Setting the Table

I’m on vacation this week in Paros, Greece, staying with friends at what is perhaps one of the loveliest villas I’ve ever seen. Our friends hired a local chef for the week and last night he prepared a veritable feast, including mussels in an ouzo broth, whole-grilled grouper, potatoes and roasted beets… and the list goes on. We sipped on rosé from local winery, Moraitis. The evening breeze was light and fresh, the boats were dancing in the bay under a slowly dimming sky, and the sound of the waves had a pleasant, Ambien-like effect. With delicious food, delightful company and conversation, and a magical setting, it was hard to want to get up from the table.


Earlier in the evening, the house managers set the dinner table for dinner. I walked past the table and couldn’t help but stop and admire it. It was simple. And in its simplicity it was absolutely beautiful.

As event planners, we strive to create stunning tablescapes for our clients. It’s our job, really. We deliberate over linens, consider glassware, choose the perfect baseplates and flatware. We make sure the napkin is cleverly folded and the menu card is properly placed. We spend hours upon hours working to create an impressive, eye-catching design.

But, as with everything else in event planning, we can easily lose sight of the purpose of the table. We work so hard to make it look impressive, that we forget what it is there for. It is there for the meal. And the meal is there for the guests around the table. And the guests are there for conversation and fellowship and enjoyment. The flowers may be beautiful, but it is the experience and memories made that are lasting. Each time I travel to Europe, I am reminded of that fact.

I have found that particularly in France, Spain, Italy… and now as I’ve learned, Greece… the meal is about the people.  It is vehicle for sharing time together. It is never rushed and there is always dedicated time set aside for it each day.  I’ve been hard pressed to find a “fast casual” restaurant on this island. Nothing is fast about meals here. It’s not about expediency, it’s about experience.

I’ve talked with more than one wedding client in the past who have said, “I want dinner to be as short as possible. I want everyone to dance.” I love dancing and agree that there should always be enough time for filling the dance floor during the event. And I definitely don’t think a dinner should drag on. I do feel, though, that dinner is an opportunity for tablemates to enjoy the food and engage in good conversation. Oftentimes, the guests have not seen each other in a long time, or perhaps they have just met and are enjoying getting to know each other. Why rush that?

So, next time you host a dinner party, consider how a simple table can be a vehicle for an enjoyable experience for guests. Don’t stress about the candles or the flatware. Just settle in, and create a memory with your friends and family. That’s what setting the table is all about.

Favors for Food Lovers

Photo: Holland Photo Arts

Photo: Holland Photo Arts

Fewer and fewer couples are giving favors to guests at their weddings these days. Sometimes it is due to budget constraints, but many times it is because they simply cannot come up with an idea for a favor that they like, so why bother? Fair enough.

Photo:   Eli Turner

Photo: Eli Turner

If a couple decides to do a favor, however, I believe it should always be a reflection of them in some way. Years ago, clients who enjoy coffee and who love their adorable cats, combined the two passions by having a special coffee roast made and gave out bags of the beans featuring a cute photo of the felines. Other clients have given out their own custom tea blend or a treat from their favorite bakery.

Another meaningful takeaway that some of my couples have done is write hand-written notes to each and every one of their guests. This takes a great deal of time, but when guests open a special note meant just for them, they feel appreciated and welcomed in a very warm way.

Some of my restaurant memories and takeaways from very recently to years ago.

Some of my restaurant memories and takeaways from very recently to years ago.

These ideas are not unlike what fine dining restaurants do. After dining at Métier, guests are given a lovely bottled onion vinaigrette to take home. At the end of the tasting menu experience at the Chef’s Counter at Gravitas, each guest receives a hand-written note signed by each of the staff members. Each time I visit Eleven Madison Park, I leave with a gift of their housemade granola. (I don’t even generally eat granola, but this blend is so good I can’t help myself!). Masseria sends guests home with a bottle of beautiful olive oil. And so many times after finishing a tasting menu or a very special meal, a restaurant will provide a printed copy of the menu often signed by the chef for diners to have as a keepsake. I will occasionally find one as I am going through papers and reading the menu and remembering the occasion is so fun—just as it would be for a wedding guest who might hold onto and cherish that special note from the couple.

I love taking inspiration from restaurant dining experiences and incorporating the concept into events. After all, serving guests at a restaurant and hosting an event are both all about hospitality. They should both be driven by a focus on guest enjoyment.

There are lots of ideas for food-related favors should hosts choose to do one: a box of mini sweet treats, a jar of preserves or artisanal honey, the host’s favorite cookie recipe…. the list is endless. The most important thing is that it is a reflection of the host’s interests and tastes—not a random bag of Jordan Almonds (not that there is anything wrong with Jordan Almonds!).

What are your thoughts on takeaways and favors? Yay? Nay? If yay, what are some fun ideas?

Why All the Hubbub About the Aperol Spritz?

Sipping the ubiquitous Aperol Spritz in the Rialto Market in Venice, Italy, on a cooking trip with   Stirred Travel   — 2015

Sipping the ubiquitous Aperol Spritz in the Rialto Market in Venice, Italy, on a cooking trip with Stirred Travel — 2015

A recent New York Times article slammed the Aperol Spritz—an effervescent aperitif born in Italy and on the rise for the last several years here in the States. The article knocked the drink for being too syrupy, getting too watery with the addition of ice, and often tainted by poor quality prosecco chosen when making it. The author also pointed out that the drink became unnecessarily popular due in large part to the marketing push that Campari America—the owner of the spritz’s main ingredient, Aperol — undertook in 2017, which made the trend commercially-driven over organically developed.

I agree with some of her points—it can get too watery (but what drink with ice doesn’t?) and many bartenders do ruin it with poor quality bubbly—but I still argue that it is a lovely aperitif and one that is especially enjoyable on hot summer days. I am not the only one who disagrees with the New York Times; the internet blew up with rebuttals over the stance. I particularly enjoyed this article by Becky Krystal of the Washington Post which talked about the reaction to the claims.

So, here’s my take on all the hubbub…

The Aperol Spritz is not going away. It has too many followers now to not have at least a couple more years of “trend” left in it. It is, in fact, a wonderfully refreshing beverage, and here in DC in the summertime, we desperately need something to beat the heat. If you are going to indulge, just ask for a quality prosecco and not too heavy on the Aperol. I think you will find the result enjoyable.

But the Aperol Spritz is just the start—there is a world of spritz offerings out there to explore. If you are curious about spritzes in general and want to try one at home, just follow this basic formula: three parts bubbly, two parts bitter (of which Aperol is one example), one part soda, and add a citrus garnish, if desired. There are other formulas for more “modern” spritzes, but you really can’t go wrong with that approach.

The Sgroppino |  Photo by:     Procopio Photography

The Sgroppino |
Photo by: Procopio Photography

For inspiration, I highly recommend this book which includes a variety of variations on the cocktail from classic to modern. One of my favorites in the book is the Sgroppino, which I first tried and fell in love with in Italy. Talk about refreshing! No, it does not follow the traditional spritz formula, but it is a darn good aperitif! I also enjoy a good Americano, which, like most spritzes, has the additional benefit of being low ABV (but that is for a different post). This Eater article previews a few recipes from the book—Negroni Spagliato, Rosé All Day, and Safe Passage—should you wish to sample some.

If you live in DC and are not up for stocking your bar specifically for spritzes, try out some of these places that Jessica Sidman and Anna Spiegel of the Washingtonian suggest. To that list, I’d add Fiola. Tell Jacob, Jordan, Marcos, or Ron behind the bar that I sent you. :-)

For those hosting a summer event, consider offering some spritzes upon arrival for your guests. Sure, you could do the Aperol Spritz, but why not add one or two others to the mix to be less predictable? The Americano could be a nice fit here or the citrus-forward Aperol Betty.

You could also consider a “build-your-own-spritz bar”, keeping in mind the 3:2:1 + garnish formula above. Most people enjoy being in control of their cocktail destiny, and so an interactive bar with an experienced bartender to assist will be a hit.

Perhaps the Times article will actually spawn more curiosity this summer in not only the Aperol Spritz, but others in its class of cocktails…. now, wouldn’t that be refreshing?


Welcome to Tasting Notes

When I founded Rex & Regina Events over a decade ago, I thought carefully about what I wanted to name the firm. It was important to me that the name reflect my philosophy on events—that they should be a seamless and comfortable experience for each guest, and reflective of the gracious hospitality of the hosts.  After much research, I landed on Rex & Regina Events—Latin for “king and queen.”

The name was inspired by the royal style of entertaining. When kings and queens entertained centuries ago, the royal court became an extension of their family. I love the idea that any host—whether it is a corporation entertaining clients, a nonprofit thanking donors, or individuals hosting a social occasion where loved ones gather to celebrate—should thoughtfully consider how they can create an experience where their guests feel like part of the family.

The guest experience encompasses everything a guest sees, hears, smells, touches, and tastes. Ahhh…. tastes! Why do we always underestimate this part?  Event planners all-too-often focus on what the guest sees, while paying scant attention to what they are going to eat. The flowers can be gorgeous, but if I fight with a rubbery chicken breast; sip a lukewarm cup of coffee; or taste a dry piece of cake one more time, I might erupt. Guests remember these things. They talk about them. And, not only that, the host has now thrown thousands of dollars down the drain on a disappointing, mediocre menu.  When thoughtfully crafted, the dining experience at an event—whether it is a BBQ, cocktail party, gala, or wedding—has the power to nourish and connect like I dare say no other event element can.  Being intentional about the menu design is worth it.

Years ago, I was dining at The Ledbury in London. As I was sitting at my table, I pulled out a small notebook. I wanted to remember everything about the moment so I discretely (or so I thought), jotted down some notes during the dinner. One of four American women dining at a table next to me leaned over midway through dinner to ask if I was a food critic. I laughed out loud. I would never pretend to be a food critic. Their specialized expertise and knowledge far exceed mine and I have incredible admiration for their work.  What I am is a passionate eater. I have an insatiable fervor for cooking, trying restaurants from Michelin-starred gems to holes-in-the-wall, and tracking what new and exciting things chefs are doing in their kitchens.

Tasting Notes will not be a home for restaurant reviews—not that there might not be an occasional reference to a new restaurant I dined at or a tasty recipe I just tried (I can’t help but share!). Instead, it will be a place to share ideas and insights on how food and dining practices, trends, and traditions can be incorporated in meaningful ways into events.

In the posts that follow, I’ll share my culinary adventures, and also invite you to share your thoughts and questions about how an intentional focus on food can elevate a guest’s experience. Together, our “Tasting Notes” will help us create richer, more meaningful, and more delicious celebrations.