Entertaining Without The Hassle: Cheat Your Way To A Chic Gathering With Social Studies

by Freya Drohan

Intimate dinner parties and at-home soirées have become the safest way to celebrate this year. Luckily for the time-starved hostesses in our midst, Social Studies is the ‘party trick’ you need to know about. The one-year-old company makes planning a gathering a flawless and stress-free affair by delivering everything you need to your doorstep—whether it’s a luxe garden wedding or a dinosaur-themed children’s birthday party. Jessica Latham, co-founder and CEO, lets us in on her entertaining hacks and what the company has in the pipeline.

Hi Jessica! What do social gatherings look like for you these days? 
Small.  But I love a small gathering for so many reasons.  There is a huge opportunity with a tiny party to put a lot of thought into the details.  When you aren’t focused on the logistics of having 50 people over, you can focus on special touches that make your guests feel really special and taken care of.

Do you think at-home dinner parties will be the go-to entertaining format from now on? 
Gathering and celebrating occasions at home, in smaller groups, has always been my favorite way to entertain and it’s certainly become the go-to during COVID. But just because we’re socially distanced, it doesn’t mean life’s special occasions have been put on hold. We still have graduations, anniversaries, birthdays and weddings… life!  The biggest difference is that celebrations are smaller and many people are adding a virtual element. Now, instead of 30 people sitting down to a birthday dinner in one room, we’re sending Social Studies to 30 different households nationwide and our styled looks are what connects them, physically. We’ve always loved the idea of helping people gather at home with confidence and ease and now people are embracing [it] and excited about entertaining at home and having fun with it. We’ve seen such creative use cases for Social Studies come out of COVID, and we love being a part of our community’s life moments; big, small, virtual, and IRL. We will all go back to throwing big parties one day, but small gatherings at home will always be in style.

Amy Griffin and Jessica Latham (courtesy)

How did you meet your co-founders?
Amy [Griffin] and I grew up together in Texas—her sister and I were best friends. We reconnected in New York. I spent several years at Vanity Fair running their special events, and Amy would often call me for help or advice when she was entertaining. I had had the idea for Social Studies for quite some time. I thought: why isn’t there a company out there where I can order everything needed—flowers, flatware, linens, glassware, etc.—pre-curated? A one stop shop. Amy and I started discussing this idea a few years ago and finally decided to move forward with it—it was the right time with the right partner.

The Doppio (courtesy)

Before launching Social Studies, would you have considered yourself a calm and measured party planner or were you more of a last minute panicker?   
Calm and measured for sure. I’ve been in the event industry for almost 20 years and during that time, I have learned that preparation is everything. The key to actually enjoying entertaining is to plan in advance—make a long and detailed list of all the things you need to get done, put together a detailed schedule, and then methodically follow this plan. If you can do that, then you’ll be relaxed with a cocktail when it’s time for guests to arrive. This is all easier said than done, however, and the exact reason we created Social Studies. We just checked about 75 things off your list…now all you have to do is focus on the food. And I have to say, if there is silver lining to be taken from this time period, it’s all of the amazing restaurants that are now offering take-out.

For those of us who aren’t proficient when it comes to hosting dinner parties (spoiler: it’s me!), what advice do you have?
I always say the best host is a relaxed host. A few small tricks when you’re prepping make all the difference in a dinner party… Pre-batch your cocktails! You’re not a bartender; you’re a host. I highly recommend giving your guests some kind of activity. Set out a colorful puzzle or a trivia quiz game. Music from the ’70s is always a good choice; you just hit play and everyone’s happy. And of course, my #1 recommendation is to order Social Studies and let us set the table for you so you can enjoy the moment.

Social Studies Kids Kits (courtesy)

Tell us about the new Social Studies Kids Kits? 
We just launched them this summer! It’s a collection of five party looks, ranging from RAWR-ing Rager (dinosaur-themed); to Believe in Magic (unicorns); to Sugar Rush (ice cream, naturally); and more. We know that parents are strapped for time but motivated to create beautiful and memorable gatherings for their kids’ important milestones, so our Kids Kits bring pre-curated looks in the most cost-efficient way, straight to your door. Plus, everything is unbreakable and much of it is recyclable so you can use again and again!

How did the collaboration with Aerin Lauder come about, what can you tell us about it? 
Aerin is a good friend of Amy’s and I knew her from my time at Vanity Fair and have always admired her work, so when we launched Social Studies we jumped at the chance to collaborate. When we saw the Perazza Collection we fell in love with the look, and knew we had something special. It’s perfectly Aerin, and captures that magical experience of dining under the stars in Tuscany, which is where the name Super Tuscan comes from. What’s great about working with friends and brands like Aerin is that it’s a true partnership from the moment we start designing the look to the marketing plan for our launch date. And we hope that by collaborating with Social Studies and leveraging our rental model, we’ll introduce new customers to the Aerin Lauder brand and lifestyle.

What do you reckon is the next big trend in tablescapes/table decor? 
I think maximalism was certainly having a moment pre-COVID.  More is more is more is more. Layering pattern on pattern with big, bright, bold colors. I don’t think this is going to go away. But also I think you will start to see a trend towards warm and homey. In uncertain times, people gravitate towards things that make them feel comforted…like CottageCore!

How do you chill out before hosting a dinner party? 
I love to take my time getting dressed. Especially these days, I feel like there isn’t as much opportunity to get dressed up. I’ll take a long bath, have a glass of wine, and maybe try something fun or new with my makeup. Then I’ll save some of the easy cooking for just before. I love to cook—it relaxes me—and guests truly like to get in on the action, so save something simple for your early guests like chopping veggies or mixing pre-measured ingredients for a salad dressing or cocktail.

You forgot someone is coming over and you’ve only got 10 minutes, what’s your plan of action?
I keep frozen pigs in the blanket on hand for these moments. Everyone loves them! They are classic and effortlessly chic. Put out an overflowing board of veggies and dips for grazing. If all you have is a shelf full of condiments, order in and support your local restaurants. Crack a bottle of both red and white—that way your guests don’t feel tied to “whatever you have open”—have both! Set the table casually, light a TON of candles, and if you have the ability to clip some greenery or flowers from outside a little freshness makes all the difference. I’ll also change into something different from my work-from-home gear—I prefer a flowy dress or caftan—which switches your mindset from “work” to “play”.  Then… relax!

Lastly, what’s your tried-and-tested foolproof recipe to impress guests?
I love to make a salt-crusted branzino with tons of veggies on the grill. It’s honestly so easy, but looks like something one would have to go to culinary school to learn how to make. And it’s just delicious, healthy, and a crowd pleaser.

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