Help me host a fabulous brunchluck!
November 22, 2014 11:07 AM   Subscribe

I'm hosting a brunchluck (brunch potluck, for my birthday) and want it to be festive, warm, etc. I'm not sure how to decorate/theme/make it really warm and welcoming given that it's going to be rainy and grey outside. Difficulty level: grad student brokeness and I'm *really* not a decorator, plus additional logistics questions.

I want to have an event that feels festive and celebratory, especially because many of my fellow grad student friends are in finals and we could all use some joy. I'm expecting between 15-25 people, but anticipate they won't all be present the same time.

Circulating logistics: I have a kitchen table that can seat about 8-10 (but often acts as a buffet table during potlucks, so people might not want to sit properly at the table), and a living room that has couch/chair space for 6, with a lot more space that's just kind of unused/empty. The living room and the kitchen are connected. Questions: should I acquire some sort of lounging pillows/cushions to use the unused floor space? How can I make it more comfortable given that I don't really have enough proper seating for everyone?

Food logistics: I have promised pancakes (which I'm planning to make right before folks come and hold in the oven), tofu scramble, waffles (I have a belgian waffle iron and will make a few ahead of time but mostly let people have fun making their own), and frittata. I'm a vegetarian and won't be providing meat. Also provided: a Bloody Mary bar. I'm planning to provide maple syrup, butter, whipped cream as pancake/waffle toppings. Is there anything really obvious that I'm overlooking? I don't have a coffeemaker/drink coffee. Is coffee expected, and if so should I see if I can borrow a French press, buy some coffee, and just assume that folks who want coffee will do the rest? I do have plentiful tea. My house is technically kosher, which means that I and all my guests will be eating off paper plates/with compostable utensils.

Ambiance: If I were having an evening event, I think ambiance would be easier: candles in mason jars, fairy lights, carefully selected pretty chill indie playlist, etc. I've seen just enough Pinterest boards to get the gist. But I'm not sure how to make a daytime event seem, for lack of a better word, cozy: the light here in Berkeley is often grey/rainy in December, much of the light in my kitchen/dining room and living room is natural light, our fireplace is nonfunctional and currently filled with board games. Any suggestions on how to decorate to convey a warm, comfortable, aesthetically pleasing energy? Literally my only idea so far is to buy a burgundy-colored tablecloth to cover my Ikea-standard light wood kitchen table.

Anything else I should consider? Have you been to a particularly successful large but casual brunch and thought they did something very well? Are you a gracious host of wintertime events and want to share some wisdom? All help welcome.
posted by verbyournouns to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Damn, should have mentioned resources I have: access to a truly excellent hippie supermarket, an equally amazing fabric store, the ability to cook most things with a good degree of success, and a few weeks to pull things together.
posted by verbyournouns at 11:08 AM on November 22, 2014

A few thoughts:

If possible, set up your kitchen table so that one end abuts a wall. Use the half of it that extends into the room (the 'front half') to stage the food your guests bring. (Food only! Have the plates/utensils nearby, but don't take up table space with them.) The 'back half' can seat four guests between the the food and the wall. The other guests can make do in the living room. If you have any small occasional tables, clear the surfaces and position them in front of the available seating. Not everyone will be eating at the same time, and some won't mind standing/leaning.

Hopefully you can set up the waffle station on counter space and not on the table.

Set up the Bloody Mary bar in the living room. Have an ice bucket (or improvise one from a stockpot or something -- a plastic cup can be a scoop if you don't have ice tongs).

Cozy: Stow the board games in a closet, and light candles in mason jars in the fireplace. Just a few will be enough to suggest the desired ambiance.

Coffee: I would provide it: Peet's to go.

Good luck, happy birthday, and have fun!
posted by trip and a half at 11:43 AM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

This sounds like the makings of a wonderful party!

Ambience: all of your evening decorating ideas sound perfect for a grey day. There's no reason why you can't have candles, fairy lights, or chill indie music in the daytime. I would also splurge on a bunch of Chinese lantern flowers, or other bright, warm-colored blooms, and put some in vases or jars around the rooms. Some other things you could do to add some cheery color: fill some bowls with clementines and pomegranates. Put out utensils in wicker baskets (maybe lined with a pretty fabric from the amazing craft store?)

Circulation: Everyone is going to end up standing in the kitchen. If you have rugs in other rooms, people will sit on the floor. Potlucks are casual! Don't overthink it.

Food: since it's a potluck, put the word out about what you will have/need help with, and people will fill in the gaps, including coffee (people will definitely want coffee.) I would also maybe have a pitcher of OJ or some other juice on hand. (Mimosas!)
posted by prewar lemonade at 11:43 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think that if its cloudy and dreary outside that Twinkle lights are amazing. I have some sets in a few larger houseplants and I turn them on the second it isn't sunny!
posted by catspajammies at 11:52 AM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, people will expect coffee and be sad if it is not there (it is possible that the sadness could be assuaged by Bloody Marys, though).

In addition to the toppings you listed for waffles, I would whip up a batch of berry sauce. Something like this is really easy and very flexible (make it with whatever frozen fruit you want) and whatever amount I make is never enough at our annual brunch party.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:14 PM on November 22, 2014

It sounds like you have a lot of food, between what you are providing and what people are bringing. If you have space for more chairs, but don't have the chairs, you could also ask a few people to bring folding chairs or TV trays (if they have them) as their potluck contribution.
posted by OrangeDisk at 12:14 PM on November 22, 2014

You're providing a lot of dishes; people might want some hints as to what they can bring to the potluck that isn't already covered (pancakes, waffles, eggs). Be clear on whether you're ok with them bringing meat or not. Make suggestions (waffle toppings? fruit salad? home fries? more egg dishes?) and feel free to delegate things you don't feel like dealing with (a go-box of coffee, juice, possibly even the frittata).

If everybody brings food, you'll easily cover the dining table in buffet dishes. Consider where you can set up the beverage station - coffee, tea, bloody marys, juice, and some kind of sparkling water, plus all the cups, ice, sugar, milk, accoutrements, (champagne for mimosas?). I'd plan on having a whole area of kitchen counter clear for that, or an extra (folding) table near the buffet table.

If you want to set up floor seating, that could work well, but consider making end tables out of medium-sized cardboard boxes covered in a yard of fabric. If you need to turn a medium-sized table into a large one, take your bedroom door off the hinges and set it on the tabletop (with a rug gripper pad to keep it from sliding). Cover with a tablecloth. Let people be mystified by the doorknob. This also works to create a buffet table if you have assorted small end tables, nightstands, filing cabinets, etc that are the same height.

It will feel cozy because the oven will be on and there will be warm bodies. Some kind of decoration will make it feel festive; you should probably decide if you want to have "winter decoration" (evergreens, poinsettias, silvery snowflakey things, etc) or more general decor. Take a look at what you local grocery store has in their floral section. Twinkle lights are great. Don't pay too much attention to the fact that it's not night-time, the natural light will be grey and soft, so turn on the indoor lights anyway.
posted by aimedwander at 12:18 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I love these ideas so far! I put out a call for "Stuff for mimosas, pancake/waffle toppings, fruit salad, fruit, savory breakfast foods, things that suit your special dietary restrictions (all food provided will be vegetarian and dairy kosher, but your stuff does not have to be at all!)." on the invite, but should absolutely designate a person or people to bring some coffee.
posted by verbyournouns at 12:21 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

And I should add, we host an annual open house brunch in our house for a lot of people- often 75 people will show up throughout the day, and we have sometimes had up to 40 in the house at once. We only have seating for about two dozen people at once, but it has never been an issue- someone is always standing or sitting on the floor or hanging out being the waffle maker or whatever. If you don't have a beloved recipe already, these waffles are transcendent- crispy, fluffy and buttery and, most importantly, pretty much all the work is done the night before.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:23 PM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Though I know there is a drought, if it is raining outside expect people to show up cold and wet. I used to keep a bag of dry socks at the front door when it was raining out during parties so people could change into them and feel warm/cozy for the party. Also love the pillow idea for sitting around the floor.
posted by Toddles at 1:26 PM on November 22, 2014

To second charmedimsure, a good friend of mine hosts a brunch potluck which attracts between 25 and 40 people throughout the day. He provides seating for only about 10, and the rest of us are standing. It's fine. Borrow plastic chairs if you can. Folding TV dinner tables are also great. If you can't, don't worry about it.

When I host a party, I get a big cooler and keep it along a wall in the kitchen so people aren't opening the fridge to get beer all night long.

Cheap festive decorations: decorative gourds, tea lights, Christmas lights strung around the windows, a pan with a stick of cinnamon simmering on the stove.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:33 PM on November 22, 2014

If you can pull it off, it might be nice to have some trays or low tables or something for people to balance their food on while sitting on the floor or couch. That's the hardest part of eating at a non-table to me, especially if you end up with several plates per person.
posted by MadamM at 1:54 PM on November 22, 2014

2nding trays, and grab a roll of the sticky-gridded-plastic fabric which I've bought as shelf liner. Masking tape at least a ten-inch rectangle of this anti-slip Magic to the bottom of the trays, and people may be lining up to not use the table.

This sounds like a great party ... And to minimize the effort, I'd consider not making the pancakes. If you're needing plenty of oil and roundness, invite a guest to bring latkes.
posted by Jesse the K at 2:25 PM on November 22, 2014

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