Friday, July 1, 2016

Get to Know: Nicole Dow of A La Carte Assistance

An example of a spread during an A La Carte Assistance event (c) Nicole Dow
Imagine having to plan a bridal shower for a coworker or a retirement party for your uncle, and not having any idea where to start. That’s where Nicole Dow comes in: She is elegant, tactful, smart and knows exactly what to do in any situation. 
(c) Nicole Dow 

Dow is the owner of A La Carte Assistance, which offers, among other things, Savoir Faire services: A set of services that relies heavily on Dow’s situation-appropriate expertise. Between her extensive client-facing experience and a personally cultivated rolodex — a big “little black book,” if you will — Dow knows just how to tackle any setting. 

On a broader scope, A La Carte Assistance provides the luxury of hiring a personal assistant for a specific task and for a flat fee. Just as with a la carte items on a restaurant menu, you select and pay for only the tasks you need help with – administrative, to-do lists, party planning – and Dow helps you tackle them. 

Planning an engagement party but only need help with the food and drinks? No problem. Need a few everyday tasks taken care of before you go out of town? Dow’s got your back. 

I’ve had the pleasure of working with miss Dow for almost a decade, and she’s helped me out in many a situation, from picking out fine china for my bridal registry, to recommending and arranging for a bartender during my husband’s birthday party, Dow was a true life saver! 
Dow helping a client shop for an upcoming event (c) Nicole Dow

In this new segment on Belly of the Feast, I hope you get to know her as well as I do and get to work with her on your upcoming project, whatever it might be. 

BOTF: What is your approach to planning a milestone party? 
ND: I focus on establishing the scope of the event first, then delve into logistics: How many people do you want to invite? Do you want to have it at a residence or offsite? If at home, do you want to make the food or do you want a caterer or a mix of both? If you do it at an offsite area, is it a restaurant or an event space? That part of the conversation then gives way to theme and menu. After that, you have to take into consideration the budget. And of course, the people who are being celebrated: What does this person like? What is their style? I like to talk with a client to come up with some unique idea for the party that would not only be a pleasant surprise to and appreciated by the person of honor, but also by the guests. At the end of the day, people want to be entertained, and this adds a whole new nuanced layer. 

BOTF: Where do you get inspiration for unique event ideas? 
ND: My mom is an excellent hostess, and I learned the art of entertaining from her. Whether you’re having a friend over for coffee or planning a larger dinner party, there are two key things I learned from her: First, the little thoughtful details count — always keep that in mind; and secondly, the element of the unexpected is important. For example, I collect vintage cookbooks, and I actually read them. It’s not so much for the recipes — it gives me insight and adds to my brainstorm process. When I hosted a party for friends in February to get over post-holiday winter doldrums, I made a recipe from a ‘70s jello cookbook and propped the book up next to the jello mold. It was such a great conversation piece for my guests! They marveled at it, and to everyone’s pleasant surprise, the recipe was actually pretty good. 
The spread at Dow's winter party for friends (c) Nicole Dow

BOTF: Can you give us an example of a creative approach to a party? 
ND: I hosted an engagement party for a friend of mine several years ago. I didn’t want to throw the standard shower, so I decided to host a ladies’ champagne cocktail reception. I thought about the audience — all females, celebrating a friend’s engagement in the afternoon. What do you drink when you celebrate? Champagne! And I thought, “Everyone drinks it, but how much do we really know about it?” So I hired a bartender and had him dress up in a classic French barkeep uniform. The allure here is that he would do a lesson of how to make a proper champaign cocktail and also provide the history behind the drink. This added that wow factor: Normally, you associate a bartender with a larger event, but here I had one at everyone’s service to make the cocktail and provide a demo. The look on the bride-to-be’s face when she walked into my home and saw the bartender standing there was priceless. It wasn’t your standard cocktail party: We actually learned something and engaged on a different level. There was an element of surprise instead of just a bunch of ladies sitting in a room, chatting. 

BOTF: That sounds amazing, but also like a lot of pressure on the host. Any advice for not getting overwhelmed when planing a big event? 
ND: I know we don’t always have the luxury of time, but any minute of foresight you have can make a real difference. And it’s always helpful to take a step back and write things down. When you see it in front of you, it makes it easier to translate into a schedule or a strategy. Think about your end objective and what you need to reach it. Give yourself a to-do list that you can check off. Also, never be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s through ALCA — which I hope it is, even it ’s just help making sense of it all — we can come in and help with that, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg. 

BOTF: Why should someone hire you? 
ND: It’s tailor-made assistance. You only pay for what you need help with. Nothing more, nothing less. You are getting help from a trusted professional who’s really looking out for your best interest and has one end goal: To help make your life easier. If this is making you look like a rock star because you hosted the best first year birthday party for your child that made you the envy of every mother on the block, then I’ve done my job!

To hire Dow and A La Carte Assistance, please visit her Facebook page or email her at

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