12/30/2014 12:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 New Year's Eve Home Party Tips From One of LA's Biggest Event Planners


Superbowl Party by AOO Events -- New Orleans

I had the good fortune to speak with David Merrell this weekend, who's just coming off two immense functions run by his company AOO Events, one of which took over Paramount's back lot and transformed it for 1200 people as a corporate party, while the other was an exclusive private birthday party for only 80 guests where Bruno Mars was the headliner. Needless to say, David likes to play big. He does this all year long with his company based in Los Angeles and also travels to Las Vegas, or New Orleans or wherever an event may take him. He'll have hot air balloons floating over tented outdoor carnivals, or he'll have his client's brand names tastefully etched in custom made glass mirrors lining specially designed two level party installations. His events are successful because he really wants to deliver on an emotional promise. And that's because he takes the time to research and listen to his clients. "You want to make it special for everyone who comes in," he says. "It can't just be big and overwhelming without being personalized for the entire crowd."

I have the luxury to think about that when I'm doing a dinner party myself for eight people. He's thinking that way for upwards of 1000. Not bad. What's disarming about David is how friendly he is, and how surprisingly normal and easy to talk to. "Hey, I like going to parties just like everyone," he says. "I'm just very lucky I get to make them for a living," he says with a laugh.

Grabbing an opportunity, I point out it might be easier to make the perfect party with his big clients like Delta, Pepsi, award shows or corporate retreats, or even his personal high end clients who can simply pay for what is needed to make their dreams come true. But what about charming little guys like me? I like to give parties too, but not at the price of a college tuition. How can I make them look as smart and snappy as he does?

I loved his answer, which is why I'm writing this post. He said the size of a party doesn't matter. You always want to bring the same five choices to every party you do. There is hope! I thought. Finally some inside information I can use! So here, boys and girls, is your chance to play at home like the big shots do.


Private party by AOO Events featuring Bruno Mars

When party planning:

1. Have a Dramatic entrance

He says the first impression sets the mood. So regardless of what your home is like, you have a front door. Make sure the party has already started there! Use a splash of exterior lighting, or a short red carpet entrance, decorations, soft music, be creative and remember to start the electricity outside to bring in the New Year and set the tone.

2. Quick Interior Re-Design

Don't be afraid to put some pieces of furniture in the garage to create an opened, 'clubby' feel where guests can mingle and move freely. He likes keeping the furniture with neutral tones so that the guests are the ones that shine. Keep ottoman's and low seating as it feels more relaxed, but is still intimate. If you want more color he'd go with metallic throws and pillows. He's also a fan of low lighting and candles, and suggests different textures, heights and vessels to cradle them. Here was a smart tip; go for subtle, sexy musky fragrances to ignite pheromones.

3. Headliner on the iPhone

We're creatures of the senses, and music sets the mood. Wherever you have your MP3 playlist, make sure you choreograph your favorites at the touch of a button. Break up your lists so that the first half of your party is your own personal standards from Bruno Mars to Celene Dion, but if you want to use a live DJ, bring them in from midnight to 2PM so you're only in for a couple hundred bucks. If not, have your second playlist ready to go from midnight to dawn that pushes the envelope and goes a little crazier. You want to bring in the new year with a bang.

4. Serve Sexy Bites

Keep the menu simple (and cost effective) with "forkless fare". Mini appetizers are served in the coolest restaurants and clubs and are always a novelty. David's come up with his own unique menu he caters at his events and with this in mind says you can make the same ones at home. He suggested inspirations like arugula salad in bamboo cones, bite size double cheeseburgers, cake pops, these ideas keep it fun, colorful, tasty and most importantly, easy for your guests. No plates, no silverware, no huge clean up.

5. Bartender Eye Candy

There's nothing like a cute bartender, male or female, to keep the party stimulated. Bartender services are readily available, affordable and he suggests the party budget is well spent here. There's something upscale and fun about the bartender in the living room. If you want to control costs, you can always keep to a signature drink or two and not offer a full bar. I thought that was a very smart tip as well. He personally suggests something artisanal and exotic with vodka, basil, mint and jalapeno. That is always a winner at his events. New Year's Eve calls for free flowing champagne, which he has at all his parties, but if non-stop bubbly feels cost prohibitive, he suggests a large chic oversized galvanized ice bucket, and little drinks like Sofia Coppola's in a bright pink can, and Pommery Pop Rose in mini champagne bottles which are colorful and can be purchased at any liquor store.

"Any party no-no's?" I ask before we part. There are a few, he points out, (so don't put your pencils down yet). He suggests you overstock your drink supply. Nothing kills a party faster than having the bar dry up without the drinks your guests drink the most. He also suggests avoiding serving overly aromatic foods when planning the menu, like those with extra garlic, onions or the overly aromatic (shall we just say stinky) cheeses. You don't want to be thinking about your breath when you're in close quarters whispering your best witticisms. Lastly, since the last impression is 'lasting', make it a successful evening by making sure your guests know all their options for ease of parking ahead of time, or don't have to wait too long for their valet. They will remember their last moments and you don't want lack of consideration at their exit to color their whole evening. Now go make merry, and have some of the best New Year's Eve parties in town! And let me know how they go!

David Merrell can be reached at AOO EVENTS, in Los Angeles.