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And the Oscar Goes to… Pigs in a Blanket

Glad-handing is a competitive sport, one that’s all but impossible to win with both paws buried in a seafood tower. Such is the eternal conundrum of the awards season party circuit. These are celebrations, sure, yet the pressure to network, posture and kiss any proverbial ring that may be offered so often undermines that most basic of human urges: to cobble together a meal from passed hors d’oeuvres — especially after enduring a three-hour screening or even longer awards show on an empty stomach. It shouldn’t be so hard! And, thankfully, it needn’t be. By keeping a few helpful tips in mind — and, when the moments arise, in hand — any industry party can be professionally productive and filling.

The Smaller the Bite, the Better

Sunset Tower, a perennial venue choice for studios, platforms and brands, likes to shrink standards from its Tower Bar menu — eliminating surprises for familiar clientele. “We’re not reinventing the wheel,” says events director Liz Rosen. “We’re giving the people what they want.”
Sunset Tower, a perennial venue choice for studios, platforms and brands, likes to shrink standards from its Tower Bar menu — eliminating surprises for familiar clientele. “We’re not reinventing the wheel,” says events director Liz Rosen. “We’re giving the people what they want.”

The most meager appetizers are offered up in bulk for a reason. These keep mess and manhandling to a minimum. One-bite crisps topped with tuna tartare, slim paper cones of french fries and that most celebrated of low-brow bites, pigs in a blanket, work particularly well — just beware  errant condiments. Conveniently, all are currently en vogue. “There’s a whole retro thing going on,” says Jeff Klein, whose JK Hotel Group operates Sunset Tower Hotel and San Vicente Bungalows. “Everyone wants to serve what was served in the 1960s.” Play your cards right and a meal can be made with minimal effort; just don’t be the rube who stalks the kitchen door. “Never accost the waitstaff as they come out,” says Lisa Gaché, etiquette expert and founder of Beverly Hills Manners. “They’ll eventually come around, they always do, so allow them to approach you.”

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Only Hit the Buffet If You Can Snag a Seat

People also want edible souvenirs, so the Governors Ball has been serving Wolfgang Puck’s chocolate Oscars for time immemorial.
People also want edible souvenirs, so the Governors Ball has been serving Wolfgang Puck’s chocolate Oscars for time immemorial.

Lamb chops, like most luxury proteins, remain immensely popular … yet nearly impossible to eat without cutlery. “The waiter has to stand around for you to give the bone back,” says chef Wolfgang Puck. “And if they leave, what are you supposed to do with it?” Puck’s catering branch, handling its 30th Governors Ball for the Academy this Oscars, keeps lamb at a carving station for those more keen on a seated dinner while going hard on passed plates — smoked salmon on Oscar-shaped matzos and manageable slices of pizza — for the standers. As for the parties that don’t have adequate seating or ideal circumstances, food stations should be a hard pass. Untouched charcuterie spreads at the recent Grammys telecast were left to sweat because no one wanted to be caught snarfing salami in front of Taylor Swift or Beyoncé.

A Napkin Isn’t Just a Napkin

That server, the one who’s balancing a tray of vegan pot stickers while navigating an oft-ungrateful crowd, is typically toting a pile of napkins in their other hand. Take one, even if you think you eat with the tidy efficience of Emily Post. Napkins can be a plate to hold a half-eaten slider, an emergency trash bag for off-smelling shrimp and, if employed discreetly, even a quick fix to freshen your smile before an incoming introduction. “Take any napkin that’s offered,” advises Gaché. “It’s something a lot of people overlook during a party — but, when partaking, they should always be front of mind.”

Helen Mirren, with her 2007 best actress trophy for The Queen, had the good sense to sit down for her burger, thoughtfully wrapped in paper.
Helen Mirren, with her 2007 best actress trophy for The Queen, had the good sense to sit down for her burger, thoughtfully wrapped in paper.

Embrace the Power Fast

“The No. 1 mistake is to go to an industry party hungry,” says producer Jamie Patricof (Half Nelson), who writes the restaurant advice blog Jamie’s List. “You run the risks of having a mouthful of food while you’re trying to talk to Christopher Nolan.” Bookending a big night with private meals long has been the move of Hollywood’s ruling class — ever see Bob Iger picking his way through the sushi bar? Didn’t think so — but other circumstances have the zero-consumption party tactic trickling down to the proletariat. “Right now, everyone seems to be on Ozempic,” observes one veteran exec, “so I’m not seeing a lot of eating, but there are still a lot of dirty martinis being drunk.” (If total starvation isn’t an option, there’s always the classic post-party In-N-Out drop-in for sustenance and potential star-gazing.)

When In Doubt, Remember George Costanza

Eating should never be cause for shame. Behaving as though you pulled up to the valet stand on the back of turnip truck, however, is grounds to permanently fall off of any guest list. So if the basic tenets of civil party dining escape you, think of the most slovenly Seinfeld character— and do exactly what he wouldn’t. “It wasn’t just the double dipping,” says Gaché, referring to Jason Alexander’s alter ego and his cultural association with dunking half-eaten food in communal sauce. “He’d pile his plate right to the hilt and then eat voraciously. Even if you’re eating, keep your focus on the conversation. These events are ultimately for relationship-building.”

Wine and Pigs in a Blanket
Wine and Pigs in a Blanket

This story first appeared in the March 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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