Parties these days are very different to what they used to be a few decades ago, swapping sophisticated candlelit suppers and sherry for grazing tables and BYOB, which would have the dinner party divas from yesteryear saying WTF (where’s the fondue?!).
Seasoned event producer and general manager of made by Merivale, Paul Boustani, takes us back to the food, drinks and extremely flammable fashions of the past.
Then: Fancy finger food
Now: Grazing tables for the ‘gram
If we go back to the ‘70s, there were at least two certainties at every party you attended – the ladies would be sporting spandex and billowing nylon blouses, the gents rocked dodgy moustaches and polyester flares, and you’d be served up an assortment of vol-au-vent canapés (mini puff pastry cases filled with something the hostess learned from the Margaret Fulton Cookbook). “People very much followed a classic European influence, there was nothing made for the Australian context in them,” says Paul. “I find it fascinating that here we were in this country made up of essentially a melting pot of cultures and we were so focused on delivering fussy, fancy versions of meat and three veg after some sort of European canapé, a hot soup and a Waldorf salad.”
Parties back then were very much about following the rules – all about the social norms. “You’d have these traditional housewives cooking really elaborate meals on a 35 degree day with thick tablecloths, elaborately folded napkins, serving really dressed up guests, and probably hating life!” Paul says.
Today, thankfully, parties can mean very different things and the rules are meant to be broken. “People are thinking about how things fit them. If they love cheese, even if it’s a glamourous 50th, we’ll feature a beautiful spread of delicious cheeses. Or if it’s a wedding, multiple cheese wheels layered to look like a wedding cake. If friends or family don’t drink, we’ll do a dry wedding and make it all about the food and maybe an amazing mocktail,” says Paul.
While canapés are still popular (minus the puff pastry, devilled eggs, and cocktail onions on sticks) right now it’s all about grazing tables, an over-the-top, highly stylised and totally Insta-worthy creation that’s served and left to the guests to devour. Or it’s time to level up with an interactive food installation – “someone preparing it live, shredding it live, shucking it live,” says Paul.
Now: Home delivery cocktail kits
Just like the food, there were rules for the drinks too – if you didn’t have a home bar or drinks trolley to make a Pink Squirrel or Brandy Alexander, your party could fall as flat as a bad perm.
And who could forget the crystal bowl of bright orange punch with tinned fruit? Just drop your keys in the bowl beside it and you were in for a bangin’ night!
Fast forward a few decades and things are all about ease and personalisation. “At home, it’s a lot about bring a bottle – this can really impact the style of the night,” says Paul. And if you do want to do cocktails, Paul reckons home delivery cocktail kits are the next big thing (they’re the norm in major cities like New York and London) and have just started here in Ausralia. Just log on, pick your favourite cocktails and get everything you need including step-by-steps instructions, mixers, garnishes and a shaker delivered straight to your door – less prep, more play!
More extravagant parties and events are no longer bound by beverage rules either. “Lots of people want to do a cocktail on arrival over champagne, or a mix of two. For corporate events we’re often asked to create a brand friendly colour cocktail, for weddings, it’s cool for couples to do signature drinks – his and hers/his (or hers and hers). Clients are requesting we reproduce their favourite cocktail from Charlie Parker’s or Palmer & Co. for off-site events – and why wouldn’t you?”
Choice is also a big thing these days. Gone are the days of serving your chicken Kiev with a table wine, labeled vaguely as ‘French Dry White’. Today there’s a huge selection of wines from all over the country and the world at our fingertips. “I see this more and more when you’re invited to someone’s house. You’ll have champagne on ice, probably a rosé in the fridge, a special chardonnay for mum and that pinot your best friend likes,” says Paul.
Then: Chuck up some streamers
Now: The power of Pinterest
A posy of daises and some clunky candlesticks will no longer cut it in the party style stakes. With the explosion of Pinterest and Instagram, people are wanting that photo moment. “When that door opens, not only do they want that sharp little intake of ‘ah’, they want it for their guests too,” says Paul, adding “at times it’s a competition, wanting to one-up the last party they went too – we’re seeing that a lot with everything from bar mitzvahs to christenings, 21sts and mostly weddings.”
When asked about the trend, Paul doesn’t hesitate “balloons have been around forever but they’ve been become one of the biggest things in the industry because of how they’re being used”. You only have to scroll a few seconds on social media to see groups of girls doing the skinny arm pose next to a balloon installation at a bridal shower. “Just be sure you’re asking for the biodegradable options,” adds Paul.
People are expecting a bit of theatre at private parties outside of the home. “One of our crowd-favourites are taco tables. People love it! It’s fun, easily handles loads of dietaries and you get some great fragrance, textures and colours into your space.” Staff styling is a big one too – “It could be as simple as eye makeup in our client’s brand or campaign colours and textures on the staff.”
While we like to poke fun at the past for all its fashion and food faux pas, there’s actually a lot of trends from this era re-trending.
“Just like in fashion, people love referencing the past. The retro dining reinterpretation is a big thing. In a couple of our recent events some of our top chefs have reinvented the prawn cocktail and it’s been a massive hit – reminds you how amazing iceberg lettuce can be,” says Paul.
Recreating classic food carries a certain nostalgia for people, evokes memories and might even get an emotional reaction – “That’s where the power is, in the menu, we’re looking to do more than just feed our guests – the magic happens when you can make them feel something.”
Words by Alicia Doyle
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