On Valentine’s Day 46 years ago, my mom got the best gift imaginable: ME! That’s right – Valentine’s Day is my birthday. This year, I would love nothing more than to celebrate in a big way, with all my girlfriends, glasses overflowing with Champagne and a yummy vegan meal. Or maybe we skip the meal and go directly to dessert. It doesn’t really matter — Covid has put a damper on the party scene, so for the moment, being safe is more important than celebrating big.
In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying the chance to reminisce about past parties that brought joy to my heart and a smile to my face. It’s even helped me get into the party spirit to plan SOMETHING, even if it’s not the soirees. (Here’s looking at you, 2022!) So as I sit here coming up with party ideas that pair well with social distancing, I thought I would share with you some of my favorite memories for my 40th birthday bash, which was an amazing Parisian-themed party de résistance.
About a year before I turned 40. I mentioned to my parents that it was time for them to throw another fab blowout party in honor of me officially turning old. At first, I got the rolling stink-eye of “you’re joking, right?!” But it only took a millisecond after that for my mom to jump all over the idea and start proposing fun ideas for an unforgettable event. Besides, my mom’s love language is entertaining, and it’s hard for that woman to say no when it comes to cutting checks in the name of fun!
My parents asked me what I had in mind, and all I could think about was something big. It had been quite some time since I had a blowout celebration, like when I made my debut in 1996 and 1997 or when I married Jason in 2000. I was dreaming of another fabulous event to drown my wrinkled sorrows away.
First things first, I knew it had to be special enough to hire an event planner. In true Cowtown fashion, we decided to keep it local and go with none other than the ultra-talented luxury event planner, Jill Fortney, of Jill Fortney Productions. If you have never attended a Jill Fortney Production event, then you are in for a real treat — including plenty of eye candy-filled photos below.
Jill was not only the planner who made my Big 4-Oh so special, she’s also a friend. So I reached out to her for her thoughts on what takes an event — any kind of event, from a family affair to a birthday bash — to that next level. She was gracious enough to share her strategies — I hope they inspire you to start planning your own amazing party!
Jill Fortney’s Top 6 Tips – Expect the Unexpected
1. The Invitation
A dazzling invitation creates a sense of anticipation. It sets the reason for the celebration as well as the tone of the event. A flat piece of paper with typestyles, ink colors, paper textures and shapes, pictures, and ribbons can transform your imagination of the event. By letting the guest know with a spectacular invite, “ This is going to be a party I do not want to miss.” Tell your hubby I am going to a girl’s party, and I will not be home for dinner.
2. Select a Theme
Make sure the theme fits the occasion … formal, fancy, fun. Take a formal idea and make it fun. Carry out the color scheme throughout the evening with drinks, napkins, party favors, food presentation, entertainment, flowers, and décor. Give all the areas a new twist … create eye candy for the guests. Show them something they have never seen or experienced.
3. Create excitement throughout the event
Introduce something new at least every hour. Offer different appetizers and do not keep passing the same ones all evening. Do not pile food on the tray; use smaller trays, use different vessels and refill often. Make the presentation of the tray connect to the item served. That is, if serving crab cakes, put a whole crab on top of a mound of seaweed on the side of the tray.
Entertaining is an expression of love for your friends. Make each experience memorable. Nothing says festive like polished silver. Use lots of silver everywhere … from candelabras to cups for cocktails to silver objects at the bar.
4. The Food
Entertaining is not about the food, but the fellowship! Always lean on the classics; cocktails, satisfying starters, filling main courses of familiar food and decadent desserts. Make sure the food is presented in an artful, beautiful way. Add delicious garnishes that enhance the presentation. An example, if you are serving a roasted vegetable soup, roast plum tomatoes, slice matchstick thin and sprinkle in the middle of the bowl as it goes out of the kitchen.
Another idea is to toast flavored croutons (homemade) with a little parmesan cheese or garlic and sprinkle in the bowl or pass tableside. Try to master one food item you are known for so guests will look forward to one of your food offerings.
5. The Details
Keep the focus on your selected theme in front of guests during the evening. If “pink” is your theme, remove your entry hall rug and replace it with pink inexpensive carpet. Have waiters wear pink bowties, serve a pink drink, use pink ice or ice cubes with pink flowers with the first drink, put a miniature picture of the guest of honor on top of the pink dessert, mail in advance to guests your favorite pink lipstick and nail polish, car parkers with pink uniforms, dye your dog pink, all the flowers in shades of pink, rent pink glasses for drinks, serve pink champagne or rose wine, and of course, wear a pink dress. If the affair is formal, pin a pink boutonniere on the male guests and give the women a pink wrist corsage.
6. Above all else, be a gracious hostess!
Be the first person to greet your guests; be the last person they see as they exit. Have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks as well as alcoholic drinks available throughout the venue. For larger events (will we ever again??), remember lines are for Luby’s. Have one bar for every 50 guests and offer a variety of choices. Mix and match groups of friends and introduce people to each other that you think they might share something in common. Do not be so exhausted by cleaning the baseboards that you can not enjoy the party. If people are scoping out your baseboards … they are bored and need to go home! A good rule is 8 guests can seat themselves, after that use place cards … formal or casual.
Be a good listener and ask questions of your guests to get the conversation going. Be aware of certain dietary restrictions of guests and have an alternative in the kitchen. Do not try out a new recipe for your guests unless it is for two people on a Sunday night and casual! Use failsafe recipes you prepare or prepared by a caterer.
Thank you for strolling down memory lane with me. No matter the occasion, grand or intimate, every Valentine’s Day should be a special one to celebrate. This year won’t be near as grand, which is totally fine with me, but I think I’ll get to work on what a teeny tiny socially distanced patio party might look like to ring in the big four-six. Stay tuned to my Instastories to peek behind the scenes of the process!
Special Credit to the following companies/vendors for my 40th birthday party!
- FOOD: Grace Restaurant & Marky’s Caviar
- FLORAL: Flowers on the Square
- MUSIC TRIO: Debbie Brooks Group
- DJ: Randal Stout
- EVENT STAFFING: Dalan Sharpe
- VALET: Rent A Frog