By Keri Foy

The Brown Hotel knows a thing or two about making guests feel comfortable and welcome. Because many of us open our homes to guests during Derby season, we asked two hospitality professionals from The Brown to give us insider tips on how to make our guests’ stay comfortable and welcoming.

Use racing programs, magazines, and movies to help tell the Derby story

“The more people know about the traditions of the weekend, the more comfortable they will be,” says Pat Sloman, Brown Hotel concierge.

If this is your guests’ first time to the Derby, shorten their learning curve. Enlist the help of Hollywood. Have DVDs of Secretariat and Seabiscuit to watch during downtime or at night.

“I highly recommend guests watching these movies to get familiar with the passion we have for these beautiful Thoroughbreds,” Pat says. “They offer a real education about racing and how much goes into raising these spectacular animals.” As your guests leave, you can give the movies to them as parting gifts.

Place current issues of local magazines and racing programs around the house and in guest rooms. These are treasure troves for articles related to Kentucky Derby activities and their history. Also, print copies of My Old Kentucky Home as another reference point so they’ll be able to sing along on Derby day. Pat also advises buying your guests Kentucky Derby Festival Pegasus pins ahead of time.

Ease your guests into the ways of wagering by teaching them how to place a bet and the definition of a daily double. “We all assume this is common knowledge, but a lot of people did not grow up with picking a name out of a jackpot as a family tradition,” Pat says. Set up an online betting account ahead of time if you won’t be at the track. Pat recommends or

Send your guests “packing” properly
Encourage guests to pack for any type of weather and think through their shoe picks. They need to have flexibility in their outfits for the weekend. “It’s always a good idea to have a jacket or extra layer that you can remove as the day gets warmer (or cooler),” Pat says. “If there is any hint of rain, that outfit will need some protection.” Clear ponchos can serve as emergency wear since umbrellas are not allowed in the track.

Shoes are such an important part of the ensemble, but comfort is paramount. “Lots of women tell me that they wear heels all the time so it is not a problem,” Pat says. “I try to assure them that this is different! The days are very long, and the concrete is very hard. Not to mention trying to maneuver on cobblestones.” Pat suggests tucking a pair of flats in a handbag.

Craft simple cocktails (hint: impress your guests with garnish)
Making cocktails for your large group? Over prepare. “Get lots of ice — if you think one bag is enough, get three,” says Troy Ritchie, English Grill general manager. “Ice is one thing you should never run out of.”

Photos by Melissa Donald 

If fancy is what you’re going for, make ice balls three days in advance. Take them out of the molds and make more. Store them in small sheet trays so they don’t stick together. For an even fancier impact, add herbs (especially mint) or citrus to your ice for some visual impact.

For drinks, classics like the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Negroni or Hemingway Daiquiri, are simple. “There isn’t a hidden art to cocktail measurements,” Troy says. “For example, a Manhattan is two-to-one ratio of bourbon to vermouth with bitters. Count out how many ounces you need, check your math, and then make a batch for four to eight drinks at a time.”

Troy’s handy guidelines: 750 mL is roughly 24 oz., 1 L is roughly 33 oz., one medium-sized lime is about 2 tablespoons of juice.

You can also get your glasses ready, chilled, and garnished on serving trays so they’re ready to fill. “The biggest way to make an impression is with a fantastic garnish,” Troy says. “Think about how you can use glassware and fruit and herbs to make a beautiful presentation. Buy the best fruit. Use a potato peeler to get bigger lemon, lime or orange zest. Get the good cherries such as Morrello, Girottines, or your own soaked in brandy.”

With these tricks of the trade, your guests will leave Derby weekend with more knowledge, maybe a hangover, and hopefully a pocket full of cash.