Detail image of Shannon Fehr, Clair Belknap and Robyn Thomas for The Art of Throwing a Party story.

Entertaining entrepreneurs, Shannon Fehr, Clair Belknap and Robyn Thomas.

These entertaining experts have a reputation for designing and hosting fabulous, fun events. During the time of year when you need it most, they share some trade secrets that will help make your next gathering a blast.

Written by Christine Fellingham | Photographed on location at Land O’ Goshen Farm Event Center by Kylene White

When it comes to hosting a memorable party, these three friends and entertaining entrepreneurs have it all figured out. The first thing they advise any hostess to do is to stop stressing about people’s expectations. “The fun starts with you, so stop worrying … and focus on what you actually want to do,” says Shannon Fehr. As the co-founder of Bliss Events & Co, Shannon prides herself on her ability to plan highly-personalized experiences that tend to be photographic and unforgettable. “Doing what’s expected gets boring,” she says. “The last thing you want is to throw a party that everyone feels like they’ve been to before.”   

All three of these experts agree that the best party plans are those that start with the hostess’s sense of style rather than a trend. “I tend to steer people from being too concerned with trends,” says Clair Belknap, owner of the recently renovated Land O’Goshen Farm Event Center. “Instead, I encourage them to lean on their own traditions and personal story.”

That’s what Clair and her husband Ian did during the pandemic. They spent the time reimagining and renovating the 3,000-square-foot barn and outdoor spaces on their family farm where they host weddings, corporate events, birthdays and gatherings of all kinds. “We had time on our hands and couldn’t host parties, so we did projects,” Clair says.

The couple painted the barn themselves, and Ian made the gigantic, oak slab banquet tables which gives the event space a rustic, modern vibe. “People love the tables,” Clair says. “We couldn’t even imagine how beautiful they would look until they were all finished.”

She uses them as an example for clients on how to add “wow factor” to an event with handmade or unusual touches. “I encourage them to look for ways to add their own personal statements which can be anything from handwritten menu cards to framed photos or heirloom serving pieces,” Clair says.

Behind the bar, party advice also starts with personalization says Robyn Thomas, owner of Twisted Sisters Bar Service. “Everyone is asking for signature drinks and I love creating them,” she says. “They’re a way for people to be different and playful with their planning. The more personal and specific the drinks are to the occasion and hosts, the better.”

According to these mavens of event planning, for the 2022 holiday season you should free yourself from expectations and focus on creating an experience that will be a unique reflection of you and your guests. Here are a few of their suggestions on ways to make your special event a huge success.

Detail image of Clair Belknap for The Art of Throwing a Party story.

Clair Belknap, on the expansive deck at Land O’ Goshen Farm Event Center.

Strategize About Space

You can spend hours brainstorming about menus, guest lists, and music; but if you don’t think about how your guests will move through the party, you can be headed for disaster. Having everyone crowded into one corner waiting for a drink or access to a buffet can bring the party to a halt, literally.

“Whether you’re using an event space or your own home, you need to do a walk-through and really think about flow and what is happening in each area at different points of the night,” says Clair. “You may need to move the bar and food further apart or into different rooms to prevent bottlenecking. Sometimes it helps to have a second bar outdoors. Make sure you build in buffer zones and have things happening in different places so you encourage people to move and spread out.”

Detail image of a tablescape for The Art of Throwing a Party story.

Gold flatware and tablescapes, created by Bliss Events & Co co-founder Shannon Fehr, sparkle against the oak slab tables at Land O’Goshen Farm Event Center.

Get Back to Nature

Bohemian, natural decor is another trend that gets approval from these party experts. Clair says using items from outdoors like pampas grass, branches, pinecones and informal floral arrangements is a relaxed, sustainable trend that makes dressing up your event easier and less expensive. Clair adds that fewer tablecloths and layered linens is another trend. “The natural woodgrain of a table gives a warmer, cozier feel,” she says. “I love using gold tableware and flatware on a bare table,” adds Shannon. “It’s relaxed and fancy at the same time.”

Detail image of Shannon Fehr for The Art of Throwing a Party story.

Shannon Fehr, co-founder of Bliss Events & Co., loves floating candles for holiday tablescapes.

Detail image of a charcuterie board for The Art of Throwing a Party story.

An artful charcuterie board by Heitzman’s Traditional Bakery & Deli.

Plan Interesting, Inclusive Bar and Dinner Menus

Signature cocktails are definitely in demand, but so are mocktails. “More hosts are being thoughtful about adding a non-alcoholic option to the menu too,” Robyn says. “I always recommend offering both. People love to try them and it adds to the fun for everyone.” That thoughtfulness extends to the food choices.

“With so many people on special diets, it’s always a good idea to make sure you are including items that are vegetarians, vegan and gluten-free,” says Marguerite Heitzman, owner of Heitzman’s Traditional Bakery and Deli and catering, who frequently works with Shannon, Robyn and Clair. “Charcuterie boards are a fun and visual way to do that. We have a lot of customers who may not cater their whole event, but they order large charcuterie boards. They know they have something for all of their guests and they don’t have to think about appetizers.” Marguerite likes mixing sweet and salty flavors on the boards for cocktail parties. “People can nibble on them all night and they have fun sampling all of the different items. They’re interactive and fun!”

Focus on the Beginning and End

“There’s so much thought given to the middle of an event – but the start and finish can make the biggest impression and have the most lasting impact,” Shannon says. “With brides, we spend a lot of time on making a memorable entrance and exit – or bringing in sparklers or food trucks as a kind of finale. You can think the same way with any party. Greet guests when they walk in with a toast or even live music. Send them off with a goodie bag or sparklers or a group photo. There are so many ways to put a little stamp on the start and finish and those touches make the event seem much more special.”

Detail image of Robyn Thomas for The Art of Throwing a Party story.

Robyn Thomas, owner of Twisted Sisters Bar Service, serves up signature cocktails and mocktails.

Detail image of a cake for The Art of Throwing a Party story.

Detail image of cupcakes for The Art of Throwing a Party story.

Stunning holiday sweets created by Marguerite Heitzman, co-owner of Heitzman’s Traditional Bakery & Deli and catering.

Consider Hiring Experts

Anything you can delegate to a professional takes the stress and responsibilities off of you – and it’s often cheaper than doing it yourself. “People often don’t factor in the discounts we get as professionals,” Shannon says. “I have relationships that make rentals, flowers, and food cheaper. I also know how to order exactly what you need so you’re not overbuying.”

There’s also the fact that experts eliminate those last-minute disasters. “If I’m there, you’re not running around for more glasses or ice,” Robyn says. “And you’re mingling with your guests instead of mixing drinks.” Another huge benefit of having a professional behind the bar? “We keep an eye on underage drinking or overdrinking,” Robyn says. “We can ask for an ID or slow someone down and it’s not awkward; it’s our job. We reduce liability and provide a level of oversight. Having us there means you can relax and enjoy your own party instead of monitoring people’s drinking.”

Get Your Party Started 

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