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Budget Black Tie
From my perspective, the elements of a good black tie are food, service and decor.
• Food: Good food costs money regardless of the cuisine — since labor can be as costly as the food product itself — so do just a little less and do not cut back on quality. For example, do three hors d’oeuvres rather than five for cocktails and add some little bar snacks around — great nuts, homemade potato chips, cheese straws. For dinner, have some fun with the main course. Serve it family style on lazy Susans (Party Rental Ltd. rents great ones). The guests become part of the food experience — and you save a little money. Rather than a full, blown-out dessert, just do assorted treats on the table. You can do an interactive ice-cream sundae bar or just a variety of cookies or marshmallows.
• Service: Making the table more communal — even placing the bottles of wine on there so they become part of the theme — can help cut back slightly on the staffing. But that is one area where I would tread gingerly. Service, to me, is key to a successful event.
• Decor: My trick is to get a vase that you can see through — white, black, frosted — and then go to the flower market on 28th Street for stems that look great just in a bunch. For example, hydrangeas in the summer. Put four heads in a vase, and wow, perfect. Another trick I like is to get Japanese bento boxes or a series of glass vases of different shapes and heights (but small) and fill them with sauces and vegetables, and then place them on a table all together as a composition. Maybe mix in a few flowers — an orchid or two — and you have a fantastic food and visual display.