Spring is here! And for many of us, that means seeking out whatever outside space we can find to soak up those first warm rays of sun. To get some tips and tricks for how to throw an outdoor party in your building, we spoke to Michael Townsend, Amenity Director at MiMA who plans approximately 24 big events at the building throughout the year (including a “Great Gatsby” party with prohibition-style cocktails and a live swing band, and a Lunar New Year party with dragon dancers and traditional Chinese lanterns).
A nine-year catering veteran, Townsend has plenty of advice and ideas on what to do (and not do) in order to make your next outdoor party a great success. His top tips, below.
Always give yourself extra time
- According to Townsend, the biggest mistake you can make when planning a party is not give yourself enough time beforehand to make sure everything is set up correctly. “The last thing you want is to feel like you’re behind, you always have stress if you feel that way.” The safe bet is to overestimate how much time everything will take you; if you think it will take you one hour to set up, give yourself three.
Food should be easy and plentiful
- Townsend recommends serving finger foods because “the more mobile you can make people, the easier it is for them to interact, and the more fun you’re going to have.” And don’t cheap out on quantity; it’s always better to buy more food than you think you’ll need so you don’t run out.
Have a signature cocktail
- One relatively easy way to elevate your event is to whip up a signature cocktail. “It’s one of those things where people will come to your parties just because they know that there’s going to be something special like that,” Townsend says. A former bartender, he notes that he recently had great success with a simple cocktail of Fireball Whisky and Rumchata. “Everyone loved it, it tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch.”
The details matter
- To really make your party look distinctive, Townsend recommends doing small things that can make a big visual difference. For instance, one trick he recommends is to set your food on different tiers to make each plate stand out. Also, pick a theme and stick to it. “It adds a level of unity to everything, and makes it seem like a well-constructed party.”
For an outdoor party, make sure you have a backup plan
- Yes, the weather is getting beautiful outside, but that doesn’t mean it won’t start to downpour. “Every catering event that I’ve worked outside that didn’t have a backup plan did not go well,” Townsend says. So for instance, if you’re planning to host a BBQ at MiMA, also consider renting one of the event spaces in case you suddenly need to move your party inside.
Ask for help
- At MiMA and all Related buildings, the staff is there to help you, so definitely ask them for advice when you’re planning your next party. They can give you advice about what spaces are available and recommend catering and staffing companies. On that note, Townsend highly recommends hiring even one or two catering staff members for your next big event, as they can take mountains of pressure off you. “It’s worth every cent to have them come in and do what they do. Because really it will make that party that much more enjoyable.”
Things will probably go wrong – don’t stress about it
- Yes, you’re missing a cheese plate or you ran out of forks. Michael’s advice in a situation like that? “Just take a deep breath,” he says, “It’s a party, it’s not diffusing bombs. You’re set, just have a good time.”
- After all, why else would you have a party? “If you’re not enjoying it, your guests won’t enjoy it,” Townsend says, “They’re there for you at the end of the day.”