Summer with Suzanne: Suzanne Pollak in front of our King Street Charleston Store wearing the Emilia dressBella sandals, and Bona clutch.

Our hostess of summer, and dean of the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, Suzanne Pollak, shares her half a dozen summer tips for the perfect backyard soiree.

The #1 tip concerns conversations because we haven’t been face to face in so long! Just thinking about it sparks excitement, which gets energy flowing and makes party planning extra pleasurable. 

1. Let’s Talk
Consider possible party talk even before your event. Conversation starters can range from fun and frivolous (like showing off your matching napkins and dress) to deep dives straight for the heart of the matter. Think about each guest and what might be going on in their life so that you can ask pertinent questions, showing that they have been on your mind and that you care for them. Conversations which easily shift from light to meaningful are unforgettable. Simply skimming the surface leaves an empty feeling later. To more easily dive deep, start shallow as a means of getting there. Pointing out your matchy matchy napkins and dress will ignite laughter and spark interesting talk. 

2. Cheers & Summertime Sparklers
Mix a drink for each guest ASAP. Even better, let them help if they offer to do so. Match the hot summer temperature with some sizzle, as in a Summertime Sparkler. Do this by adding any bubbly liquid (champagne, prosecco, soda or tonic) to the drinks on offer. 

Victorian Picnic Baskets

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon sugar

2 ounces gin or cognac

Champagne or Prosecco

Lemon Twist


1. Add the lemon juice and sugar to a shaker and stir to combine
2. Add the gin and fill with ice.
3. Shake, and strain into a Collins glass or Champagne flute filled with cracked ice.
4. Slowly top with Champagne and garnish.

3. Make A Plan

Keep a schedule so the party stays on track, or go intentionally off track if you feel the need. Either way, the pre-plan is essential. When should the food and drinks be planned and prepared? What conversation ideas are buzzing in your head? When should the dining table, buffet, and bar be set? You must be ready to greet guests at the door and make them feel there is nothing more important than their arrival.


4. The Guest List

Invite a varied group. None of us have seen each other in a very long time! The Charleston J.McLaughlin party buzzed because guests were varied, with careers, ages, hobbies all over the map. So, things happened. One woman asked another about a writing job and was told to apply; another got a modeling job that very night; one man made a contact for his film career; a city judge met a federal judge. These were all results of being face to face, and those happenings are only the ones to reach my ears. What my eyes witnessed were guests leaving with a glow having made a new connection. FYI...those random connections do not happen on planned Zoom meetings or quick trips to the grocery store. They occur when a host reaches out to all corners of his/her contacts and beckons them to come. 


5. To Hug Or Not To Hug

Prepare for emotions. Times are different now. Times they are a changin’. Be aware that some guests might be reluctant to hug, while others may be longing for embrace. Expect and honor both reactions.


6. The Thank You!

Make yourself stand out and write a thoughtful Thank You note. This is a plea, an urge, highly recommended! Write a note to thank the host, or if you are the host, write a note to your guests thanking them for coming. And now you can match your note card to your to the cocktail napkin. Thank you J. McLaughlin for adding a little frivolous fun and sparkling sizzle to our summer.

The 1950s & 1960s