Mary Giuliani, caterer to the stars, answers your hosting questions, so that you can host like a pro in any circumstance.

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cocktail drink dispenser
A drink dispenser is a chicer (and safer) way to serve cocktails at a party.
| Credit: Photography by Christopher Testani

What are some great bulk cocktail recipes for a crowd, and any tips to safely serve them?

I have one simple bulk cocktail that I always serve at my parties, and I call it the Italian Margarita. It's tequila, Aperol, fresh lime juice, and fresh basil. Not only is it a delicious drink, it also looks so pretty in a drink dispenser, which I place in the center of the table as a decorative centerpiece. Besides the cocktail itself, I'll toss in slices of fresh fruit, sprigs of herbs, edible flowers, edible glitter sprinkles—yes, that's a thing! You can cut up some disinfecting wipes for each guest to run over the spigot after they use it, for extra safety. A centerpiece you can drink…my favorite kind!

What are the best foods to serve at a party if they’ll be sitting out for a while?

It's been said that it's not the seafood that goes bad, but the mayonnaise that ruins the party. So whatever you're planning to serve, keep in mind that dairy and eggs don't like to sit in the sun. Likewise, we are all being conscious of individual servings when we gather; no more double-dipping or digging through the nut bowl to find the cashews. Consider this: If it tastes just as good at room temperature as it does hot from the oven or cold from the fridge, it's a good bet. Crudités and semihard or hard cheeses are always easy party foods. Or let me do the work for you—order some Love, Mary frozen party bites. Once heated, they can sit out until ready to enjoy!

I’d love to hear Mary’s innovative ideas on how to host COVID-safe summer parties.

Obviously, we can always rejoice in the great outdoors, but truthfully, I hope that we can drink out of a punch bowl again safely this summer. If that's not the case, a drink dispenser or an all-can bar is easy and COVID-safe. There are so many great canned wines, spirits, and nonalcoholic beverages (I looove Spindrift) that you'll be able to please every guest and keep the cooties at bay. I've actually found that this form of service encourages more conversation around the ol' bar. With such a variety of choices in new beverage products, guests start to interact and ask questions about what's in your can. It's a great ice breaker—get it? (OK, I'll stick to catering.)

Do you have favorite platters, servingware, utensils, etc., for outdoors?

I'm excited to use the new Hefty fully compostable serveware, and I'll dress it up with some really pretty melamine platters. In summers past, my outdoor go-to has always been eco-perfect VerTerra and Tossware shatterproof plastic cups, which I still love. But there are tons of options, so see what works best with your own outdoor partyware and mix and match at will.

"Keep entertaining simple. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that less really can be more!" —Mary 

I’ve taken a break from drinking and I don’t miss it! I’m thinking of hosting a dry party. Is this cool? Or is there an unwritten rule that you have to serve alcohol at a grown-up party?

I don't know about you guys, but since last March my alcohol consumption was...well, let's just say that Dean Martin would have been proud of me. Since January, I've taken a break and have been doing really well socializing without the harder stuff. Dry parties are definitely on the upswing and a great way for a host to get creative with fresh-squeezed juices, herbs, and fruit and vegetable garnishes. And the best part? All of these items go great with seltzer or sparkling water, flavored or unflavored. For my pals who expected the usual full bar or martini greeting at the door, it was fun for me to find new ways to entertain and fun for me to see that they could enjoy the evening with a little more clarity. I've become a more creative host, testing out new party games, locations, and conversation sparks. My new favorite is taken from an off-Broadway show in NYC that I love called Celebrity Autobiography. I encourage guests to find the silliest line from a book written by a celebrity and read it at the table—it's hours of laughter and fun. Just because there's no booze doesn't mean the fun goes away. In fact, I've started to feel so good that it's as if the party has only just begun. Remember, you will always have a guest who wants a little hooch, so be sure to give a heads-up when you invite your pals that this will, in fact, be a dry party, so it's up to them if they want to attend or not.

Small Bites

mini chicken pot pie
Mary’s mini Chicken Pot Pies from her Love, Mary frozen hors d’oeuvres line.
| Credit: Photography by Jennifer Causey

Love Mary? Then check out Love, Mary! 

How do you make any night feel like a party? Whip up some hors d'oeuvres! If you don't want to fuss with puff pastry (guilty), meet Love, Mary, the frozen-food offshoot of our girl's Mary Giuliani Catering and Events. "I've dreamed of doing this since I started my company," she says. "I realized it was a luxury for people to hire me, and I wanted to make the fun more accessible." When the pandemic halted business, Mary got to work "making my frozen-food dreams come true," she says, launching a mail-order box with six of her most popular party bites. They sold out quickly (and provided 20,000 meals to Food Bank for NYC). Her favorite of the nibbles? The Everything Pigs in a Pie. "The pig in a blanket is the greatest piece of party food created in the history of the universe," she says. "I ensconced a mini hot dog in pastry with everything seasoning on top. Dip it in mustard and life seems just fine again."  —Lauren Iannotti

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2021 issue. Get the magazine here.