Fall Party Planning – Tips and Tricks from a JLC Professional

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In Chicago, it almost seems criminal to express excitement about cooler weather, warm clothes, football season, and the famous PSL (that’s pumpkin spice latte, of course).

However, I find summers in Chicago almost overwhelming. I constantly feel like there are so many great things happening and I can never get around to experiencing them all. Perhaps I have the dreaded Fear Of Missing Out (or FOMO as the kids like to call it). September seems to bring a sense of calm, a reset and perhaps a moment to stop and smell the pumpkin spice everything.

I have the honor and privilege of working in the food and beverage industry here in the Windy City. I should adore summer, right? All of the weddings, picnics, and festivals seem like a dream for someone who plans food-focused events for a living. Instead, I find that fall is the time of year I love most. A time to reconnect. A time to take a deep breath. A time to throw a fantastic gathering.

Summertime events typically include 500 or more of your closest friends; whether it’s Lollapalooza, Summer Awakening or the Air and Water Show, there are tons and tons of people around. When planning an autumn event, I first prepare by crafting a guest list of friends and family that I have not seen in the warmer months. People I love the most, but cannot seem to get together with once summer hits. I recommend a smaller group, maybe 10 to 12 guests that all share a common interest; and yes, an interest in drinking wine counts!

Once my guest list is set, the real fun starts. I urge you to think beyond the typical fall themes: Oktoberfest, Pumpkin Carving, an everyone wear plaid shirts and brown boots party, you get the idea. Rather, go with something that inspires you. Maybe the idea of cooking with your friends or even a cozy brunch prior to a football game? Whatever it is about the fall season that inspires you, I say go for it! Personally, I love the idea of a fall baking party; a few light bites, a bit of wine, and the group rolls up their sleeves to make the perfect autumn-inspired pie. Need a little help making the perfect pie? See my recommendations below:

  • My go-to pie crust recipe is by none other than the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. This crust comes out perfect every time.
  • I recently made this Peach Crumble Pie recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. You can easily swap out the peaches for in season apples. This is hands down, the best pie I’ve ever made.
  • My boyfriend’s mom taught me how to make a lattice crust the first time I met her. It was such a special Thanksgiving! If you really want to get fancy check out these fun ways to top your pies.

At this point, you have a great group of friends, a menu, and now all you need to do is set the mood. Sure you can run to the nearest craft supplies store and start whipping up signs that read “gather” and “hello fall”, but why not think beyond the pumpkin-spice-and-everything-nice gimmicks. Instead of telling your friends that it is now the most wonderful time of the year, show them. Think large bowls of apples or seasonal squash, a mantel full of tall candlesticks and a variety of pumpkins, mum plants in deep purple and gold, cozy blankets thrown onto your sofa and chairs. The goal is to make your home a place for friends to stay and linger just a bit longer, after all it’s fall!

I am a firm believer in sending guests home with a little gift or treat. Depending on your occasion, you can decide what is appropriate. Last fall, at our housewarming party I sent guests home with a small bag of coffee and a couple homemade cinnamon-apple scones. After our annual superbowl party, I typically send home a “game-day” inspired snack, like caramel corn. A party favor, for the lack of a better term, can really make your party just a bit more special. I leave these in a basket near the front entry so as to not forget to hand them out, like I have done a time or three.

Regardless of of your theme, menu, decor or favor, consider your upcoming fall event a time to renew, reconnect and enjoy the changing of the seasons before the all too awful Chicago winter is upon us once again.

Images courtesy of Northern Fork Catering & Events

By Kathleen Jenkins, Summer Soiree Committee Member and Director of Sales and Events at Northern Fork Catering

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