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Catering in Minnesota (MN)

Caterers and catering lovers of Minnesota

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We’re sharing cooking tips, tricks, and some coveted secrets.

By: Jessi Minneci

 

As your trusted caterers, we want to lend you a hand in the kitchen. In fact, we value you so much that we want to bring you closer to becoming somewhat of an iron chef. We’re all food lovers here, and what better way to celebrate food and our admiration of you than by bring you some pro cooking tips?

 

The kitchen is a place where masterpieces are made. On the contrary, there’s a very fine line between completing that masterpiece… and having it go up in flames mid-meal prep. No one wants to crash and burn.

 

Below are some of our favorite tips and tricks to avoid that accident in the kitchen.

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Mise en place ASAP

 

Mis en place is a French term meaning ‘everything in its place.’ It more or less refers to the setup that’s required before cooking and is used in restaurants and other professional kitchens to refer to organizing the ingredients a cook will readily need.

 

Everyone should aim for mise en place regardless of whether they are manning a five-star restaurant or a kitchen full of hungry children. Do as much prep as you can the day prior or hours leading up to cooking/hosting an event. Make sauces ahead of time. Assemble appetizer displays so that they’re ready to go. Bake desserts a day (or even two!) before you are expecting company.

 

Mise en place goes beyond the food too. Put your mind at ease by decorating you event space or dining room table before the event. It means there will be less to do day-of, which in turn means a mind that is at ease.

 

Put a lid on it

 

Ever hear the saying “watch pot never boils”? When you’re in a pinch and need your pasta water to start boiling, like, yesterday, put a lid on it! A pot of water will begin to boil much quicker with a cover on it. 

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Be a master of the pickle

 

Need to shake up the variety when it comes to your veggie side dishes? Want to surprise your backyard party guests with a new take on the same-old burger toppings? How about pickling?

 

Whisk a pinch of salt and pinch of sugar into some white wine vinegar. Pour over thinly sliced raw vegetables. Let soak for twenty minutes. Ta-duh! It’s that easy and injects a ton of flavor into your dishes.

 

Give the crowd finger lickin’ chicken

 

When it comes to cooking for a large crowd, chicken breast can get expensive. They also get dull after a while. Thighs are juicier, more cost effective, and more flavorful – and the nutritional difference isn’t something to really fret over:

                                 

  • A three ounce skinless, chicken breast provides about 140 calories, three grams of fat and one gram of saturated fat
  • A three-ounce skinless, chicken thigh clocks in at 170 calories, nine grams of fat and three grams of saturated fat

 

The delicious taste is worth the bit of extra fat when it comes to cooking for a crowd!

 

Sniff the spices

 

Ground spices unfortunately don’t last as long as we’d like them to. Give your spices a whiff… if they don’t smell like anything, they won’t taste like anything, either. And if they don’t taste like anything that means you’re essentially cooking with a flavorless powder – what a buzzkill.

 

Feeling dull?

 

Kitchen knives get dull, and if we don’t keep up with getting them sharpened, they can become quite useless. One of our chef’s strongest suggestions is to do your research and invest in a chef’s knife – his favorite tool in the kitchen. A decent chef knife that is well-maintained will last a home cook the rest of their life!

 

Tell your herbs they’re as pretty as flowers

 

Treat your fresh herbs like you would treat a fresh bouquet of flowers. Trim the stems and put them in glasses of water, fit a plastic bag over each glass of water, and stash them in the refrigerator.

 

Speaking of flowers…

 

Roses are a colorful, beautiful, and edible garnish. Beautify your serving trays with lavish rose petals. On the veggie side, kale is a great option that will make your tray look more presentable.

 

Stock up on soup essentials

 

A freezer full of pork necks and bony beef cuts will ensure you always have what you need to make broths, sauces, and other bases. The same goes for cheese rinds!! Seriously! Freeze your parmesan cheese rinds and think of them as ‘cheese bones’ when you go to make a cheese-based soup or sauce.

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Invest in a massive mixing bowl

 

You’ll thank us for this one. No one wants to mix cake batter or toss salad in a tiny cereal bowl. The bigger the mixing bowl, the bigger the batch you can handle. Bring. It. On!

 

A spoon full of sugar helps the veggies go down

 

Yep, you read that correctly! Some veggies – such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and tomatoes – have a natural sweetness. Take that flavor to the next level with a dash of sugar.

 

Sell your toaster

 

OK, maybe you don’t have to go to such drastic measures, but we highly suggest you try frying your toast instead of toasting it. Warm some butter or olive oil over medium-high heat. Throw some bread into the pan and fry until golden on both sides. Indulge.

 

Store lemons in the fridge

 

Your lemons will stay fresher longer in the fridge. That way you’ll always be able to add fresh lemon juice to everything from dressings to cocktails.

 

86 the grease

 

When cooking bacon, beef, or other greasy foods, strain them over a bowl in the sink. Either toss that grease or save it (especially bacon grease, we highly recommend it) to cook other meats and veggies in. Do NOT pour your grease down the drain!

 

Make butter better

 

Surprisingly, it is possible. Mix a little shallot, some chopped herbs, cinnamon, or maybe some lemon zest into softened butter and —boom – you’ve got yourself some compound butter.

 

Are you a beast in the kitchen? With these tips and tricks, you sure will be. Go get ‘em, tiger!

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By: Desi Dimitrova

 

Don’t you just love barbecues? The soothing sizzling sound, the smell of cooked meat with spices that makes your mouth water, and the sight of delicious side dishes to complete the taste you can almost feel before you’ve even had one bite. What a perfect way to spend an afternoon with your family and friends! Or maybe a special occasion. Whatever it is, barbecues are a great way to gather people together and enjoy a day out in the sun!

 

So, what makes a barbecue so amazing? The food, of course. There are two main elements to this: the meat and the side dishes. So, let’s take a look at what you can do for each of them!

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Side Dishes

 

Side dishes are a great way to compliment any cooked meat. And the best part is that you can do them yourself! Most of them are usually easy and even fun to prepare. Here are 5 recipes of some of the best sides you can have!

 

Roasted Sweet Corn on The Cob

 

This one is easy and oh so good! For a portion of 4, you will need:

 

  • 1/4 cup butter (preferably softened)
  • 1 clove garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tablespoon parsley (chopped)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

 

Now all you have to do is: pre-heat the oven to 350 °F. Then mix together the butter, the garlic, the parsley and the salt. Put the seasoning on each cob, and then place it into an aluminum foil. Bake it for about 20-30 min.

 

Potato Salad

 

Lick your bowl clean with this incredible old-fashioned potato salad! After all, it’s a classic for a reason. Here is what you need for a salad that would be big enough for 8 people:

 

  • 8 potatoes (medium size - boiled)
  • 5 hard-boiled eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 cup onion (minced)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

 

Now that you have all the ingredients, all you have to do is chop the potatoes in smaller pieces. Next, mix the sugar, salt, pepper, cider vinegar, mayonnaise and mustard together. Add them to the potatoes, along with the onion and celery ribs. Cut up the eggs and put them inside the salad. You can add a touch of paprika on the top in order to complete the irresistible look of the dish!

 

Coleslaw

 

Speaking of salads, here’s another classical addition to the barbecue heaven! This is what you will need:

 

  • 1 head cabbage (small — around 2 - 2.5 pounds)
  • 2-3 carrots (large)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

 

The first thing you’d want to do is shred the cabbage. Cut it up into small pieces. Do the same with the carrots and mix the two together. Next comes the dressing. Whisk the mayonnaise, cider vinegar, sugar and salt together. Pour the liquid onto the cabbage and carrots, and leave it in the fridge for at least an hour before serving it. Yum!

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Baked Macaroni And Cheese

 

This side dish takes a bit more time to prepare but it’s so good that you simply must try it! What you’ll need is:

 

  • 1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups of shredded cheese (Cheddar)
  • 1/2teaspoon salt

 

Boil the macaroni, and in the meantime — pre-heat the oven to 400 °F. Next, heat up the milk in the microwave for 1.5 min. Melt the butter and whisk in the flour until you get a smooth concoction. Add the warm milk, and continue to whisk. Do the same with the salt, pepper and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Mix it in the with the macaroni. As for the rest of the cheese, put it on top. Bake it for about 20 min until the cheese starts to bubble or it reaches a nice golden color.

 

Mashed Potatoes

 

Let’s finish off our short list of the best barbecue side dishes with yet another classic! Who could resist the charming taste of mashed potatoes? To prepare them you’ll need:

 

  • 2 pounds potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt and paper to taste

 

Peel the potatoes and boil them for about 15 min in salted water. Then melt the butter, while adding milk. Next, take an electric beater or a potato masher, smash the potatoes and add the milk and butter until they become smooth and creamy. Tasty!

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Barbecue Meat

 

You can’t have a barbecue without the delicious meat, right? But let’s face it, while side dishes can be easy to make, preparing the meat takes a lot of time and it can be tiresome. Especially if you’re having a lot of people over. So why not hire a caterer, save yourself the headache and be the hit of the party? Here are some of the many benefits you’ll have!

 

Always Delicious

 

Do you want to enjoy your barbecue day without a care in the world? Then rely on your caterers! You can be sure that the meat will be tender, and the spices will be just right. Your guests will love it. And so will you!

 

Relaxing

 

Yes, when you know that everyone and everything is taken care of, you have nothing left to worry about! Caterers usually bring their own buns, plastic plates, napkins and utensils (and barbecue sauce!). Pretty amazing, right? Now all you have to do is sit back and relax. Let others do the work for you!

 

Affordable

 

That’s right! Having someone cater for you won’t cost you more than you would spend if you tried to prepare everything yourself. Not to mention all the time you’ll be saving! It’s a win-win!

 

Which side dish is your favorite for a sunny barbecue afternoon? Share with us in the comments below!

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 By: Elesha Piper

 

You may love a hot, crispy waffle but have you heard of the world’s oldest cookie; the pizzelle? Dating back hundreds of years in Italian culture, no Italian catholic celebration or wedding is complete without the famous pizzelle!

 

Light, crispy Italian waffle cookies, the pizzelle is a traditional favorite around Christmas and Easter time and you’re likely to see them piled high on the sweet table of an Italian wedding. These delicious treats were the very first cookie our own Chef Ted learned to make as a child. Chef Ted has his mum to thank for his lifelong passion for food. His mother’s friend, Giovana DâAgostino (aka Mama D.) was a talented Chef and taught young Ted how to make a pizzelle cookie.

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At just six years old, Chef Ted was teaching adults how to make egg rolls, the famously tasty, deep-fried appetizer. His small hands made him an expert at the folding and rolling technique. As he grew, so did his love for food and today we count ourselves lucky to have this award-winning Chef running the kitchen here at Unique Dining Catering

 

Let’s get back to where Chef Ted’s journey all began; the pizzelle. If you’ve never heard of this classic Italian dessert, you’re sure to enjoy this tasty little gastronomic history lesson.

 

‘Pizze’ comes from the Italian word for ‘round’ and ‘flat’ (that’s right, just like the word pizza) and the ending ‘elle’ means small. These eternally popular, small, round cookies are made from a simple batter of sugar, eggs, flour, butter or oil and flavoring.  Although Anise (Black licorice) is the “traditional” flavor of the pizzelle, modern options include vanilla, peppermint, anisette, lemon and chocolate but there are countless recipes and flavor combinations for this humble Italian cookie.

 

Pizzelles are made using iron plates, either the modern, electric version used the same way you’d use a waffle iron or you can opt for the traditional cast metal plates, the type used centuries ago.

 

To cook the pizzelle, the batter is pressed between two iron plates. It’s common for these iron plates to have some sort of decorative design on them, usually a snowflake, which is then transferred to the batter and cooked into the pizzelle.

 

Hundreds of years ago, a family’s traditional pizzelle iron would be individually designed to proudly incorporate family crests, special dates, or other meaningful designs. Decorative plates were a prized possession for this timeless treat and often passed down through generations along with the pizzelle cooking technique.

 

When cooking with these traditional irons, the cookie dough is rolled into a rope to form a figure eight and placed onto one of the plates. The cast metal plate is then held over an open flame and turned to cook each side of the pizzelle.

 

Once the pizzelle cool off, they’ll harden but coming straight from the hot iron, the cookie is soft and malleable so instead of keeping it’s flat, round cookie appearance, it can be molded easily into other shapes. The pizzelle is often wrapped around a tube, forming the sweet, crunchy cylinder used to make the other famously tasty Italian dessert; cannoli.

 

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Pizzelle cookies are often also shaped into a cone to top with gelato or ice cream and it’s common to create a pizzelle ‘bowl’ where the cookie is molded to the inside of a bowl. Once hard, it’s used as a dish for desserts and piled high with sweet toppings like fruit and cream.

 

Pizzelles cooked in their original shape, flat and round, can be stacked between layers of ice cream. For those with a truly sweet tooth, try alternating layers of pizzelle, Nutella and ice cream to create a decadent Nutella Ice Cream Pizzelle sandwich. The light layers of the of the pizzelle perfectly complimenting the creamy richness of the Nutella / ice cream combination.

 

The range of different ways the cookie can be used, especially with modern takes on the traditional recipe, clearly makes it a winner as a super versatile dessert option, regardless of the occasion. 

 

Aside from the design embedded into the pizzelle from the hot iron, there are a few popular traditional ways to decorate and serve up these tasty, waffley morsels.

 

Food coloring can be used to tint the cookie. Pizzelles are also delicious dipped into chocolate, icing or sprinkles. In the simplest style, the pizzelle is served with a dusting of powdered sugar or cinnamon. Elaborately decorated pizzelles packaged in a beautiful festive wrap can make a wonderfully tasty homemade Christmas gift.

 

So, who do we have to thank for the creation of these delicious cookies that are still a popular staple treat of Italian celebrations today? The pizzelle first appeared in the south-central area of Abruzzo, Italy where two small villages, Colcullo, the Province of L’Aquila and Salle, in the Province of Pescara claim rights to the origin of the sweet treat.

 

Pizzelle treats are part of Colcullo’s enticingly named celebration called Festival of the Snakes, one of the most unique and ancient festivals in Italy. At one point, centuries ago, the village was overrun with snakes and when Benedictine monk San Domenico cleared out the local fields that were riddled with serpents, the village celebrated with pizzelles. The festival is held on the 1 May each year and, in addition to the pizzelle, attracts some of the world’s major snake-lovers who often bring their own snakes.

 

Every July, Salle celebrates the festival of 12th-century monk Beato Roberto da Salle. During this popular festival, Pizzelle is hung from tree branches and celebrants walk through the streets with them as an offering.  

 

Interestingly, the history of the pizzelle may go back even further, drawing on the ancient examples of bread stamps in both ancient Greece and Rome where the bread of a similar size and shape was often stamped in geometric patterns. Religious imagery, such as a cross, was also impressed into flatbread during the early days of Christianity to be used as the Holy Eucharist.

 

The pizzelle is clearly a cookie with a lot of history. It’s the cookie that started it all for Chef Ted and he’s been cooking ever since!

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By: Elesha Piper

 

Not all meetings are created equal. Some are short and sweet. Others are so long they test your ability not to fall asleep in public. When you’re in the midst of the former, here are a few things you can do to stay alert and interested. Or at least appear to be!

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Be smart about how you use your break time

 

Even the most demanding executive team won’t expect you to sit through a daylong meeting on budget projections without scheduling breaks into the agenda.

 

The key is how you use those breaks. Resist the temptation to spend the entire time glued to your phone checking and responding to work emails. Your brain needs some non-screen time to take a breather from the onslaught of profit and loss PowerPoint slides.

 

Tip:  Put an out of office message on your email for the duration of the meeting. Let people know you’re unavailable and will get back to them at a later stage. This stops getting those pesky follow up ‘Did you get my last email??’ emails and phone messages!

 

If the break time permits, head straight to the nearest park and take a walk around. According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, taking a stroll through green environments can even put the brain into a state of meditation.

 

No time for a walk? No problem. Deep breathing exercises will reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, and help you feel more alert and invigorated by the time you step back into the boardroom. Find a quiet room nearby for a couple of extra minutes and focus on your breath.

 

Check out these 5 Breathing Exercises To Increase Focus for your next meeting or download the app Breathe To Relax, which guides you through short sessions of diaphragmatic breathing.

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Eat well

 

What you eat before and during meetings is incredibly important to stay focused and avoid the energy slump that makes the final few hours of a meeting seem like an eternity.

 

Firstly, never ever go to a meeting hungry. It’s a sure way to not be able to focus on a single detail. Instead, your brain will be looping in circles around the toasted sandwich and coffee combo at the cafe next door.

 

Meeting organizers take note; a mindful approach to planning catering is one of the best ways to maximize productivity during long meetings with a bunch of important info attendees need to take in.

 

Fruits, fresh veggies, healthy fats (think avocado, olive oil, nuts, etc.) and proteins are all great choices to keep the brain firing on all cylinders. Think twice about including food loaded with gluten, like bread and pasta. When your body processes gluten, the result is a heavy, sluggish feeling. Not ideal when you need to pay attention to detailed spreadsheets and pie charts for hours and hours.

 

For breakfast meetings, eggs are a great source of protein (a nutrient that helps delay hunger) meaning your concentration will stay on track. Chicken is an ideal lunch choice, it too is an excellent source of protein and beans make an great substitute for meat-based proteins to keep the vegetarians in the room happy.

 

Substitute a platter of heavy, sugary danishes for afternoon tea with a delicious fruit platter. You’ll avoid a sugar high followed shortly by a crashing slump in concentration.

  

Skip the coffee

 

Drinking enough coffee to fill a bathtub might is tempting when you’ve got a long meeting to slog through but sipping green tea is actually a better option.

 

Green tea contains two essential compounds, caffeine and I-theanine, which help improve focus and memory, but the caffeine is released slower than coffee. This means the caffeine high from sipping green tea is sustained for longer whereas coffee peaks and drops off quickly.

 

Unlike coffee, green tea also hydrates as well as water does and has a bunch of other health benefits; it’s packed full of antioxidants. You’ll be doing good things for your health as well as remaining alert and interested (or at least pretending to be!) in the meeting.

 

Engage in the discussion

 

If the meeting is longer than a Tolstoy novel and death by a PowerPoint slide deck is beginning to feel like an actual possibility, one of the best things you can do is to engage in the discussion. When we’re not playing an active part in the meeting, we tend to switch off. Speaking up will help you stay focused.

 

Look for opportunities to ask a question, make a comment or just lend your support. Jotting down key points is a great way to prompt thoughtful questions and stay present.

 

Speaking of staying present….

 

Practice mindfulness

 

In case you missed the memo about the practice of mindfulness that is sweeping the globe; mindfulness means being focused on the present.

 

Paying close attention to everything happening around you in the moment will help rein in a wandering mind. Which makes it an ideal technique to employ during long meetings when your ability to stay awake in public is put to the test.

 

Sit up straight, look right at the speaker and bring your focus to each word spoken. If you find your mind wandering to other topics—future meetings, your to-do list, the color of your colleague's tie—acknowledge the feelings, but then commit to refocusing your attention on the meeting

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Keep calm and doodle

 

According to a study by Jackie Andrade, Psychologist from the University of Plymouth, UK, scribbling random doodles in your notebook is actually a super effective way for your mind to stay engaged during meetings.

 

In fact, you can retain 29% more information just from the simple act of doodling. That’s pretty impressive. Need more convincing? Check out The Doodle Revolution, led by Sunni Brown author, founder and Chief Infodoodler of Sunni Brown Ink, a visual thinking consultancy. What are you waiting for? Pick up a pen and get doodling.

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By: Jessi Minneci

 

One of the best parts about catering a party is all of the amazing food leftover after the event! We love feeding our guests, entertaining, and making sure that everyone leaves satisfied and happy. And often there is even some grub left out on the buffet once everyone has gone home!

 

The downside of leftovers? Potentially, stored food can lead to decay, mold, strange odors, and other foodborne illnesses. But this doesn’t have to be that case. Some foods need to be kept in the refrigerator to slow down germ growth and keep food fresh for longer; others are better off being stored in the freezer. It’s all about knowing how to properly store leftovers so that you can enjoy them without worry. Follow these tips to prolong the freshness of your party’s remnants that were previously cooked.

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Be a safe cook

Let’s backtrack from the party idea and first talk about leftovers in general. If you are cooking a big meal at home, the first step to ensuring delicious leftovers is cooking the food safely. Sounds like a given, right? Yes – but we’re still here to make sure you’re a pro! Be sure the elements of your meal are cooked to a safe temperature (we recommend using a food thermometer) and refrigerate the leftovers in a timely manner. Want to know the two main causes of foodborne illness?

 

  1. Not cooking food to a safe temperature
  2. Leaving food out at an unsafe temperature

If you’re cooking a meal with red meat (beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts), you’ll want the meat to reach a minimum internal temperature of 145° F. For both safety and quality, allow the red meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. When it comes to ground meats (beef, pork, lamb, and veal), you’ll want the meat to reach a minimum internal temperature of 160°. For chicken, turkey, and other poultry – 165° F.

 

Bacteria growth thrives between the 40-140° F. After food is cooked, hot food must be kept hot (above 140°) to prevent that growth. Once you’re ready to store it, you’ll want to cool it below 40° F as quickly as possible so that, again, bacteria are not in that ‘thriving’ zone. To do this, divide large amounts of food into shallow containers and refrigerate. For example, divide a big pot of soup into pint-sized containers as opposed to sticking a huge pot in the fridge.

 

Throw away all perishable foods that have been left at room temperature for more than two hours – they are no longer good.

Now, let’s break down the specific needs for different types of foods. Here’s how to handle leftovers from your party, picnic, family dinner, and so on…

 

Meats, fish, and poultry

First store leftover meats/fish/poultry uncovered in the refrigerator to rapidly cool the item. Once cool, convert the meat to a shallow and sealable container.

As a general rule of thumb, raw ground meats, all poultry, seafood, and variety meats can be stored safely in the refrigerator for one to two days. Raw roasts, steaks, and chops should be safe for three to five days. Cooked meat, poultry, and seafood – three to four days.

Pro tip: if you opt to freeze your leftover meat, we recommend doing so in sauce, such as a pasta sauce or soup. This enables the meat to keep its moisture and taste better once defrosted. Defrost frozen leftovers in the refrigerator, under cold water or in a microwave oven. Refrigerator thawing takes the longest but the leftovers stay safe the entire time. After thawing, the food should be used within three to four days or can be refrozen.

 

Soups, sauces, and other liquids

Sauces, gravy, and soups should be portioned out and stored in air-tight containers or heavy-duty Ziploc bags. Spread the liquid out as much as possible to speed up the cooling process of hot items.  A sauce will last safely between three and four days in the refrigerator. In the freezer, a soup/sauce/gravy will maintain best quality between four and six months, however, items kept constantly frozen at 0°F will keep safe indefinitely.

 

Pasta

Cooked pasta will remain fresh in the refrigerator for up to five days, and lasts for eight months in a freezer. Drizzle just a bit of olive oil onto the pasta before storing in an airtight container to keep it from drying out.

After defrosting frozen pasta, re-boil in water to heat it right through.

 

Veggies

As we’ve mentioned with other food items, the key to vegetables is to divide and conquer. Cool the veggies before sealing and storing them in the refrigerator. Once stored, veggies will maintain optimal freshness for two days.

 

Bread, rolls, and buns

There are few things quite as beautiful as the basket of fresh rolls at the end of a buffet table at a catered party… YUM! But when it comes to storing leftover bread products, the refrigerator isn’t too effective.

Sure, bread will stay fresh in a sealed bag for a few days, but if you have a surplus of leftover rolls, the freezer will be your best friend.  Place bread in a sealable freezer and it will remain edible for several months.

 

Cheeses

Someone might opt to wrap leftover blocks of cheese, from a cheese plate, perhaps, in plastic wrap. This is actually a no-no as the plastic will cling to the fats and oils of the cheese and affect its taste. The best way to store leftover cheese is to grate it and place it in a freezer bag – this will keep it fresh for an extra two to three months.

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Enjoying your meal later on

We mentioned before that your leftovers can be defrosted one of several ways. However, you can even reheat frozen leftovers without thawing, either in a saucepan, microwave, or the oven. Reheating of course will take longer than if the food is thawed first, but it is safe to do when time is short.

Remember to reheat leftovers to a piping hot temp (at least 165°F) and to bring sauces, soups and gravies to a boil. Always cover leftovers while reheating to retain moisture and ensure the food heats all the way through.

Safe food is great food – bon appétit!

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Notice slouching shoulders in the office? Boost company morale, efficiency, and productivity with these tips.

By: Jessi Minneci

 

Finding truly, truly engaged employees is quite rare, unfortunately. In fact, according to Gallup’s latest report on employee engagement at the workplace, only 32.9 percent of employees agree to being engaged at work on a weekly basis. What’s more is that Gallup reported that percentage dropping more than five percent from the last time they checked the state of employees around the nation. We seem to be slipping… and fast…

Do you notice your employees’ shoulders drooping at work? Does everyone seem to shuffle through their daily motions without much enthusiasm? Your employees may need a confidence boost. After all, low morale leads to poor cooperation, decreased overall productivity (AKA engagement) and an increased turnover. Out of the loop employees spirals into an out of the loop business – and we don’t want that happening in your company!

Let’s convert those shoulder-slouchers in your office to engaged employees! After all, productive and engaged employees are the most effective strategy for increasing performance, optimism, and sustainable long-term growth. Consider adapting some of these tactics in your office:

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Remember, work is more than just a job

The idea above is not only for you, but something that you’ll want to keep top of mind with your employees on a regular basis. Everyone wants to feel that his or her work has a higher purpose. Sometimes, though, that purpose gets lost in the day-to-day grind.

Remember to talk about the purpose of what your team does: the ‘why’ behind the work. Perhaps you’ll want to discuss daily goals in a morning meeting, or circulate a company email highlighting one employee or one team of employees per email, and a little bit about what they do and how they contribute to the company’s overarching goal.

Everyone likes to feel important. Remind your employees why they are.

 

Remember to celebrate accomplishments

This one’s easy! The most effective way to boost morale and to keep everyone engaged in what they are doing is to recognize when they do it, and do it well. It will make them feel appreciated and encourage them to continue increasing their productivity.

Reward your employees for a job well done. Do this more than once a quarter. In fact, do this on a rolling basis; whenever someone does something that is reward-worthy. Here are a few incentives you may want to consider implementing:

  • Swap out bagged lunches and soggy take out for a corporate luncheon: Tell your employees to leave their PB&Js home tomorrow; it’s time for a luncheon! Instead of allowing your employees only a working lunch at their desk, designate an hour or two out of the busy work day to bond over a catered lunch. Order cold cuts, salads, and the works for your employees. Instead of discussing an upcoming business meeting, engage in conversation surrounding what your employees’ plans are for the upcoming weekend.
  • Similarly, hold a ‘lazy Monday’ in the office! Roll slowly into the workweek with a catered breakfast opportunity for your employees on a Monday morning. Chat over pastries and bagels, and boost your employees’ spike of natural energy with a selection of fresh fruits. Trust us, after a good breakfast, everyone will be working way harder than if they just had that to-go cup of Joe.
  • Hold a monthly award ceremony: Much like granting superlatives, publicly recognize your employees for reaching different milestones, goals, or overcoming other challenges. Award a trophy to an employee or two who really got through the month with flying colors. Then pass that trophy on to another stellar employee the next month!
  • Hire a massage therapist, meditation or yoga instructor to come in and award employees who sit in front of the computer all day. Nothing says thank you like throwing your employees a (relaxing, soothing, and healing) bone.

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Have a daily huddle

Much like reporting on how each employee is contributing to the company as mentioned above, incorporating a daily huddle into your team’s strategy is conducive to keeping everyone on the same page in terms of goals and hurdles.

Hold daily mini-meetings where each person briefly shares:

  • What they are working on for the day
  • Where they are struggling / can benefit from some assistance
  • What they are personally going to do to make things better

Hold these huddles in the morning, before everyone hops on to their computer for the day. It will allow everyone to get things off their chest, state their goals out loud, got everyone on the same page, and keep each other accountable.

 

Mix up the norm

NO ONE likes doing the same things over… and over… and over again. Departing from the same old routine of meetings, phone conferences, and spreadsheets can go a long way toward building morale. Some examples:

  • Divide the company up into subdivisions, groups, etc. and create closer-knit ‘families’ depending on the area of the company your employees work in. These families can hold weekly meetings and strategy-building discussions to delegate tasks and better conquer projects together
  • Once each quarter, get your team out of the office for a bonding activity like volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, golfing, catering a summer work picnic for your employees and their families, or taking a trip to the zoo.
    • Bonus idea: If you’re feeling bold and daring, have the office painted with bright colors while everyone is out for the day. Your employees will return to a fresh, new space… and most likely a clearer mind!

 

Give each other feedback

No one likes to feel alone or clueless when it comes to their work. In this sense, performance reviews are essential –let employees know where they are excelling, and what areas they need to work on.

This is a team effort. After reviewing your employees, ask what you could do to help them succeed. Reaching out to them for your own feedback not only gives you clear, immediate ways to help your employees improve, but also encourages an open dialogue between the two of you.

 

Lend a hand

When those employees give you feedback, take it to heart; don’t let it fall on deaf ears after the performance review is over. Where you can, take problems off the hands of your employees and on yourself.

Take on the problem yourself—for your team—and morale will go up.

Boosting your employees’ morale, productivity, and efficiency is not an impossible task. In fact, it is quite easy if you are willing to loosen up a bit and make a few changes regarding the way things are handled, recognized, and celebrated throughout the office. 

Be sure your teams’ shoulders are slouching no more by incorporating some of these efficiency-raising and morale-boosting tips!

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11

These tips will have you piping and decorating like the pros

By: Jessi Minneci

 

When it comes to decorating Instagram-worthy cookies, there’s a lot of pressure to pipe the icing and scatter the sugar flecks just right. Cookies usually taste amazing no matter what, there’s no denying that; but there comes a time in every baker's life when the vanilla frosting and rainbow sprinkles are no longer enough.

 

If you're serious about decorating cookies with a w-o-w factor, whether it be for the holiday season, your baking business, a wedding party, or to enjoy on your couch with a cup of tea, it's time to upgrade your techniques and tools.

 

Decorating cookies always seems like a good idea… but your finished product almost never ends up looking like the whimsically-decorated example image that goes along with the recipe found online. To avoid frosting fails and fondant fumbles, follow these expert tips on creating cookies that are both stylish and tasty.

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It starts with the cookie

 

You cannot build a beautifully-decorated product without a beautiful base. In this instance, we’ll focus on a truly blank canvas – the sugar cookie. Make the dough ahead of time, roll it out (it’s way easier to roll out at room temp than when it’s cold), and allow it to chill before being cut out into shapes. Chilling the dough will help it better maintain its shape throughout that baking process instead of it becoming a puffy mess in the oven. In fact, we even suggest throwing your cookie sheets in the freezer for 15 minutes before cooking to really avoid that ballooning.

 

Speaking of ballooning, you’ll also want to pay attention to how you handle your butter. Over-creaming your butter can aerate the dough, thus causing the rise… and then collapse… of your cookies in the oven. Work the butter just enough that it homogenizes with the rest of the ingredients, but don’t over-cream.  

 

When it comes to cutting the cookies, we suggest avoiding shapes with too many protrusions – like complex stars. Longer or thinner bits of dough will break off easier and may also cook quicker and can become overly browned before the rest of the cookie is done.

 

Pro-tip: Want to bring your sugar cookies to the next level? Kick the flavor up a notch by adding a pinch of lemon or orange zest to the dough recipe. The zing of citrus-y freshness will elevate the flavor of your sweet treat just enough.

 

Keep cooling

 

You let your cookies cool down before baking them; now it’s time to let them cool again after removing them from the oven.

 

There’s nothing worse than piping icing onto the surface of your fresh cookie and watching it melt off of the sides, or sprinkling colorful sugar glitter on top of your treat just to watch all of the color run.

 

Patience is key here. And although we don’t always want to wait around for a finished product, allowing your cookies adequate time to cool before decorating is key to piping a masterpiece.

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Choose the right icing for the job

 

There are two main types of icing when it comes to cookie decoration – hardening and non-hardening. Which you choose is up to personal preference, however, non-hardening is ideal for cookies that 1). Do not need to be transported, and 2). Do not need to be stacked.

 

Embrace royal icing

           

Royal icing is what gives bakery-made cookies their professional sheen. It is a hardening icing made from confectioners’ sugar, water, egg white, and flavorings (the egg white is what allows it to dry hard). You can also make it with meringue powder, which consists of dry powdered egg white and stabilizers.

A quick recipe:

  • 3 ounces pasteurized egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar

 

Combine egg whites and vanilla in a mixer and beat until frothy. Add confectioners' sugar gradually and mix on low speed until sugar is incorporated. Turn speed up to high and beat until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. This should take approximately 5 to 7 minutes.

Royal icing comes in different consistencies, depending on how you make it. For a stiff product, mix icing on medium-low speed to keep out too much air. The icing will turn out thick and dense rather than very fluffy. For a medium consistency, add a few drops of water at a time to stiff icing. Don’t add too much – it won’t take a lot. Medium consistency icing is thin enough to flow smoothly out of a small tip, but is not so thin that it spreads and loses the shape of what you’re piping. Smooth consistency does what it should: creates a smooth layer of icing on a cookie. Achieve it by adding a couple of tablespoons of water at a time to stiff icing. To test the consistency, take a spoonful of icing and drop it back into the bowl. It should take between 14-16 seconds for the icing to smooth itself out.

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Get into your decorating space

Decorating cookies directly on a baking sheet or table, especially when you are working from your home’s kitchen, will make an absolute mess. No one wants globs of icing all over the place or stray sprinkles showing up days after you baked! To avoid the mess, place your cookies on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. This will help catch any runaway sprinkles and icing drips.

Improvise your kitchen tools

  • Piping bag: Don’t have any pastry piping bags on hand? No problem. Instead of smearing your icing on the cookie in a messy blob, fill a small Ziploc bag with icing. Snip the tiniest piece of the bottom corner of the bag off, and voila, you now have a makeshift piping bag
  • Toothpicks: These little guys can be used to create designs in the icing once you lather up your cookies
  • Tweezers: Fingers are too big and clumsy for placing sprinkles in a precise pattern. Use tweezers for better control and greater precision

Be clean and decorate quickly

Pipe the border of the cookie first with a stiffer icing, then fill in the center with smooth icing. You can use a piping bag, an offset spatula, or a paring knife to frost the center without sticking your fingers or anything else unnecessary in the cookie.

If coloring your icing, we suggest opting for gel food coloring over liquid, as even a few drops of liquid can thin an icing past its ideal consistency. Gel colors allow you to use less product, and won’t change the consistency of your icing.

Add the toppings and sprinkles while the icing is still wet and tacky — within two minutes of frosting. Though the surface of the icing will feel dry after about 10 minutes, let the cookies fully harden for a few hours (…if you can resist digging in right away.)

Remember, not every cookie is going to come out ‘perfect’ – even the pros run into a few glitches here and there. Take deep breaths; try not to stress and trust the process! To troubleshoot a few problems:

  • Runny icing: Add extra powdered sugar to your icing to thicken it up
  • Sticky decorating fingers: As you decorate, you’re bound to get some sticky icing on your hands. While licking the sweet stuff off is yummy, it’s not the best method in terms of keeping everything clean. Constantly wash and dry your hands with warm water to avoid unneeded mess
  • When you have to transport: Opt to bake rounder, less complex shapes when you must transport in order to avoid as much cookie-brakeage-in-transit as possible

In no time, you’ll be piping and prepping cookies like a pro – for the holidays, bake sales, and beyond!

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5

By: Desi Dimitrova

 

Do you remember when you were little and you never understood why dessert came at the end of the meal, when all you wanted to do was eat it first? Do you still feel like that as an adult? Once you grow up, you have the option to eat whatever you like, whenever you like. So sometimes dessert does come before anything else.

 

But what about at work? Do you munch on some delicious treats throughout the day? And how about after a tedious meeting?

 

Studies have shown that snacking in the office increases the bonds and improves relationships between co-workers. It also decreases stress because you’re able to share your burden with colleagues. Which is why it comes as no surprise that when a less-than-exciting meeting is a foot, managers like to head to the local bakery and buy delicious pastries for everyone!

 

Have you ever wondered what kinds of desserts and snacks best fit in a meeting environment? Here’s a list of the most mouth-watering treats that will brighten up even the gloomiest meeting or, sometimes, day!

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Cupcakes

 

Don’t you just love the frosting on top? That’s the best part of any cupcake! Not to mention that it gives it its signature taste. Whether it’s Luscious Vanilla, Dark Chocolate or Red Velvet — they’re irresistible. In addition to that, you can have the cupcakes custom-made with the company logo or a special message. And they have an actual superpower. Cupcakes can brighten up anyone’s day! Yes, that meeting just got better!

 

Cookies

 

They are the cupcakes’ best friends. Not all cookies are made equal though, so be careful with your choice. It’s best to opt for freshly baked goodness.

 

Chocolate Truffles on A Stick

 

Old but gold! Truffles are elegant and classy. They were made for people who like tradition and see nothing wrong with sticking to what works. If the rest of your team is slightly more adventurous, you can put the truffles on a stick, bring out a couple of bowls of melted chocolate and let people experience Heaven in the office. It’s a snack that everyone will talk about for the rests of the week!

 

Baked Doughnuts

 

Who doesn’t like doughnuts? They’re fluffy and delicious. But they can be a very heavy food, and especially for people who are health-conscious, doughnuts are a nightmare. So, is there a better option on the market? Why yes, there is! Baked doughnuts! They’ve become the hit of season, creating their own following. And with good reason — you get the same delicious taste but with less grease! Now that’s the kind of math everyone loves!

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Ice Pops

 

It’s a hot summer day. The AC is working round the clock. And yet, the day calls for an ice treat to lift everyone’s spirits. So why not have some ice pops? They can even be made out of ice cream and cut into small squares, so that people can easily take a piece. Hurry up before they melt!

 

Ice Cream Sundaes

 

Speaking of frozen goodies, you can also try yummy ice cream sundaes. They’re a perfect blend of ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Oh, and let’s not forget about the most important ingredient — the cherry on the top! They’re serviced in individual cups, so your teammates and colleagues will be able to enjoy them without causing too much distraction to themselves and others.

 

Chocolate Mousse

 

The king among desserts! Add to it some whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles, and you have yourself a little piece of Heaven. It’s easy to pass around as it usually comes in small cups. Mousses produce exhilarating excitement because of all the amazing decoration. And people love them because they’re not as heavy as other types of desserts. Not to mention that they’re incredibly tasty. It’s a win-win!

 

Brownie Delight A’la Mode

 

Did you know that the pie a’la mode (the early version of the brownie a’la mode) was invented in Minnesota? It all happened at the end of the 19th century, and today this dessert claims the title of one of the most popular treats on the market. And with good reason! The combination of delicious chocolate brownie with cool vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup will melt in your mouth in seconds. Your co-workers won’t be able to resist it!

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Apple Pie

 

What is the 4th July without apple pie? Or any other occasion, for that matter? Pies are such an amazing type of food. There probably isn’t a person alive who doesn’t love them. And you have so many options! Of course, undoubtedly the biggest winner is the apple pie. Complete it with cinnamon ice cream, and everyone will love you. And when you get them for events or just because you feel like it for the office meeting, they usually come in smaller sizes, so that everyone can take one. Delicious!

 

Carrot Cake

 

Cakes have the lead when it comes to traditional desserts. They can be chocolate or vanilla, with fruit or nuts, you name it! But have you tried the oh so good carrot cake with pineapple cream cheese frosting? If you have not, brace yourself. Your life is about to be transformed! And if you want to make it easier for your colleagues to enjoy, try cutting it in smaller square pieces, and put those on a skewer of some sort. Or cake pops! You can also directly order the cake in such a form, so you will be able to save yourself some time. And people will adore you!

 

Cups of Fruit Salad

 

And last, but most definitely not least, let’s take a look at the healthiest dessert out there — the fruit salad. This is a very refreshing treat and it’s good for all seasons. Add in a scoop of ice cream to make it even more delicious in those hot summer months. Or how about a bit of honey? Amazing! You can order cups of fruit salads that your colleagues will be able to enjoy as the meeting goes on. And they’ll be refreshed and have more energy!

 

So, which dessert do you like most in your office? Is there something you’re dying to try out? Let us know in comments below!

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6

All the terms you need to know for working back & front of house so you don’t get 86’d.

By: Jessi Minneci

 

Have you ever walked into a busy hole-in-the wall restaurant on a Saturday night, only to get seated next to the open kitchen (A.K.A. one of the most entertaining seats in the house, if you ask us!)? All night, you were probably tantalized with delicious, fresh smells wafting over the border wall and into your vicinity. Yum!

 

Keep thinking back to that experience. Being so close to the kitchen, did you notice anything else in particular? Something you may not have picked up on was all of the conversation going on between the back-of-the-house team. And that’s probably because it sounded like a bunch of gibberish to you.

 

“By 9, we were slammed and had already 86’d halibut and monkfish. I was running the pass when this huge push was happening, and we were doing the skirt steak a la minute, you know?”

 

If you’re scratching your head at that sentence, you’ve probably never worked in a kitchen before. Like all industries, the kitchen has developed its own jargon—one that is at once clever, efficient, and sometimes a little crude. We’re breaking down all of the kitchen slang A-Z so that you’ll be talking like a true sous chef in no time.

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12-top: Depending on the number of guests that can fit at a table, that determines what type of ‘top’ the table is. If four people can sit at the table, the table is a four-top. If 12 people can sit at the table, it’s a 12-top. And so on…

 

3 out: Plating and preparation time is crucial when it comes to the successful flow of a kitchen, especially on busy days. Three out refers to the amount of time before a dish will be ready to be plated. If the chef yells “3 out on the duck,” that means the duck will be ready for plating in three minutes. “5 out on the shepherd’s pie” means that that dish will be ready to go in five minutes.

 

86’d: When the kitchen runs out of a dish, it’s “86’d” from the menu. Certain dishes can also be 86’d if the chef is unhappy with the preparation and temporarily wants it off the menu.

 

A la carte: A phrase meaning ‘according to the menu’… it refers to a selection of differently priced dishes that are prepared when ordered from the menu.

 

A la minute: Despite what you might think – and we apologize in advance if this breaks your spirit – but not all restaurant dishes are made to order. This is a good thing, though, because to prep everything as an order comes in would be next to impossible.

 

There are items on the menu, though, that are created ‘a la minute’ (‘in the minute’ in French) that are made then and there. Instead of making a huge vat of soup for the night, a soup made ‘a la minute’ means that each serving is prepared to order.

 

Amuse-bouche: Bite-sized hors d’oeuvres. We like this one because its translation is literally ‘mouth amuser!’

 

Apéritif: A before dinner, alcoholic beverage used to stimulate appetite.

 

Bev nap: The little, square napkin that a beverage rests on.

 

BOH: Back Of House, the kitchen… any area where you don’t deal with customers, basically. It also refers to the group of people who work there.

 

Camp kitchen: Believe it or not, not all venues come equipped with a complete kitchen. Sometimes, the caterer needs to bring their own equipment in order to get everything prepared, cooked, and served to standard. This can also be referred to as ‘field kitchen.’

 

Combi: A fancy oven with convection and steam features – all the bells and whistles.

 

Comp: To give something away free. “We were slow on table eight… comp the whole table coffee and dessert!”

                                     

Digestif: An after dinner, alcoholic beverage enjoyed as an aid to digestion.

 

En croute: A food that is wrapped and baked in a pastry

 

Family meal: Staff meal, usually served family-style, that all staff eat together before a shift to discuss the night ahead

 

F&B: Short for food and beverage.

 

Front of House: The front of the restaurant; dining are.

 

Getting a push: Work on the line usually comes in waves: peak times, closing time, late night, etc. When the restaurant is getting busier, the kitchen is “getting a push.”

 

Low-boy: An under-the-counter refrigerator.

 

Mise: French for ‘everything in place.’ You better hope that everything is mise en place throughout the night.

 

Ops meeting: A gathering held by the caterers before your event. This marks the time when the client(s) and caterer go over everything that will happen during an event.

 

The pass: When dishes are ready to be served, they are transferred to the pass, where the wait staff will pick them up and bring them to the table.

 

Robot Coupe: This device it like a food processor… but the motor is a heck of a lot stronger.

 

Salamander: A term for the broiler. (No, not a lizard!)

 

Short: To be missing an item to complete the meal, e.g., “The steak is short the demi glaze”

 

Shuck: What one does to an oyster J

 

Sommelier: A trained professional of wine and food pairing.

 

SOS: Sauce on the side.

 

Waxing the table: To give a table of customers the VIP treatment.

 

Working: While the food is actively being cooked, it is ‘working.’

 

When you find yourself in a kitchen setting – whether it be sitting near an open kitchen, taking a stab at working in the restaurant business, or attending a party with an active catering staff – the food-specific vernacular could come off as quite intimidating.

 

However, once you master the terms on this list, you’ll be ready to handle the F&B in the front of the house while your team’s feeling the push; all without getting 86’d on your first day!

 

Bon appetit!

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5

By: Jessi Minneci

 

Tidy up the office – you’ve got company coming! And whether the CEO is visiting from out of state, the higher-ups from another region are dropping in, or an exclusive guest wants to observe the office, there’s no denying that we all tend to get overwhelmed when we know we want to impress a visitor.

 

When the big wigs come to visit our office branch, we want them to be more or less blown out of the water – with our appearance, with our employees, and with our work ethic. From the second they step in the door, we want them to feel the company culture – the positive "vibe" that hopefully defines our work and team. But how do we create all of this good mojo? Well, a little preparation is involved, sure, but nothing is unattainable.

 

Follow these simple steps, and you’ll have impressed the higher ups so much so that they’ll probably be asking if they can make their stay more permanent.

 

Prepare beforehand

 

Regardless of the situation at hand, we want to make sure that our visitors’ stay is as comfortable as possible. Outside of the office, ensure that your visitor’ travel arrangements are taken care of. Nearby, reliable hotel? Offer to book them a room. Send a car to the airport to pick them up. Better yet, if you can afford getting away for a bit, pick them up personally. You can also knock their socks off by going the extra mile and creating a list of cool spots they may want to check out while they’re in town – restaurants, theaters, local landmarks – things like that. Even if their trip is short, you’ll want to offer them some fillers for free time; don’t leave them relying only on Yelp.

 

Get everyone in the know

 

Before the higher ups arrive, distribute a memo to the entire staff explaining their background and any important or relevant facts: names, their positions, their home branch location, etc. Brief your employees on the reason for the visit to the best of your ability and encourage employees to greet and interact with visitors when the time is appropriate.

 

Because everyone will be in the loop, you can also work together as a team to make sure the office is in tip-top shape. Is the Xerox pile, well, piling up? Do employees tend to leave their snacks and wrappers astray at their desks? These habits may be fine on any other given day, but when there are visitors present, you’ll want to work as a team to do some tidying up. Organized work spaces give off a great first impression of organized employees.

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Doll up the workspace

 

Take tidying up to the next level by adoring the office with things that radiate your company culture. For example, does your office have a lobby or area with a television? Loop a slideshow containing pictures of employees, birthday/promotion/life event/company milestone congratulations, or videos of recent company events. Decorate blank walls with images and objects that are along the same lines – frame a company t-shirt, flag, or banner; pin up images from company events; or highlight notes and mementoes that highlight company success.

 

Ask the right questions

 

When you and your team interact with the higher ups, first put emphasis on developing genuine rapport. Once the ice is broken, you’ll want to ask more pressing questions – ones that exemplify your knowledge of the company, its pain points, and its growth potential.

 

Do your research. Being able to provide your own insights to the questions you’re posing will show your business-centric knowledge. Bonus: this may also give you and your employees an opportunity to peek behind the curtain of how their success came to be. Some ideas:

 

  • Do you think we could increase revenue by doing [X]?
  • I see [COMPANY] is paving the way for [X AREA OF BUSINESS]. Do you feel that’s a big competitive threat?
  • What does success look like for you… in a single day and/or over time?
  • What questions do we need to be asking that we’re not already?
  • What does [X DECISION] mean for our future? Is this a long-term, strategic decision for us?

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Tantalize their taste buds

 

After traveling, you can rest assured knowing your visitors will be hungry. Don’t assume they’ve eaten. And don’t send them to the nearest McDonald’s, either. Make sure there is food readily available, whether you confine that to a meeting room with just you and the higher ups or decide to hold a company luncheon in which everyone’s involved.

 

Our suggestion? Opt for appetizers! No matter the time of day, appetizers are always a good bet, as they are small and manageable, less messy than full-plated meals, and they offer tons of opportunity, no matter what someone’s dietary restrictions and desires are. Unique Dining Catering offers a myriad of hors dourves, including:

 

  • A splendid array of artisanal cheeses and crackers
  • Dainty deviled eggs whipped up using the perfect recipe
  • Fresh shrimp cocktail and sauce
  • A delectable assortment of mini quiches
  • Finger lickin’ chicken drummies with dipping sauce
  • Mouth-watering baked ham, bacon, and cheese cups

 

Need we go on? With so many options, appetizer offerings will knock the socks off of your visitors and leave them full… but daydreaming for more! Plus, if there are leftovers, we’re sure your employees won’t mind taking some bite-sized babies to go.

 

The suggestions above highlight only some of our appetizer offerings. Browse our entire hors dourves menu here, and create the perfect mix of dishes to present the higher ups with.

 

Give them a gift

 

No one likes to go home empty-handed. To cap off a successful visit, send your guests off with something that is memorable to your branch, such as company clothing, logo-printed water bottles or stationary, or a homemade travel kit for their return trip home.

 

Follow the visit up with personalized cards thanking each of them for their time, knowledge, and willingness to visit. Send them snail mail! A thank you email is nice, but nothing shows personal gratitude like a good ole’ hand-written sentiment.

 

You’ve got this! By the time the big wigs get through with you, they’ll be so impressed that they just might ask you to apply for their position!

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8

Bring employees together with these ideas and activities (that they won’t roll their eyes at)

By: Jessi Minneci

 

Take a look around your office at 2 p.m. Do you see anyone dozing off behind the confines of their cubicle? Are co-workers conversating with each other, or do most people appear to be in some technology-driven trance? When you start noticing a few (or more) employees dragging their feet in the hallway, it may be a good time to start considering spicing up the place a bit.

 

Breaks from rigorous work are necessary. Trust us, a little distraction here and there from the daily grind can actually lead to more success, not less! It’s time to start planning a teambuilding activity.

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Team bonding, whether inside or outside of the office walls, provides a meaningful way to foster relationships with your team members, reduce employee stress, and give your team the chance to get to let their guards down just enough.

 

So, you’re all for planning some team bonding for your staff, right? But are you stuck on where and how to take the team bonding to the next step? Try starting with one of these ideas – each is bound to get everyone in good spirits… whether they’re clocking out or just coming in for the day:

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Give them something sweet

 

Do your employees seem to STARE at the clock, just waiting for 5 p.m. to roll around? Ditch the mid-afternoon lag by breaking up the day with a dessert social! After all, nothing says ‘I appreciate you’ to your employees quite like a sweet treat.

 

After lunch, set up an ice cream bar in the break room – equipped with all of the toppings imaginable: whipped cream, chocolate sauce, sprinkles, candy, etc. Calling everyone away from their desks with a small gesture of appreciation (and free dessert!) goes a long way. If you’re looking for something a little more upscale and a little less melty (things could get sticky where keyboards are involved) than ice cream, consider catering something like our sweet and fruit dessert table.

 

Miniature cheese cakes… fresh fruit… lemon bars… brownies… éclairs… strawberry and chocolate mousse... are you day dreaming of desserts yet!?!? When it comes to bringing your employees together, a little sugar and a lot of happiness will ensure that no one leaves the office with a frown that day.

 

Bring in a workshop

 

This teambuilding option is versatile in several different ways – workshop administrators can be brought into your office so that employees don’t have to leave the premises to get together, and the workshop type itself can be either educational, professional, or, simply, fun! When planning a teambuilding workshop, consider some of these ideas:

 

  • Professional workshops: offer an educational experience either at your office or an off-site workshop or conference. The activity doesn’t necessarily have to be SPECIFICALLY related to your employees' jobs, though it totally can be! That or it could be broader… like a wellbeing (meditation, yoga), personal organization or leadership skills workshop. Each is equally beneficial for your team – plus, meditation / yoga workshop day can also double as dress-down day!
  • Informal workshops: They may be informal, but that doesn’t mean they’re anything less than an awesome experience! Something like comedy presentations or improv sessions are fun, interactive experiences that'll have your employees in good spirits while simultaneously them useful communication and soft skills, like focus and trust.

 

Get out of a trap with your team

 

Looking to take a team fieldtrip? We’ve got the perfect solution…

 

These days, escape rooms are all the rage, and for good reason! Here’s how it works: basically, your group will be ‘locked’ in a room for a certain amount of time. During that time, your employees and you will search for hidden objects, solve puzzles, and figure out clues… with the ultimate goal of setting yourselves free from the escape room.

 

But it’s not all fun and games – to be completed successfully, escape rooms require leadership skills, teamwork, logic, and patience. They’re perfect for teambuilding in an office that could benefit from some added employee-to-employee trust and confidence.

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Spice up a meeting with lunch

 

What’s one way to bring everyone together? FOOD. It’s no coincidence that we started off the list with an ice cream social – we’re circling back around now to your more savory options, simply because food is the ultimate bonding companion.

 

Bring your board meeting to the next level by providing lunch for the whole team. Keep things clean and provide an additional, afternoon energy supply by stocking up the meeting room with boxed lunches for your employees. You may even opt to swap out the usual slide show for something with a little more pizzazz.

 

Do you have time to play a teambuilding game? Whether you’re interested in extraterrestrial conspiracies, NASCAR, or your porcelain doll collection, there are things each person might want to share with their co-workers that they otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to.

 

Set aside a regularly-scheduled afternoon meeting for lunch and a round of “show and tell” and give some of your team members the opportunity to bring something in and/or present on a topic. Keep everyone engaged by requesting that team members to be present, and have a question and answer session afterwards. It may sound a bit silly at first, but you’d be surprised what you may learn about your employees. On the other hand, everyone appreciates a chance to be in the spotlight, even if just for a round of “show and tell.”

 

Scavenger hunts (inside the office and around the business park complex)… group volunteering… after-work bowling tournament… holiday parties/gift swaps… when it comes to team success, there’s nothing more beneficial than taking a break from the day-to-day work schedule for some team bonding and fun.

 

And although you may not have the time to host one of these events every week, try to make it a priority to schedule at least one teambuilding activity each quarter. After all, statistics show that companies with engaged employees earn up to 2.5 times more income than competitors.

Likewise, employees with a high engagement level are 87 percent less likely to leave a company than those with low engagement. So get to that teambuilding, and reap the benefits of happy employees and an even happier workplace!

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So that you don’t head out the door and into the party looking like a goofball

By: Jessi Minneci

 

Parties: we all love attending them, planning them, and even hosting them (when we’re in good spirits!) But if you’re like us, whether you’re the party host or attendee, you’re often scratching your head over one particular question: what does the dress code mean?!

 

Black tie… black tie optional (what the heck?!?!)… semi-formal… business casual… smart casual… our heads are spinning just thinking about a few of the options!! And sadly, no matter how many functions we attend, we still can’t wrap our heads around what “dressy casual” is. (By the way, whoever coined dressy casual should be fired – those are two TOTALLY opposing terms.)

 

Picking the right outfit when it comes to attending a party should be fun, not stressful! And because it’s already hard enough to shop for the perfect ensemble when you do understand the dress code, we decided to lend you a hand by laying out some of the most common dress codes:

 

Dress code: Casual

 

We’ll start off by going easy on you. Casual, which may also be labeled as ‘informal,’ essentially means that almost anything goes (jeans, a blouse, sundress, boat shoes, etc.). Notice, though, that we accentuated almost. That means that, even if it’s a backyard barbeque at your cousin Steve’s pad, no one necessarily wants to see you show up in nothing but your speedo. At least wear a cover up, man. There are some things that should be left to the imagination – or, at the very least until you’re actually going into the pool.

 

Dress code: Business casual

 

Most corporate buildings, office parties, and other corporate functions have a dress code that calls for business casual. However, this is very oxymoronic in the sense that it mixes the terms business and causal, AND it’s confusing in the sense that the actual attire can vary from event to event and industry to industry.

 

Generally, though, for women this means pants and a blazer, a pencil skirt and fun blouse, or a sundress. Guys can wear slacks or chinos and a collared shirt. When it comes to business casual, skip the jeans and sneakers… the code may say casual, but it’s more formal than that.

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Dress code: Smart casual

 

This is the little devil that may also be called “dressy casual.” The general consensus is that you should aim for dressed-up versions of casual looks. For women, that might mean a peasant skirt or blazer and skinny jeans. For men, a nice pair of trousers—or very nice jeans—with a polo or button-up shirt. For women, the same thing, but a nice knee-length skirt is acceptable as well.

 

We suggest leaving the flip flops, sneakers, old jeans, and basketball shorts/daisy dukes home for this coded event.

 

Dress code: Business formal

 

Heading out to a business luncheon or some other corporate affair? You may notice that the invitation reads ‘business formal.’ To play things on the safe side, this dress code means a suit and tie for the guys and a tailored dress or a pantsuit for women.

 

What’s the major different between business casual and business formal? When it comes to the latter, the idea is to wear something business appropriate that also feels more dressed-up.

 

Dress code: Festive

 

OK, you can now let out a sigh of relief. This dress code is exactly what it sounds like, and is especially popular around the holidays or some other theme-worthy function. Don’t break out the Santa hat or ugly sweater just yet, though. Unless specific dress code directions are given (i.e. ugly sweater party), opt for cocktail-style attire with a fun twist—such as a sequin dress, satin top, or printed tie.

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Dress code: Cocktail

 

Since we mentioned cocktail attire above, let’s dive right into it. Cocktail attire means you should be well dressed (no shorts, sandals, or t-shirts), but there is usually some wiggle room for personality.

 

Regardless, both men and women should aim for dressy pieces and darker colors. Men should wear suits (with or without a tie), dress pants with dress shirts, or even a nice pair of jeans with a sport coat or jacket.

 

For women, this is the perfect opportunity to pull out that LBD (little black dress) or any other short dresses that are party-ready.

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Dress code: Semi-formal

 

This one’s a bit tricky, because it’s actually less formal than “black tie optional,” but more formal than anything previously mentioned.

 

When it comes down to it, men should at least wear a darker colored business suit and tie. Women can go with a cocktail dress or a pant suit. No matter the gender, dress shoes are expected.

 

Basically, the main difference between “black tie optional” and “semi-formal” dress code is that this one isn’t sorta-kinda asking you to wear a tuxedo or evening gown. (We agree. We’d get lost if it weren’t for this guide, too.)

 

Dress code: Black tie optional

 

We’re just going to cut to the chase here:

 

  • Men: option of tuxedo or a dark suit and a tie
  • Women: wear anything from a long, formal gown to a cocktail number

 

Think of it like this: You aren’t necessarily expected to look as if you’re en route the Grammys, but you want to show up looking like you are ready to attend J-Lo’s Grammy after party…

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Dress code: Black tie

 

This time, you are going to the Grammys. And men, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that your options are cut and clear with this dress code – wear a tux.

 

A black tie dress code is a little more complicated for women, who can technically wear anything from a long dress to dressy separates to a formal cocktail dress. The best way to figure out what to wear is to dress according to what you expect the host to wear.

 

Dress code: White tie

 

We’ll admit, this dress code even intimidates us a bit! I mean, did you even remember that there’s a dress code above black tie (because, OK, it almost slipped our minds…)?!?!

 

White tie is more or less the platinum of dress codes. As it goes, men should wear a white bow tie, black coat with tails, and a white pique vest over a formal shirt.

 

Women should wear long, formal evening gowns, and gloves when enjoying cocktails and dancing (then removed during dinner). If you get an invitation that says “white tie attire only,” prepare to break out your most dapper of numbers.

 

Because it is already challenging to pick out the perfect (and appropriate) ensemble for a party, function, or formal gathering, we hope this guide takes some of the pressure off of you. When in doubt, reach out to the organizer of the event, or discreetly contact the venue for guidance, if you have the means to do so. Remember, a party calls for celebration – not anxiety over the right pair of shoes.

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Honor your departed loved one with an elegant funeral reception

By: Jessi Minneci

 

Unfortunately, there comes a time in each of our lives where some of the people we treasure most – older relatives and friends – pass on. And while this time is rightfully filled with grief, reflection, and sorrow, we must also find time to honor and celebrate our departed individual.

 

Following a funeral, it is customary (but not required) to hold a funeral reception or memorial service. This gathering offers friends and family the opportunity to meet in a setting less formal than a church, cemetery, or other religious establishment to support each other, share stories and memories of the departed, and continue to celebrate the life of someone they cared dearly for.

 

Post-service gatherings provide a more casual atmosphere for people to connect. By pre-planning the funeral reception, you can ensure those who come out to celebrate your departed have a pleasant experience.

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It is OK to ask for help

 

If you are up to planning the funeral reception on your own, then go for it! But remember, this isn’t an event you’re required to tackle alone.

 

Keep the purpose of the reception in mind and take your own needs into consideration. Consider what the person whose life you are celebrating would have wanted. Oftentimes, the planning may be met as a welcoming distraction during an otherwise somber time. But if it starts to become too much, slow down and come up with another solution – enlist the support of family members and friends. Feel free to delegate tasks, such as booking the venue and sending out invitations/notifications.

 

Pick a date and get the word out

 

Funeral receptions are often held at a local banquet hall, the home of a friend or relative, or another meaningful spot – such as a favorite park. When thinking about the venue, consider the amount of work that will need to be put into each place (hosting at home requires a bit more planning versus holding the reception at a banquet hall), and take into account what you are willing to do – both physically and emotionally. Also consider the amount of people that may opt to attend. Oftentimes, it becomes much easier to plan something outside of a friend or relatives home, but the final decision is up to you.

 

Once you have set a date for the funeral and following reception, begin informing family members, friends, and cohorts of the plans. You may also wish to notify local newspapers and any online memorial websites where your loved one is being honored. Through all that is going on, try to give as much notice as you can for out-of-town folks so they can make travel arrangements.

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Consider religion, when applicable

 

Even if you are personally not religious, you may choose to follow the religious or cultural traditions of the person who has passed on. If so, be aware that some religions have special foods that are eaten or prohibited after a funeral:

 

  • Mormons traditionally eat potato casserole at a funeral reception 
  • People of Jewish faith traditionally eat eggs and abstain from alcohol

 

Furthermore, many religions have specific mourning periods that begin immediately after the funeral, which you may want your family to observe. Consider these and how they may impact the funeral reception.

 

Decide on a menu

 

Since the reception often follows the funeral services, it is customary to provide food and drinks – as most guests will have worked up an appetite by this time. Don’t feel pressured to serve a full course meal, but remember, food often goes hand-in-hand with reminiscing and celebration.

 

To keep the environment as comfortable as possible, you may want consider serving a buffet style meal. That way, guests can take as they please while conversating with friends and family members. This will also allow for visitors to come and go as they please without the pressure of leaving in the middle of or arriving late to a sit down dinner.

 

To honor your passed on loved one, you may want to include their favorite dish. For example, you could serve their favorite type of sandwich or their favorite beer. If you have a preference for what should be served at the reception, let your caterer know in advance so that they can make arrangements.

 

Remember, too, that if you decide to host the reception at either your or another friend or family member’s home, it does not mean that you have to prepare a home-cooked meal for everyone in attendance. Home catering is 100 percent an option, and many catering services will even provide all of the dishware, utensils, paper products necessary – and wait staff services, too!

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Personalize the event

 

Adding personal touches to the reception will help keep your loved one top of mind. You may want to create a photo wall or memory table adorned with pictures and keepsakes. If the deceased was a collector, displaying some special items from his or her personal collection is also another good option. Some other ideas include:

 

  • Creating/playing a playlist of songs significant to your loved one
  • Arranging a group activity such as a candle lighting or vigil
  • Offering an open microphone so that guests can share a memory
  • Creating a tribute video to display during the reception
  • Providing a keepsake for visitors to take with them (a prayer card, for example)

 

Above all, do not forget that this is a time for grief, reflection, sorrow, reminiscing, and a whirlwind of other emotions as they relate to the passing of a love one. When it comes to the planning of the reception, remember to have patience with yourself and others. If planning becomes something that deems too stressful, take a break or ask another family member to handle it.

 

There is no wrong or right way to plan a funeral reception as long as you make a commitment to keeping the deceased loved one in mind throughout the process. Along the way, these are simply tips to ensure a smoother process as far as the planning goes. 

 

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By: Desi Dimitrova

 

Surprise!

 

Do you remember that time when your friends put together a surprise party for you, and you had no idea that they were planning anything? Wasn’t that amazing? Do you want to return the favor?

 

Throwing surprise parties, for whatever reason, makes you feel pretty darn awesome. For one thing, you feel good because you’ve made someone else feel special. You also show how much you care, even if it doesn’t come off perfectly because people will appreciate the time and energy you’ve put into it. It’s a win-win!

 

So, are you ready to throw the surprise party of the century? Here are 8 easy steps that will help you on your way to glory!

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Step 1: Set the Date

 

This is probably one of the most important things to consider: when is your friend available? When are the guests available? Because if it’s just you and your friend at that party, it won’t be as spectacular, right? So, think of everyone before you make any commitments. You can call up some of the people to see if they’re free on a specific date that you think might work.

 

PRO Tip: Make a common chat with all the people you want to invite and send them a Doodle. Give them a deadline and when it’s up, simply pick the date that most people have chosen and let everyone know.

 

After you’ve set the date, call up your friend and make sure that you “book” him/her for that particular evening.

 

Step 2: Find Someone to Help You

 

Who will help you with logistics? Organizing a massive party is not an easy task. Which is why you’ll need a partner in crime.

 

Ask one or more of your friends to be co-hosts of the evening. Make sure that at least one of you has a car. There will be a lot of materials, decorations, food and drinks to carry around, so it’s best to be prepared.

 

Step 3: Find a Venue

 

Where will the party be at? Make sure you pick a convenient location. If you’re throwing a surprise party for your roommate, maybe your place is not the best for the occasion. You won’t be able to decorate in advance and there’s a chance your friend might pick up on what’s going on, if he/she sees party decoration, lying around.

 

So, ask some of your friends, if they can host the party. That way you’ll be able to store all of the decorations safely, and you’ll be able to put them up beforehand, so you don’t do everything at the last moment.

 

PRO Tip: If your budget allows it, hire an external venue. You can decorate ahead of time, and your friend will never suspect a thing!

 

Step 4: Pick A Theme

 

Of course, that’s optional. But it’s always a good idea to have a theme. Even if it’s just related to specific colors. For example, you can pick out your friend’s favorite hues and ask all the guests to be dressed accordingly. The decoration can match as well.

 

If you’re having a hard time thinking of themes — there are thousands of ideas on the internet. You just need to do a little research and match what you find with what your friend likes. It can be something as simple as a Pajama Party or a little more complicated, like a Murder Mystery Party (if your friend likes mysteries, he/she will love such a theme!).

 

Step 5: Create a Guest List

 

Ah, yes! The guests! They’re a very crucial part of the party. Discuss potential guest lists with your core team of friends. Make sure that you invite people who are indeed pleasant to your friend, because you don’t want any awkward moments throughout the night, right?

 

So, write down a list, invite them individually, and ask them to come at least 30 min prior to the set hour when the party should begin. They can help out with last minute preparations, and even if someone is late, they won’t come after you and your friend.

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Step 6: Decorations

 

Now that you have the core team, the venue, the theme of the party and the guests, you need to physically buy the decorations.

 

Think of the theme and make a list of all the pieces you’ll need in order create a memorable atmosphere. Ask your friends for advice and find some inspiration online. Then go out to a big store and buy everything that’s on your list. Try not to go off it too much, in order to stick to your budget.

 

Step 7: Food & Drinks

 

What are your friends and guests going to eat and drink?

 

The best thing you can do is to make a list of everything you think people would enjoy to eat and drink. You can also ask around for people’s preferences. It’s always a good idea to have a vegan option. Don’t forget that you’ll need plates and glasses for everyone.

 

PRO Tip: Hire a caterer. Even if the party is just for 20-30 people, they offer various services and you might find just what you’re looking for. In some cases, it would even cost you less money than to buy and prepare all of the food yourself!

 

Step 8: The Cherry on Top

 

No party (much like a dessert) is complete without the cherry on top. Without that special oomph! If it’s a birthday party, that can be the presents. If it’s a party for another occasion, there can be a special performance or an artist who would make the night unforgettable. You can indeed hire professionals for a reasonable price who will take care of the entertainment for you.

 

So, there you have it! Those were the 8 steps to the perfect surprise! Let’s get started and remember…mum’s the word!

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Let’s kick off your retirement with an epic celebration – here’s how…

By: Jessi Minneci

 

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the point in your life where you’re ready to throw in the towel (career-wise, at least), kick back, and relax a bit. Maybe you’ll take a vacation or two that you couldn’t fathom while you were on salary. Or perhaps you’ll make a permanent move – swapping your current home address for a quaint and scenic village. Maybe you’ll take up a new hobby. Hey, you might even decide to pick up some side jobs to keep the cash flowing extra when the regular paychecks stop coming in – whatever floats your boat.

 

The point is, you are about reach a huge milestone in your life – retirement. And whether you are indeed the retiree yourself, the retiree’s family, or a group of the retiree’s coworkers, you are likely beginning to plan the ever-coveted retirement party. The celebration’s about to begin and we’re here to help you with all of the planning…

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Ride the wave of freedom, baby

 

Your retirement party plans are much like you now: F-R-E-E! Unlike some other functions, which traditionally have an appropriate time and place (such as a woman’s baby shower – usually a daytime brunch/lunch affair), a retirement party is pretty much whatever you wish to make of it:

 

  • An afternoon luncheon
  • A big gala on a Saturday evening
  • A sporting/outdoor event on a Sunday afternoon
  • After-work drinks and hors d’oeuvres
  • Dancing on top of desks in the office
    • **the above is definitely epic, but we suggest accompanying the dance party with an actually, planned celebration J

 

When it comes down to it, there are no defining etiquette rules when it comes to a retirement party. It can really be anything that suits the interests and personality of the retiree. After all, the greatest consideration is what the retiree wants. If you’re not one of the people throwing this bash for themselves, remember that this is not an occasion for a surprise party. You should ask the person who is retiring how he or she would like to celebrate their retirement and who they would like to have in attendance.

 

Remember the world is bigger than your office

 

Something to keep in mind while penning invites: the retiree has friends and family outside of the office. Too often, work is work and home is home – there is no mixing of the two environments. But some of the best retirement parties mix the guest list and allow both parties to come together for the occasion. This also provides a great opportunity for people to learn more about the person leaving the office.

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the retiree’s friends and family outside of the officer, ask him or her for a reliable contact that you can reach out to in order to coordinate and communicate between the two environments. Having this contact will also help plan the bash without having to bug the guest of honor every time one of their family members forgets to RSVP.

 

Serve up something delicious

 

Remember how we mentioned that you have freedom with the type of retirement party you throw? Well, same goes for the food that you serve up during the festivities!

 

  • If you opt for an afternoon luncheon, whether at a venue or in the office cafeteria, you’ll want to serve up something accessible and easy. Focus on grab-and-go items for those who aren’t able to hang around, but still want to commemorate the retiree: sandwiches, wraps, salads, cookies – these items are easy whether your guests decide to sit down and reminisce on the retiree’s days on the job or give a handshake and well wishes before returning to their own cubicle, sandwich in hand.
  • Hosting something a bit more exclusive? Consider holding the retirement party at a venue as opposed to the office, and on a weekend night as opposed to during the work day. When it comes to food, you have the liberty of choosing between a plated dinner or otherwise, but we think that a buffet dinner option will keep things fun and casual – especially while the retiree will most likely be making constant rounds about the room and might miss a plated dinner.
  • Outdoor/sporting event seem like the best fit for your guest of honor’s personality? Pair sports and sunshine with mouth-watering treats like a pig roast, whole roasted turkeys, ribs, burgers, dogs, and more! Is your mouth watering yet?!?! Nothing says par-tay like a full-on barbeque bash.
  • Hors d’oeuvres your thing? We suggest throwing a cocktail and hors d’oeuvre retirement party when the guest list will be limited to adults… oh, and don’t forget to plan a champagne toast!

 

Go along with the theme

 

When it comes to celebrating one’s retirement, you HAVE to make sure you decorate the party venue with images of the person of honor on the job. If for whatever reason there aren't many pictures available of the retiree in work settings, you can include pictures from his or her personal life. Just remember that coworkers and professional clientele will be in attendance – avoid embarrassing shots like… the retiree in a bathing suit.

 

If the party room has a projector and screen available, consider creating and running a slideshow as people arrive at the party. If not, display the pictures on posters or as table centerpieces.

 

FURTHERMORE, amp up the fun (and total corniness) with a retirement themed playlist! Some suggestions to get your Spotify playlist going include:

 

  • “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen
  • “Working Nine to Five” by Dolly Parton
  • “Hit the Road Jack,”  Ray Charles
  • “When I am 64” by the Beatles
  • “Young at Heart” by Doris Day and Frank Sinatra
  • “Vacation” by the GoGos
  •  “The September of my Years” by Frank Sinatra
  • “End of the Line” by the Travelling Wilburys
  • “Happy Trails,” Roy Rogers
  • “Take This Job and Shove It,” Johnny Paycheck

 

Most importantly, keep in touch!

 

More likely than not, one of the hardest aspects of retirement will be saying good bye to coworkers, friends, and clients you see on a daily basis. Whether you are the retiree or the friend or family member planning the celebratory bash, help keep everyone in touch by:

 

  • Providing all of the guests with the retiree’s new contact information
  • Encourage the retiree to get set up on Facebook (if they are willing!) so that they can broadcast updates for friends and family
    • Encourage the retiree to also “friend” their colleagues
  • Include a guest sign-in book at the party where attendees can leave their name, phone number, email, etc.

 

Now it’s time for the real party. Sit back, relax, and enjoy that retirement, baby!!

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By: Elesha Piper

Graduation is a time to congratulate the new grad in your life on all their years of hard work! Whether you want to set them up for college life or give them something sentimental to cherish, we’ve got you sorted with one of these can't-go-wrong graduation gift ideas.

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A duffel bag

 

A stylish duffel bag makes a useful gift for the college-bound student. Duffels take up less room than the traditional luggage set, making it easier to squeeze into compact spaces of a dorm. Great for toting items like linens etc. off to college and then used for weekend trips back home. Check out Travel + Leisure's range of the best rolling duffel bags and backpacks.

 

Noise cancelling headphones

 

Dorm life will be full of noise and distractions, making it a tough gig to study or just find some alone time to recharge. Noise cancelling headphone are the perfect solution for a grad to listen to tunes or study in peace, no matter how rowdy things are getting around them. Here are 2017’s best noise cancelling headphones according to Techradar.

 

Monthly gift subscription box

 

Monthly subscription boxes have snowballed in popularity, you won’t be short on ideas to gift your grad a little surprise each month. Fun, practical or both, this will be a treat to look forward to. Popular choices from Cratejoy include Boomtown Box for lovers of the outdoors, My Reward Box for the gals and Hawaii’s Coffee Tour for caffeine lovers.

 

T-shirt blanket

 

Leaving high school means saying farewell to teams and clubs a grad has been a part of for years. It can be tough! Collect up all their sporting or club shirts and have a t-shirt blanket made. It’s a wonderful way to stitch all those memories together, literally, into a quilt for the dorm room. Just make sure you get their permission first, they may want to keep some shirts in 1 piece!

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Inspirational print

 

Your grad can hang an inspiration print on the wall or prop it up on the desk. A beautiful way to brighten a dorm room, it’s also a daily dose of encouragement and a reminder to go out there at get ‘em! Behold, fabulous print ideas from Etsy.com.

 

Coffeemaker

 

Where would students be without caffeine? A personal coffee maker will be a welcome gift to fuel those all-night study sessions. Single serve coffee capsules are the easiest way to make a cup in the comfort of a dorm room. Paper due tomorrow? Let’s do this!  Nespresso Inissia Espresso Maker is a great budget option.

 

Yearly planner / organizer

 

College life will be busy. There will be a bunch of new activities and deadlines to keep track of. Help them stay organized with a beautiful planner to make jotting down important dates, goals and to-do list a pleasure. You can even gift a personalized planner.

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Basic tool set

 

Super practical, this gift that will come in handy when assembling any flat pack furniture for their new dorm, saving them from having a #flatpackbreakdown.  We’ve all been there, it’s not pretty.

A small, handy toolset is also a budget friendly gift option.

 

Engraved jewelry

 

This classic graduation gift will never go out of style. Have a ring, necklace or watch engraved with the date of graduation or another sentimental note. Or give a piece of family heirloom jewelry for a truly meaningful congratulations.

 

Apple Watch Series 3

 

An alternative to the more sentimental watch, an Apple Watch Series 3  will help keep your grad healthy, organized and connected with a bunch of tech capabilities and apps. The Series 3 has a big focus on health and wellness tracking, perfect for a fitness lover or gym bunny.

 

Stocks

 

Give them an early sense of control over their financial health by gifting stocks. Stockpile makes giving stocks incredibly easy. Gift cards - printable, plastic or email versions - are available to gift stocks up to the value of $2000. A nice way to give your grad a financial head start and get younger investors excited about the markets.

 

Luxury linen

 

Beautiful bed linen will add a touch of luxury to a rough and ready dorm room. Add towels, face cloths and a linen basket to round this gift out for ultimate practicality with a touch of luxury. If your grad would rather choose their own, a Brooklinen gift card is the answer.

 

On campus gift cards

 

If the college your grad is off to has a store on campus, a gift card will come in handy for any college supplies once they arrive, food, coffee, books etc. or as a little extra spending ‘mad money’.

 

Money

 

Cash will always be a popular gift choice! Don’t just hand a wad of bills over- get creative and slip the cash (or a check) between the pages of a thoughtful book.  It could lean towards ‘self-help’ topics or something to complement their studies. If you're stuck for ideas, here’s the book that Bill Gates suggests every graduate read. Or take your pick of these 11 must reads for high school grads.

 

Diffuser and essential oils

 

Uplifting or calming fragrances can do wonders to help your grad get settled into a new environment. Gift a diffuser and selection of luxury essential oils, choosing scents that help with focus to study or relieve tension headaches are a great idea too. The VicTsing oil diffuser gets rave reviews and doTERRA is your one-stop shop for essential oils.

 

Laptop

 

If the budget will stretch for a big ticket item, a new laptop will undoubtedly be a hit for the graduating teen. Add a designer laptop sleeve as the cherry on top of this ultimate graduation gift.  Check out these sleek options from Elle.com for laptop cases every graduate would be happy to tote around.

 

DIY gift basket filled with essentials

 

Get creative and assemble your own ‘college care package’ filled with a bunch of stuff, practical and fun, your grad will love. As always, you can rely on Pinterest for a bunch of inspiration - check out hundreds of ideas of what to include in a personalized college care package and college survival kits!

 

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10

The Lowdown on Updated Old Favorites…

By: Stefanie Rose Miles

Entertaining these days, whether for a fancier occasion or tailgating, is overall more casual, with preferences for mixing and mingling over formal, full-on meals.  Appetizers are big hits with guests who like to try different foods and flavors.  Serving appetizers also guarantees that even your most picky guests will find something they like.  We’ve chosen several, tried and true classics that have been updated, upgraded, and received two thumbs up from both hosts and guests of late. 

 

CHECK OUT THESE CHEESE AND CRACKERS.

 

Take an old standby and think entirely out of the Ritz box.  This first creation is also a tip of the hat to the classic Fig Newton-- goat cheese and fig crackers.  Use plain, water crackers as the base, add a nice size dollop of goat cheese, and top with a few, fine slices of dried fig.  Done and delicious!

Top the same cracker with hummus and add a few slices of decadent, Sicilian olives and you've got a fast, last-minute appetizer that will not give that secret away.

For something a bit more substantial, mix cream cheese, fresh dill, salt, and lemon.  Spread a cracker with the mixture, top that with a small bite of smoked salmon, and garnish with a touch of leftover, fresh dill. 

In this day and time of trendy kale and quinoa, thank goodness one thing is always in good taste.   Bacon simply can't be beat.  Take your hip and cool kale, wilt it in the bacon fat left from frying your crisp strips of succulence, and drizzle maple syrup over the greens. Toss them so they are evenly coated and top your cracker with the coated kale and a hunk of bacon or some crumbles.

For a sophisticated, vegetarian alternative, mini mozzarella salads (Caprese on crackers) is an easy choice.  Slice plum tomatoes, top with mini bocconcini, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and finish with a couple of basil leaves.  Delectable!

 

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FRESH FRUIT NEVER FAILS.

But we’ve kicked it up a couple of notches.  Strawberry bruschetta can be made easily by buttering French baguettes and broiling them for a couple of minutes.  Top them with sliced strawberries coated in white sugar and broil until the sugar is caramelized (three to five minutes more.)

 

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Fig Brûlée with Barrata brings it.  Half figs and place them on a flame-proof surface and sprinkle with Demerara sugar. Melt the sugar until it bubbles, with a kitchen torch on medium-high flame. Put Burrata cheese on a plate, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle on a bit of Kosher or sea salt and black pepper, then arrange figs around the cheese. It's easy, makes an impressive presentation, and it's scrumptious!

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Watermelon salsa is off the charts sweet and savory when it's made with chopped onion, chopped and seeded Anaheim chile, balsamic vinegar, and garlic salt.

 

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For a more streamlined and traditional fruit salsa, combine watermelon, pineapple, chopped red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, and toss all in lime juice.

Two of my favorite ways to serve sweet salsas are with homemade flour, tortilla chips and/or dessert taco shells. For chips, cut flour tortillas in triangular, pie slices, brush lightly with melted butter, sprinkle with sugar (or a mixture of sugar and cinnamon if preferred) and bake until they’re crisp.  For sweet taco shells, use wonton wrappers (sprinkle with sugar after frying if desired) to fill with fruit salsa. 

 

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Bacon-wrapped dates or pineapple, prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe, and balsamic roasted grapes are all sweet and savory sensations, with recipes that can be found at www.allrecipes.com.

 

TOP SHELF VEGGIES TAKE CENTER STAGE IN A HIP, HOT DIP.

Spinach & artichoke dip became wildly popular 15 to 20 years ago and it remains so still.  It’s simply irresistible when served hot.  This recipe is perfect for parties because it's served on baguettes.  To keep the individual slices warm, serve in a covered, casserole-type dish. 

Another unique version of this classic is made with no mayo, but adding some red bell pepper, and feta cheese.  The mozzarella is our favorite, main cheese because it browns so beautifully.  Surprisingly, frozen spinach works much better than fresh.  This recipe is also a favorite because it’s chock full of spinach and artichokes.  All these dips, served hot or cold, look and taste terrific in sourdough bread bowls.  The no-mayo recipe can be found at www.cookieandkate.com. For something different, try stuffing shells, peppers, or mushrooms with spinach and artichoke dip. 

 

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MEATBALLS…BRING BACK THE MYSTER, JUST NOT THE MYSTERY MEAT!

Meatballs have been a respectable fixture at gatherings for longer than we know!  Take a break from the typical recipes and wow your guests with rich and full-of-flavor, Swedish meatballs.  This recipe is heavenly, and the gravy is the heart of the dish.  We strongly recommend serving them in a heated container, maybe a crockpot.  The key secret ingredient in this acclaimed version is Worcestershire sauce.  For another dimension of flavor, try adding a tablespoon of cooking sherry. 

 

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Another stick-to-your-ribs version uses a combination of ground beef, veal, and pork plus coffee in the gravy.  Nobody goes home hungry with these on hand!

 

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FOR MANY GUESTS, IT’S NOT A PARTY WITHOUT WINGS.

If you’re going to serve chicken wings, why not make them the best any of your guests have had?  If frying, don’t trouble with fancy oils.  Vegetable, canola, or peanut work best since they don’t have any competing flavors. They also have a high smoking point which makes the skin crisp up perfectly.

No fry zone?  To achieve crispiness, toss wings initially with a bit of baking powder when you salt them.  Twice bake them to ensure crispiness.  Arrange wings on a rimmed cookie sheet filled with about a cup of water.  Cover with foil and bake/steam at 350 degrees until fully cooked.  Lastly, salt the wings after cooking, broil afterward for extra crispiness, then toss in sauce and serve. 

For a more sophisticated buffalo sauce, use your typical minced garlic and hot sauce, but replace melted butter with olive oil and lemon juice.  Add chopped, fresh basil to your ranch dressing for a more vibrant taste. 

Some of the most unique flavors of chicken wing sauces include wine wings (made with white zinfandel and cinnamon, and are acclaimed to be best when dipped in blue cheese), maple mustard (for sweet and spicy), garlic parmesan, sweet and spicy Sriracha sauce, and Coca-Cola sauce.  You may want to go Memphis style and dry rub your wings.  Start with a base of Cajun spice, ground mustard, paprika, and dash in whatever else your palate prefers.  Wing it on the international stage and try a Latin-Asian fusion glaze.  Sour cherry preserves, lime juice, and habanero meld to make a sweet, sour, and flaming hot sauce for grilled wings. Another Asian angle tosses wings with a green curry paste.  Or take it Italian with a creamy tomato sauce.  Roast plum tomatoes until very concentrated.  Blend with goat cheese and olive oil, then toss wings in the mix before broiling to crispy yumminess.

 

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RAISE THE BAR…THE BURGER BAR, THAT IS.

Start with the best beef for burger-grilling available, as well as ground chicken or turkey and veggie patty options.   For toppings, build from the basic vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles.  Then consider grilled zucchini, roasted green chiles, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, jalapeños — whatever you can imagine.  Fruits like figs, pineapple, pears, and coconut can be delightfully daring, particularly when grilled.  Be sure to provide a variety of cheeses and don’t forget crispy bacon!

Condiments can be just as complex, just remember the ketchup, mustard, mayo, and relish.  Try BBQ sauce, Sriracha, salsa, bean dip, tzatziki, guacamole, pesto, pesto-mayo, and hummus.  Spreads like lobster or crab can be unexpected and sensational as well as jellies like red pepper, mint, and basic strawberry, grape, and/or raspberry.  Wooden, craft sticks are great for labeling—stand them right in the container and they can double as spreaders.

 

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IT'S NOT ALL JUST RUFFLES, FRITOS, AND FRENCH ONION DIP.

Chips and dips have certainly come a long way, baby!  Handmade guacamole, salsa, tzatziki, and hummus will never disappoint.  To step up the onion dip, how about using caramelized onions?  Creamy horseradish and dill is an addictively, different spice combination. Hot Ricotta is a cool switch from queso.  Creamy smoked salmon with horseradish and dill is D-lish.  One of my favorite tea sandwiches also makes a simple and savory spread—cream cheese with sliced olives and crushed walnuts.  On rye crackers or bread, I could eat my weight in it.  To enhance most any dip, try adding a squeeze of lemon; use very sparingly to taste.  A hulled-out cabbage makes a gorgeous bowl for dips, especially for those served with crudités. These recipes and more can be found at www.realsimple.com.

 

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A wonderful vegetarian option is the "no-cheese dip."  With fresh cashews, red bell pepper, water, lemon juice, Kosher or sea salt, and garlic, everything is soaked before blended on high.  Tastes like cheese! Find recipes here.

Chips can and should be just as varied as dips.  From handmade potato and sweet potato, with a variety of salts and seasonings, to pita, veggie straws, and squares of various breads grilled stove top in butter—the more to dip the better.

 

STUFF TASTES BETTER ON STICKS.

Skewers, kabobs-- whatever you call stuff on a stick, what a fabulous way to cook, serve, AND eat.  We’ve got some funky alternatives to the beef and vegetable or shrimp skewers we all know and love.  My absolute favorite from a presentation perspective (they taste great too!) are these tortellini skewers that look like flowers in a vase!  Try using spinach and tomato tortellini too, for more color.

 

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 A pasta skewer begs antipasto.  This crowd-pleaser consists of Italian-style chicken sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, artichokes, and basil.  Another stick-app that tastes just as good as it looks. 

 

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Another skewer presentation that wows, is anchoring skewers of fresh, seasonal veggies with a large head of lettuce.  Load up the skewers and load up the lettuce head.  Finishing each skewer with dark olives as pictured, finishes the look and taste completely. 

 

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Mini salads and sandwich sticks are as crazy cute as they are fun to eat.  Some favorite salad sticks are Greek, chicken Caesar, wedge, melon feta, and a summer salad made with a melon ball, two salami slices, and arugula leaves.  And how about quail egg salad sandwiches, BLTs, and brown sugar smokies? My favorite, not pictured and that is to die for-- powdered sugar-dusted Monte Cristos with warm raspberry sauce for dipping.  Most of these recipes can be found at www.allrecipes.com.

 

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We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention skewered sweets.  It’s hard to eat just one of these mini pie pops.  Serve these cuties with individual, self-serve cups of warm vanilla and/or blueberry sauce.  And especially for the holidays, these Grinch skewers are loved by kids from one to 92.  It’s as easy as 1-2-3 with green grapes, bananas, and strawberries.  Cap the caps with mini marshmallows and it’s beginning to look a lot like Whoville! 

 

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THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS.

But he's not in these diverse, deviled eggs. Three favorites can be found at www.sheknows.com.  They are smoked salmon and dill, topped with caviar; feta and caper with chives; and curried with grapes. Love how they are displayed together randomly.  This adds to the intrigue.

 

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Just when you think you've seen it all, think and see again.  These aren't your granddad's deviled eggs, but they'll be gobbled up with the same voraciousness.  Many appetizers are timeless, but they transform and translate, just as art and music.  Embrace your tastebuds.  Experiment, create and entertain others and yourself.  Eat well, live well.

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15

Look out for these warning signs -> dodge them -> then host a swanky soiree

By: Jessi Minneci

 

Parties are fun, man! We all love getting dolled up and dapper for a much needed get together, celebration, or soiree – and when we gather friends, family, and coworkers together to eat, drink, and mingle, it’s generally easy to have a good time. But sometimes… it’s not.

 

Sorry, we’re not trying to scare you… but we are trying to be honest. Unfortunately, things can go very, very wrong. No matter the who, what, when, where, and why you are planning for your party, there are some potential disasters you may want to prepare for.

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Before the food starts cooking and the drinks get pouring, here’s is what you should consider:

 

When guests decide to be no-shows

 

When you send out 50 invites, get 35 RSVPs, yet only eight guests show up… it can feel like a punch to the gut. There’s only one thing worse than the paid-for entertainment not showing up, and that’s your guests standing you up day-of.

 

A large room with a small amount of guests is intimidating. HOWEVER, this could really be your chance to step into the spotlight as an amazing host! Plan a few games or activities that would work whether you end up with a big or small crowd. Even if attendees don’t know each other, you can soon have them all mingling.

 

Let’s look on the bright side – fewer guests mean more snacks and drinks to pass around to the people who do attend!

 

But, to avoid this situation in the first place, consider checking in on your guests in the days leading up to the event: Create a Facebook event page where you can mass-reach out to attendees to keep the event top of mind. Depending on the type of event you’re hosting (like a charity or fundraiser), you may even want to consider ticketing it. After all, you can’t deny that people will have more motivation to attend because of the the financial ‘investment’ they have made in your party.

 

Dealing with the rain on your parade

 

Hosting a backyard barbeque? If you’re planning an outdoor party, it’s imperative to devise a wet-weather plan. No one wants to be chowing down on a burger on your lawn when, all of a sudden, it starts down pouring.

 

Wherever possible, it’s best to have a backup (indoor) location. If that doesn’t seem possible or within your budget constraints, it would be a good idea to at least enlist some waterproof overhangs and decorations.

  • Ensure there are waterproof coverings for any electrical equipment (such as a DJ booth)
  • Consider tenting your party
    • Tents can also be equipped with AC / heat so that guests will be comfortable no matter the outdoor conditions
  • When choosing décor, go for weather-proof options like wipe-down plastic seating
    • Avoid cushions that will soak up the rain
    • Avoid anything that could be easily blown away, like paper banners and streamers

 

Remember to check the weather report on the days leading up to your event, and make appropriate accommodations before disaster (or lightning) strikes.

 

This is not a Vince Vaughn movie; you don’t need wedding crashers

 

On the plus side, you should be honored that your guests are so excited about your party that they’re hyping it up. On the opposite side, this means word of your party might leak beyond your strict guest list. Whether it’s suddenly having to entertain people’s friends and family, or having strangers turn up on your doorsteps, party crashers are a total buzzkill.

 

Remind your guests when an event is invite-only, and encourage them to ask if they want to bring along anyone new. Also, if inviting people over social media (via the Facebook event that we mentioned above), set the page to private to avoid uninvited acquaintances getting the wrong idea.

 

Forgoing food faux pas

 

When it comes to the food selection at your party, have you planned for a big enough selection? Do you know the food allergies and diet restrictions of your guests? Do you trust your oven to handle cooking portions for 50 people?

 

Despite our best planning, the menu may fall short in pleasing every singly attendee. To avoid guests going hungry or battling a nasty allergic reaction to the peanut-filled dessert table, make sure you include a request for this information on your invites. If you plan on serving food and drink, it’s your responsibility to make sure the fare suits the crowd.

 

To further take the burden off your hands, enlist the expertise of a caterer. We offer customizable menu options and you will be able to create a menu that satisfies the needs and wants of everyone on your list. Even more, the food definitely won’t end up burnt. Whereas it may if you were to attempt to keep watch of the 10 different things you’ve stuffed in the oven at once!

 

When it comes down to it, each of these potential party disasters is common, but keep in mind that they don’t need to be when it comes to your upcoming bash. Being aware of the potential party fouls that can transform from innocent slip-up to epic disaster gives you an opportunity to put in place measures to make sure that they either don’t go wrong, or if they do, that they don’t negatively impact the experience of you and your attendees!

 

Remember, the dictionary definition for party is “a social gathering of invited guests, typically involving eating, drinking, and entertainment.” Synonyms include celebration and festivity. Do those words seem to have negative connotations to you? We think not!

 

Sit back, relax, take a few deep breaths, and plan away, you party animal! You now can strategize accordingly, prepared with your fool-proof, party disaster prevention plan.

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11

By: Stefanie Rose Miles

Every parent of a high school senior has surely wondered where in the world time has gone.  If you’re currently that parent and you feel like the years have flown by, this last one at home will seem like it's ending nearly as soon as it's begun. The biggest mistake any party host can make is deciding to have one at the last minute.  With all the extra events to attend throughout these months, preparing for summer and your young adult’s next steps, there’s truly no time to waste. By avoiding these mistakes and considering our alternative suggestions, you can stay on track to make this occasion one of the most special and memorable for family and friends.

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DON’T:

 

…forget to ask the guest of honor. You may want or be willing to, but neither means that you must or will.  Broach the subject casually (and early) with your child first.  If you feel strongly about hosting, let it be known that is something you’d really like to do (with his/her approval) or simply start the conversation by conveying that you’d be willing to host a graduation party.  Keep an open mind and really listen to your son/daughter and what his/her preferences may be.  If your guest of honor isn’t involved or included in the planning, you’re already off on the wrong foot. 

 

Your senior can be a tremendous help in so many ways, but particularly in the initial planning phase.  It’s always best to try to find out what others may be planning and when.  Sure, you can get a consensus from your friends, but your insider can get the scoop—what others’ parents may be thinking, as well as the students, themselves. 

 

…plan a party that doesn’t reflect your graduate’s personality/social preference.  If your son tends to be introverted and more comfortable with a small group of friends or just family, you shouldn’t expect that an open house (open to more than 30 guests, for example) with numerous people coming and going, would be ideal.  Conversely, if your daughter has never met a stranger, is friends with everyone, and/or involved in sports and numerous clubs, you don’t want to assume or your place is destined to be graduation party central.  Then again, she may have notions of some outrageous soiree that would be terribly fun and lovely, but would also be entirely over-the-top and unaffordable.

 

…go it alone.  Graduation is a busy and emotional time for not only the graduate but also the parents.  And this time in life is one of the more expensive.  Don’t lose sight of being reasonable and practical in the midst of all the activities, extended family, upcoming moving expenses, college, etc.  This is a time when asking and/or paying for some help is most acceptable and a worthy investment. 

 

Is your senior part of a close-knit group of other classmates in the same grade? Maybe he/she is one of a couple or more graduating neighbors who are friendly enough, that may make joining forces with a few other parents make really good sense.  By and large, it seems that there are either a number of parties and open houses (which can have students AND parents trying to drop into more than a dozen celebrations in one weekend) or there are one or two all-encompassing bashes.  Co-hosting with other parents can be a terrific solution, particularly in regard to saving each time and money and cutting down on the stress of trying to make the rounds and spending no real quality time at any. 

 

Another area of help many parent party hosts neglect or greatly underestimate is the food to be served.  Resigning to take this on yourself, as cook, set-up person, server (even if it’s self-serve, you have to replenish and do at least a bit of cleaning and clearing during the party), break-down and clean-up crew, is not the way to go.  If you plan to be a gracious and guest-involved host as well, you’re setting yourself up to fail, at least, at one of these roles.  Caterers are far more affordable than most people realize.  The vast number of extras or “unrealized” services they provide can be overlooked and greatly underestimated.  They shop for ingredients, prepare, deliver, set-up, serve, clean up, and pack up, saving you hours of time, work, and stress, enabling you to enjoy being both parent and host. If you just love to cook or bake and really want to contribute in this way, consider making one of your crowd's and/or graduate’s favorites.

 

…send party invitations too early or too late.  There is absolutely no harm in sharing your party plans as early as you like, especially with those you plan to invite.  It’s not necessary, or recommended, that you send save-the-dates, however.  Between graduation ceremony invitations, graduation announcements, party invitations, thank-you notes, and cards you and/or your graduate will be sending, you have plenty of communication to manage.  Three weeks prior to the occasions is sufficient to send the party invitations.  All information and directions should be as briefly and concisely included as possible.  The verbiage and style should reflect the spirit of the party—fun and casual or formal and sophisticated.  Request an RSVP date with enough time to follow-up with those from whom you’ve not heard by that time (if you must).  Unfortunately, the favor of a response to an invitation is not reliable. You will need to give your caterer a final count or close estimate at least one week prior to the event.

 

…miss the opportunity to express gratitude and share the importance of doing so with your son/daughter.  Nothing equates to or surpasses the sentiment of thanks like a hand-written note from the recipient.  It shows respect for someone who’s shown you generosity in some way, it’s a best practice in etiquette, and your words and effort will not soon be forgotten.  But an ungrateful receiver or a gift, gone unacknowledged, is far more likely to be remembered. Need some incentive for your grad?  Collect all gifts/money he/she receives and hand them over whenever the corresponding note is written and mailed. 

 

Now, dry your tears, celebrate, and also congratulate yourself on a job well done!

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8

Games, food, fun, oh my! Follow these tips for a rockin’ block party

By: Jessi Minneci

 

Whether you can remember it or not, there WAS a time people actually knew all of their neighbors! Families would get together to barbeque, and the kids would bicycle on the cul-de-sac until dark. Unfortunately, times have more or less changed since the early 2000s. 

 

Are you attempting (and so far failing) to meet the new neighbors on your block? Have your kids been begging you to host an epic egg-toss contest? Whether your goal is to swap family recipes with the local moms or set up a few potential playdates for your kids with the family down the street, bringing the neighborhood together for a block party is a great idea!

 

The block party offers a chance to bring together anywhere from 15 to 100 families (or more, we won’t set a cutoff!) and to catch up with those you haven't been able to get together with in a while. Not to mention, it can help create a homey feel throughout the whole neighborhood.

 

Start the tradition in your neighborhood and get that block party going! Here’s how:

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Pick the hot spot

 

Before you can host a block party, you are going to need to set a concrete date and location. Choose a location that will accommodate a large number of people – particularly right on your block, but only if all of your neighbors are on board and if the town will allow you to shut down the street (for safety reasons). If not, you may want to look into moving the party to a more communal area, such as a local park that’s ideally within walking distance. Remember, you will have tables, chairs, grills, coolers, games, and more, so size and space are definitely factors.

 

You are also going to want to check the weather report. If you live in an area where it often rains later in the day, plan an afternoon get together. Depending on where you live, spring and fall are ideal months for outdoor block parties – but in other regions, summer is the best bet.

 

Once you figure out a date and a place, start planning ASAP. The further ahead your start planning, the more time you will give friends and neighbors to prepare and mark their calendars.

 

Make sure it’s legal

 

Going along with location, it’s more likely than not that your block party will be hosted on some type of public property. Check with your local city or town hall to learn if you need a permit or any other special certifications.

 

Many municipalities will provide street barriers that can be picked up the day before or of the party. Others may prohibit the use of a grill on public property and/or park grounds, so it's always best to ask beforehand to avoid any potential strife or fines.

 

And, once you know the laws of the land, it’s important that you spread the word to the families in your area. All potential block party guests should know the rules and regulations – both town mandated and general – such as making it clear not to toss trash into the barbeque or staying out of the yards of neighbors not attending the party.

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Think up a theme

 

Setting a theme for your neighborhood get together gives the event direction and aids in planning the party. Maybe you’ll want to have each family wear a distinctive color to make members easily identifiable and to set each apart when it comes to neighbor vs. neighbor competitions (remember, the epic egg-toss). Perhaps you’ll want to decorate with leis, flowery umbrellas, and host a limbo contest with a Hawaiian theme!

 

A theme will help set the tone of the party, and then the remainder of the planning will branch off of that.

 

Flex your delegation muscle

 

Want to avoid stress? We feel you! Don’t hesitate to assign some of the party planning duties to the neighbors:

 

  • Ask one person to make an invitation flyer
    • Ask the kids if they’d like to stuff invitation flyers into neighbors’ mailboxes
  • Ask others to bring yard chairs and folding tables
  • Designate someone to manage the decorations
  • Ensure that a few people won’t mind donating some of their backyard games (like corn hole)

 

You may want to consider asking each family to bring their own beverages and/or ask every family to donate a set amount to offset the cost of the food, entertainment/activities, and prizes for the kiddies and entertainment.

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Give them the grub

 

You can’t host a block party without providing some grub! Luckily, you have a few options here:

 

  • You can host a potluck block party. Ask guests to bring a favorite snack or side dish to share and ensure the party has a wealth of tasty treats. When neighbors RSVP, ask them if they’d like to prepare and share a dish. As the organizer, keep a list of what people are bringing to make sure you don't end up with eight pasta salads and no cookies.
  • Take the pressure off of each family (and off of yourself!) by getting the block party catered! After all, you’ve put so much time and effort into the planning of the shindig, you don’t want to have to watch everyone else have fun all day from behind the grill or buffet table. By delegating the food necessities to pros like us, you can ensure that you’ll sit back, relax, participate in the hula-hoop contest, and enjoy every bit of the block party just as much as everyone else! Opt to order a mix of hot and cold foods (such as salads, a sandwich platter, barbeque meats, and grill essentials) for the block party, and explain to your caterer any special needs or dietary restrictions. Then, let the pros take over and man the grill!

 

Serve up some fun

 

You can never go wrong with having some activities up your sleeve and the more activities the merrier! Encourage the kids to bring their bikes, skateboards, scooters or roller blades. Plan out an egg toss, water balloon fight, even enlist a piñata! The possibilities are endless when it comes to fun, and the entertainment at a block party doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg!

 

Remember, too, kids aren't the only ones who should be having a blast. Plan a few adult-geared activities geared at breaking the ice between neighbors from opposite ends of the block. Set up a volleyball net and serve up some fun.

 

Keep these key factors in mind when planning your block party and everything will unravel without a hitch! In fact, you may erven want to get a neighborhood committee together after the fact to discuss what went wrong, what went well, and what can be improved. Keep a record of names, contact information, civic departments, donations, costs, etc. Before you know it, you may have started a community tradition – and can begin planning for next year!

 

Lastly, be sure to acknowledge individuals and groups who donated their time, goods, and expertise to make the event a success.

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