4/06/2014

Table set for 18, purple linens and black chairs.Planning a birthday party is challenging, especially if you want to do something different and unique. Going out to dinner and drinks with friends is fun, but it adds up quickly, and if you have a big group, it can be hard to make it feel intimate.I love being able to tap my phone and get stuff, so when I heard about KitchenSurfing, I thought it would be awesome to plan a birthday party by not only using KS, but other on-demand, service oriented start-ups.

KitchenSurfing lets you find local chefs that will come to your home and cook for you. You can search for a chef by cuisine (Mexican, Thai, BBQ, etc), specialty (vegan, gluten-free, kosher, etc), or you can enter information about the meal you have in mind (including budget) and they'll match you up with a chef. The chefs even bring all the pots/pans/tools they need to make the meal for you. No dishes FTW!

Now that I knew what I wanted to do for my birthday, it was planning time. The guest list came to about 20 people, and I first needed to figure out how much money this birthday dinner party of mine would cost. What I really wanted to avoid is the old familiar situation where a big group goes out to a dinner party at a restaurant and you really have no idea how much you are going to spend until the check comes, then everyone usually ends up splitting the bill and someone always get shafted because they had a few less drinks than their fellow diners. 

Screenshot of my successful Crowdtilt campaign.
I also didn't want to start reserving and ordering things without knowing if everyone would be willing to commit. What if people didn't like me or didn't like me enough to spend $60 each (perhaps their love only extended to $40)? I also really wanted to avoid having all of my guests show up with cash because I didn't want everyone else to have to worry about remembering to bring money, and knowing that I would be drinking all night, I did not trust myself to carry around a wallet full of cash. This is where Crowdtilt came into play.

Crowdtilt is a website that lets you pool money from a group of people. Basically, I Kickstarted my birthday party. You set up an event or fundraiser and add details, then decide how much money you want to pool. You can either set a minimum amount that each person has to contribute, or you can just set an overall amount and let everyone contribute whatever amount they want. Then you pick how long you want the campaign to go. The best part about Crowdtilt: everyone is charged only if the campaign "tilts", meaning enough people contribute and the minimum amount is reached. If my campaign didn't tilt, this blog post would end right here, but good news: mine tilted! If you want to try it on your own here is a link for $20 towards your first campaign on Crowdtilt.

Luckily, my good friends were willing to host the party at their place since their apartment is big enough to hold 18 people. However, no one living in Boston has enough tables and chairs for an 18 person dinner party (well at least no one I know). It was incredibly hard to find a place that would let me rent a small number of tables and chairs and be able to deliver them where and when we needed. Unfortunately, there are no startups in the party supplies rental space. I got nervous for a little bit as most vendors had large minimums for delivery. This was actually the hardest part of the party to plan, but I eventually found Rental Depot Boston and they made it happen.

Drizly Liquor Order
Next, I needed to order the essentials (plates, napkins, silverware, etc.). I decided to use Instacart for this, since I've had such good experiences with them in the past. They are a grocery delivery service that lets you place an order online from grocery stores near you (Whole Foods, Market Basket, Shaw's, even Costco!) and they'll deliver everything to your door. If you want to know more about them, check out my blog post on comparing Instacart to Peapod and my review of the service.

Now the most important part: alcohol. I used Drizly, which is an app that lets you order booze and have it delivered from nearby liquor stores. They only took about 30 minutes to deliver, which is awesome. However, the app doesn't support multiple addresses, which was a little inconvenient as I drink in multiple places. I had to change all of the info on my profile in order to have everything delivered to my friends' place, and now I'll have to change everything back next time I want alcohol delivered to my apartment. You also can't sort by price or schedule a delivery in advance, which would be nice features to have. But all-in-all it's a great service, especially if you run out of booze halfway through a party (buzzkill literally) and don't want to have to run out to pick up more. Right now, Gilt City is offering a promo code for free Drizly delivery for a year ($20 minimum orders). 

Not actually Stephen Coe, his Sous Chef
Back to KitchenSurfing, I decided to go with Stephen Coe because I really liked his tasting menu, which offered five different courses. He also had a lot of positive reviews. I'm very hands-on and wanted to be very involved in the menu, which meant more work and many more emails to finalize everything, but if you're less picky, you could just select from the sample menus on their site or give the chef your price point and have him surprise you. Everything went pretty smooth. The chef arrived on time, was polite, gave a description of each course before serving it, and most importantly the food was tasty. However, about a week later one of my guests emailed me and questioned whether the chef we had was actually Stephen Coe. At first, I thought she was crazy, but after looking at pictures online, I realized that whoever had cooked for us was not the chef I had booked. I promptly contacted KS. They were very concerned and told me that they would investigate the situation. A day later, I got an email from the actual Stephen Coe, who told me a family emergency had come up and he had sent his sous chef as a replacement. I did feel a little bamboozled, and definitely felt that I should have been informed of the situation beforehand (neither Chef Coe nor the sous chef informed me of the change of plans). However, Chef Coe was very apologetic and has offered to cook a meal for me in order "to show that (his) character is as true as (his) reviews speak".

Even with the weird situation above occurring, I am still a huge advocate of Kitchensurfing. They’re available in Boston, NYC, Chicago, LA, Berlin and the Hamptons. They just closed a $15 million dollar round and will likely be expanding to new markets soon. Use this referral code for $50 off your first Kitchensurfing meal.

After dinner, we had a party bus pick us up and take us to Storyville for some dancing and more drinking. I really should have used Tablelist, which is an app that lets you book tables at some of the best Boston clubs, but didn't want to spend the extra money on bottles (which a friend ended up doing anyway). If you want to try it though, use promo code 'FC70C' for $50 in Tablelist credits

Overall, the night was incredibly successful. I had a great time and I think everyone else did too. Someone even asked me if this was my 30th birthday party, as it seemed a little over the top. It wasn't, my 30th will be bigger!