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Professional planners offer tips for your next gathering

| Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, 8:57 p.m.
Party Planner Joe Mineo sets up a display at his studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Party Planner Joe Mineo sets up a display at his studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
A table display at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
A table display at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
A table display at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
A table display at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
A display of hors d'oeuvres at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
A display of hors d'oeuvres at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
A place setting display at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
A place setting display at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
A table display at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
A table display at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
A table display and decorations at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
A table display and decorations at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
A charcuterie display at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
A charcuterie display at Party Planner Joe Mineo's studio during an open house on Wed., Nov. 15, 2017 in Aspinwall.
George Shaner (left) and Michael Philopena at a fundraiser event earlier this year for the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra.
Kim Stepinsky | For the Tribune-Review
George Shaner (left) and Michael Philopena at a fundraiser event earlier this year for the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra.

It's party season, and nothing ensures a successful soiree like thorough preparation, say professional event planners.

“I live off lists,” says Joe Mineo, of Joe Mineo Creative, which recently opened in Aspinwall. The veteran party designer of Youngstown, Ohio, decided that, with clients in Pittsburgh, it made sense to launch a satellite venue here. Having extended family in Shadyside and Squirrel Hill — his uncle Joe started Mineo's Pizza — was added incentive.

Mineo's forte is design, which he says he comes to naturally, having been a theater major at New York University. “I took a job at a flower shop to support myself as an actor,” he recalls. “We did party planning, too, and I discovered I had a talent for staging events.”

Although he likes to be adventurous when designing special occasions, Mineo tends to go classical at this time of year. “People love tradition, and there's no more traditional time than the holidays,” he says. “My dessert table is filled with every cake, cookie and candy cane I can fit on the table.”

For other than small, seated dinners, Mineo offers the following suggestions:

• If you send e-vites, be sure to precede or followed them with a personal phone call.

• In your RSVP, ask invitees to tell you about any dietary restrictions they may have.

• Center your party around an array of interesting hors d'oeuvres, including those to satisfy vegetarians.

• As alternatives to a fully stocked bar, serve wine, beer and a signature cocktail, or an elegant punch (both dry and alcoholic versions).

• Offer every guest a drink as soon as they arrive so they have something to do with their hands.

• Enlist friends to hang up coats, mix drinks, and clear used plates as the party progresses.

It's all in the planning

George Shaner and Michael Philopena of Greensburg have planned scores of parties to raise funds for dozens of organizations in their community, including the Westmoreland Cultural Trust, the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra, the Southern Alleghenies Museum, and Excela Health.

The couple, who also own Vacation Station Travel, emphasize the importance of early planning.

“Send out invitations a month in advance, and be sure to indicate ‘regrets only,' ” Philopena says. “Everyone is so busy at this time of year, calendars fill up fast.”

Like Mineo, he is a big fan of hors d'oeuvres-centered parties, and offers the following tips:

• Serve both hot and cold selections and keep them bite-sized, since forks and knives can be awkward when you are standing.

• The iconic Western Pennsylvania cookie table is ideal for festive, no-fuss desserts.

• Place food and drink tables in various places around the home to encourage people to circulate.

• Remember that presentation is everything. Even deli foods can seem special when elegantly plated.

• Have festive, nonalcoholic beverages, such as ciders infused with rosemary, thyme and other seasonal herbs, on hand for designated drivers and teetotalers.

• Shaner takes inventory of serving platters, linens and other essentials weeks in advance, so he's not scrambling to launder or replenish items at the last minute.

• Have your table fully set the day before the party, labeling serving pieces on the buffet with ‘Post-Its' so you know exactly where everything is supposed to go.

• Switching to fancier labels to let guests know what they are eating.

• Creating ambience by having lights on dimmers and playing holiday music.

• Reduce or turn off heat the morning of a large party because a house full of people can get too warm.

Let someone else clean up

Like Mineo, Shaner suggests pressing a good friend into service or hiring help to clear dirty dishes, replenish food, and tend bar. Guests will enjoy themselves more if they know the host is having fun, too, he says. “Nobody should be a slave to their own party.”

Deborah Weisberg is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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