Tips For Hosting A Holiday Party From This St. Louis Event Space

The leaves are starting to turn amber, there’s a crisp chill to the air and pumpkin spice goodies have debuted on every bakery shelf. After a long summer, fall is here at last, which means one important thing: the bustling holiday season is already sneaking up on us.

For the inside scoop on how to throw a stunning party, we talked to Orlando’s Catering and Event Design, a St. Louis family-run business celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. Co-manager Sam Orlando Jr., who studied theatre before taking over the family business, says creativity is key. “You’re putting on a show!” he says. “Every event is like a theatrical production.”

Below, Orlando shares favorites from the Orlando’s special holiday catering menu, plus advice for throwing the kind of party people will be talking about until next year’s holiday season.

How did Orlando’s Catering and Event Design get its start?
We’re a family-owned and operated business coming up on our 50th anniversary this year. My parents started in the basement of their home, opened their first banquet hall in 1980, and then opened the Lodge at Grant’s Trail—a more intimate event space and bed and breakfast—in 2000. Now, my brother and I run the business together, with some third-generation Orlando’s who are starting to get involved as well.

The banquet centers started because we realized there weren’t a lot of nice, affordable places around St. Louis to host events. We came up with venues where people could have weddings and other special events that were both reasonably priced and accessible. That’s pretty much been our business model—to offer really excellent food and service for the most reasonable price out there.

Our big push has always been to stay relevant, to keep up with the times and with what people are looking for in events. We always want to not only provide great food, but also fantastic service.

What makes a holiday party memorable?
Delicious food and great drinks! It’s also important to make your event personal to you and to make it your own. We do a lot of customizing of menus, and I think the most successful events are the ones where we bring in our clients’ favorite foods, so they have a personal touch to their event.

We also do a lot of custom cocktails. We just did one for a wedding last week. It was a salted caramel white Russian with salted caramel vodka and Kahlua. It was really delicious.

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What is unique about Orlando’s?
The thing I hear clients say most often when they thank us for a job well done is that we attended to all of their needs, from the very first phone call to the end of the night. Everyone, from our office staff to our catering consultants, lend their attention to detail to helping our clients through the entire planning process. We ask questions that hosts might not always think of, like “What are you doing for linens? Where are you going to set up the food? What’s the flow of the guests going to be in your house?” We help people through the whole planning process.

What are some of Orlando’s options for holiday parties?
We do a lot of hors d’oeuvres stations during the holiday times. We also do seated, formal dinners, but a lot of times people want to throw a party with an atmosphere that allows people to mingle. So, we’ll do a lot of interactive stations. For example, we offer “Turkey-tinis.” We take a martini glass, which is fun and elegant to walk around with, and fill it with a scoop of stuffing that’s topped with turkey and gravy, and a stick of skewered cranberries as the “stirrer.” It’s holiday food, but presented in a really fun way.

One of our favorite holiday drinks is our “Jingle Juice” cocktail. We use pomegranate vodka, pomegranate juice, a little simple syrup, and it makes a great martini-style drink. Half the fun is coming up with the clever names to put on a sign at the bar. It just engages people more, and that’s what we try to do—make the party fun and interesting.

We also have a brand-new autumn menu with dishes like butternut squash bisque, roasted apple and brie crostini, braised chicken with cranberry-walnut pesto and ancho braised short ribs. Special desserts include apple-caramel cheesecake and pumpkin spice tiramisu. We do a lot of dishes with apples, cranberries, and Brussels sprouts—all the go-to seasonal favorites. We make awesome Brussels sprouts with bacon and roasted tomatoes.

Your family also runs a nonprofit foundation. Can you tell me more about that?
About seventeen years ago, when my father turned 60, we had a big party for him with all his friends and business associates. At the end of the evening, he got up and thanked everyone and said “Next year we’re going to do this party again, but I’m going to charge you for coming, and we’re going to give the money to charity!” That was the start of The Orlando Family Foundation for Charities.

We have one big auction gala each year, where charities like the Ronald McDonald House, The Down Syndrome Foundation, St. Louis Crisis Nursery, Friends of Kids with Cancer, St. Anthony’s Hospice and many more have take home as much as $50,000 each. 31 charities have benefited from over $1,000,000 raised since we began.

This post has been brought to you in part by the mentioned organization. Thank you for supporting the companies that keep ALIVE growing. Photos courtesy of those listed.

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