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How to Throw a Party, According to the Pros

We’ve asked four of the city’s top event planners to hit us with their tips and tricks, do's and don'ts for party planning

By Troy Johnson, Jackie Bryant, Mateo Hoke

picnic party

picnic party

Our Experts

KEVIN HO: CEO and co-founder of MIHO since 2010, specializing in artistic design, planning, and catering for upscale events.

ELEXIA DE LA PARRA: Owner, founder, and creative director behind the beloved dozen-year-old store, Artelexia, and Casa y Cocina, which opened in July.

MIRIAM MORALES: Creator of San Diego Picnics which began in 2020 and hosts small luxury picnic events for special moments and celebrations throughout San Diego.

ALEXANDRIA OTT: Founder + CEO of Chrome City, a creative consultancy, and co-founder of The Blank Table, an underground dinner series.

The holidays are juuuust around the corner. Don’t think so? Blink your eyes. Before you open those lids, you’ll be elbow deep in gravy then eggnog then trying to remember the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne.” Our point? Party season fast approaches, and riches such as wild fame in your friend group and widespread admiration are yours to be had.

We’ve asked four of the city’s top event planners to hit us with their tips and tricks, do’s and don’ts for planning gatherings that guests will remember. We even got a couple disasters, because hey, we’re all human. No matter how good you are, sometimes the masters are no match for a mighty wind.

So whether you want to plan a shindig or simply be the kind of person who gets invited, we’ve got you covered.

The Planning Stages

Find Your Purpose in Life

Kevin: Before you start planning anything, ask yourself why you’re even having the party. It can be a profound reason, like celebrating 30 years of marriage. Or it can be trivial, like you have a fabulous dress hanging in your closet that isn’t getting enough showtime. All that matters is that you really believe in your reason, you’re excited about it, and you deserve it.

Mood Board Like a Pro

Elexia: Pick a theme and/or mood board! It’ll guide everything—colors, food, music, decor—and give everything uniformity the day of.

Obsessively Refresh Your Weather App

Miriam: If it’s hot and humid, consider shaded areas (umbrellas, gazebos, trees). Maybe start the event late evening. Weather also affects how many drinks you should have for guests, and the type. In cold weather, you want bonfires or space heaters.

Buy More Than You Need

Miriam: So you’re not running last minute to purchase ice or more of an ingredient. It’s always better to have some options and purchase a little bit more than you might think.

Don’t Ignore Your Vendors

Miriam: If you have vendors working the event, like catering, photography, and bartenders, make sure they know all of the details they need in a timely manner so they can do their job effectively and smoothly without issues! Communication is key. When this is great, you have great results.

how to throw a party, drinks

how to throw a party, drinks

Courtesy of Elexia De La Parra

Everyone’s Human, So Try Not to be

Never Let ‘Em See You Sweat (Or Slur)

Alexandria: Avoid getting overwhelmed and looking like it. Take a deep breath and walk out with a smile on your face. Have a drink, but not too many. Nobody wants a visibly stressed or drunk host (I have been her and it wasn’t cute).

Don’t Assume Your Friends Share Your Taste

Miriam: Have enough food options— meat, vegetarian, and vegan. Same for drinks. Just because you have a favorite type of food or drink doesn’t mean everyone will enjoy the same thing.

Don’t Be a Bad Guest

Kevin: I’m going to switch this around and say the most common mistake people make as guests is to come empty-handed. Bring a gift, a bottle of something (don’t bring cheap stuff), a bouquet of flowers, or a thoughtful card. If someone is going to go out of their way to show you a good time, you should have the forethought to say thank you.

Most Common Oh No’s and How to Avoid Them

Show Love to Social

Miriam: Have a photo opportunity. A set-up or booth area, a backdrop where guests can take photographs and share on social media, with small details of decor that make your event stand out.

Spielberg Your Party

Kevin: Think of a party as a movie. There are moments of back story, build up, suspense, climax, drama, laughter, sadness, tension and release. Write all of those into the script of the party and think of ways to capture it with how you pace the music, dancing, food, drinks, activities and movement. This also means that you’ll have to be the director. Tell people what to do and how to do it. Trust me, people like to be told what to do when it’s in their best interest.

All the Small Things

Alexandria: People often overlook the small details—the candles, making sure there are enough trash cans, filling everyone’s water so they never run out.

The Blank Table

The Blank Table

Courtesy of The Blank Table

That Big-Dollar Fortune Cookie Advice

Always be Unveiling

Kevin: Bring familiar surprises. It doesn’t matter if they’re big surprises or little ones. Pull out a bottle of rare wine that you and your friend discovered on that trip years ago. Play a slideshow of pics you gathered from your dad’s relatives and friends of his entire life for his 80th birthday with Sinatra singing ‘My Way’ in the background.

Lights, Music, Emotion

Alexandria: You want people to leave your event remembering how it made them feel—and a huge part of that is music and lighting. You could have the very best food, the very best service, but if it’s too bright or the music isn’t vibing, then it wasn’t a good event.

Curate People as Much as the Menu

Elexia: Be very intentional and strategic about your guest list. Ultimately, people attend events and parties to socialize. You have to know your audience: which groups of people have potential to synergize and get along well. Your event can become the reference point for many new and meaningful connections if you invite the right mix of people.

Mistakes are Learning Opportunities

Elexia: There have definitely been oversights. I’ve hosted book signings that have been so popular, people have lined up outside our shop the night before and camped out. The first year we did this, we did not anticipate a few things: that people would need restrooms, and there would be conflict about order of arrival (there were prizes). This created more stress than was necessary. The next time around, we rented a porta potty, hired security, and were very clear with people about what we would and wouldn’t facilitate.

Don’t Blow Your Guests Away

Miriam: My biggest mistakes have been not considering high winds or weather. In the first year, I had so many issues with our umbrellas flying out and falling down, so now we have sand bags to hold the umbrellas and know our locations better, so we can be prepared. I was also setting up in the middle of the day when it was super hot, and it was uncomfortable for everyone. Now we only offer picnics at certain times of day, and this year everything has run more smoothly.

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