will have. A great look will hook them.”
  4. Plan on having food stations rather than a seated meal. “Mobility keeps it fun and active.”
  5. An open bar will be more party-minded. “Figure out the pricing and build it in.”
  6. It’s entirely possible to do two versions of the same general theme, one for an early, family-oriented group and another for those who will revel right through the midnight hour. “Say you do ‘Evening in Paris.’ The décor works for both. Food selections can change as needed, and more important, the entertainment tailored for each. Mimes, caricaturists, jugglers, magicians all can be part of the theme; what they actually do might evolve.”
  7. Involve chefs, bartenders and servers in the process. “They have great ideas and will be key to success.”
  8. If you feel that a seated-dinner is an absolute must, DeMarte suggests having something interactive already on the table. “Maybe a charcuterie platter, something that creates its own little party at the table.” She also offers that tableside service will liven things up—anything from Caesar salad to cherries jubilee. “Dessert could also be at a station. Any time you can let guests get up and move around increases the fun.”
  9. For the late-night crowd, bring out small snack food and coffee at the end.
  10. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. “If you have grand ideas, make sure you have the capabilities.”
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