Havana Nights on Duxbury Bay

For event planner Lynn Dale, hosting the ultimate outdoor affair is all about the details.

By Maria Allen | Photography by Jack Foley

Whether she’s dreaming up breathtaking wedding décor or finding creative ways to wow the crowds at swanky Boston gala fundraisers, event planner Lynn Dale has a reputation for designing spectacular parties. Each summer, the part-time Duxbury resident turns the tables and invites a number of friends, associates and family members to her Powder Point home for enjoy a blowout backyard affair.

For her most recent party, Dale, who operates Lynn Dale Events, sought to capture the essence of a Cuban block party. And as with every event she coordinates, Dale spent a significant amount of time researching aspects of Cuban culture and planning out the look and feel of the evening.

“I love being in the weeds with the details and thinking of things that other folks might normally overlook,” says Dale, whose latest fete featured Cuban cuisine and cocktails, a traditional Cuban band and even hand-rolled cigars. Juggling multiple vendors with ease and customizing everything from the invitations to unique types of seating, Dale’s Havana Nights themed party was a night to remember.

Since not everyone is a seasoned hostess, we asked Dale to share some helpful tips for planning the ultimate themed party.

HAVE A GREAT INVITATION. Invitations set the tone for the whole night and can easily be a custom piece (which doesn’t mean expensive). The invitations to the Cuban-themed party designed as a play off an old Cuban dance album cover. Made in collaboration with A Perfect Setting located in Westford and Belmont, the invites were designed to look like vinyl records and came inside “album sleeves.”

THINK “GEE” – GOOGLE, ETSY AND EBAY. Research your theme and then hit up eBay to find appropriate and inexpensive décor pieces. Shop websites like Etsy.com to create custom event collateral (signs, favors etc.). It is all about the details.

CONSIDER THE SENSATIONS you want your guests to experience. What do they see, hear, smell and taste? This may mean using your home differently – create a new, temporary focal point as an entrance. Guests entered the Cuban party through a corner gate that is not often used and were greeted with traditional and mango mojitos and the sound of a real Cuban band. Dale worked closely with Andrew Marconi, owner of The Catered Affair to create a menu that was as authentically Cuban as possible. Featured tastes included little pork sandwich “cigars” wrapped in collard green leaves and edible cigar wrappers that were printed with edible ink. The end of each cigar sandwich was dipped in paprika to give it a red-hot look along with a pile of “ash” made of black and white sesame seeds. For a late-night sweet treat, there were iced Cuban coffee milkshakes with a twist.

FIND THE RIGHT PARTNERS. No man is an island and no event is pulled together singlehandedly. It’s important to work with people who can understand your vision. No matter if you hire a large catering group or just someone to help with parts of the meal, be sure that they understand your vision for presentation, flow and flavors.

SEATING IS HUGELY IMPORTANT. A good rule of thumb for a long cocktail party or buffet dinner is to be sure you have seating for about half your guests at a time. Dale had Be Our Guest of Boston and Cape Cod design custom furniture pieces out of repurposed wood pallets.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP PLAN. New England-based event planners understand weather can turn in a moment, so it is important to develop a good and bad weather plan that has some flexibility. When the forecast showed that rain was likely, Dale opted to get a clear-topped tent that would protect guests from rain while allowing them to enjoy the night sky.

KEEP THE GUEST LIST EVER-CHANGING. You don’t need to invite every friend to every party. Be a little unpredictable in who you invite. Nothing is better than watching different groups of friends meet and enjoy each other’s company.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF LIGHTING, especially if the event is being held outdoors. If you don’t want to hire a lighting company then be serious about a DIY approach. Yards are dark places and what works on regular night will not ever be enough for a party. Frost Lighting of Stoughton helped Dale with dramatic lighting design like strings of garden lights and illuminated seating surrounding the dancefloor.

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