Valentine's Day dinner decor table setting
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Setting the stage for a special Valentine’s Day dinner doesn’t have to be daunting—or expensive, either. Celeb party planner Edward Perotti shares his expert tips and tricks for an easy, romantic evening, including suggestions for decor, food, and drink.

For performing artist Nick Jonas, it was a stage designed in candy colors with props that looked like giant Gummy Bears. For an A-lister client whose name he can’t share, it was spending six hours to open hundreds of bags of M&Ms and fill snack bowls with just the blue ones.

Related Reading: 7 Unusual Ways to Surprise Your Valentine

Award-winning event designer Edward Perotti has created fabulous parties for celebrities, individuals, and corporations all over the world, from a Marie Antoinette-style dinner at the Palace of Versailles to a banquet in the Imperial Ancestral Temple in Beijing, but he says you don’t need a huge budget or lots of tableware to host a special Valentine’s Day meal or party.

Perotti, who is based in San Francisco, says he fell into event planning. “I had no idea this industry existed,” he admits, but he caught glimpses of it while working as a caterer. It meshed with his early theater training, where he’d learned how to make scripts come alive. “An event is just another level of performance,” he adds, “whether it’s a corporate event, social occasion, or fundraiser.”

How to Plan a DIY Party

Fine-Tune Your Inspiration

We’re all creative, Perotti says, and we can all host special get-togethers. Just don’t overthink it, he warns. “You might see a picture you love in a magazine, but accept that you’ll never be able to recreate it. You’re not the person who did it, and even that person may not be able to do it again. That was a moment in time.”

Instead, “Figure out what element in the picture inspired you,” Perotti says. “Was it the flowers, the colors, the flatware or dishes? Something in the image spoke to you more than anything else.” Take that and run with it.

Don’t Buy Everything New (And Definitely Not From a Party Store)

Another tip: Don’t buy everything you need from a party supply store. “Valentine’s Day isn’t about buying prepackaged heart plates. If you’re hosting in your home, the party or meal should have an element of you in it. Weave yourself and your story into your event.”

He often starts by going to a fabric store to find material to make his own tablecloths. He sews the fabric to the length he needs or hems it with an iron-on product. “Then you’ve got a custom linen that might cost you $10 at most.” He lets the colors and patterns of the table covering inspire the rest of his table décor.

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Perotti also shops at flower markets, where he finds not just flowers, but “vases, candlesticks, cups, things you can use as chargers and other props.” He also recommends “shopping” from your own garage and closets.

“I like to mix and match things. One Thanksgiving, I mixed my grandmother’s and mother’s china to make a service for twelve. The patterns were different, but the colors tied together, so it worked.”

“With all the china laid out on the table, there was a story to tell. The dishes sparked conversation, and everyone started talking.” That’s what you want, he adds. “It’s fine to spill food, laugh, and make it real. It’s about connecting to each other and the world.”

For Valentine’s Day, Celebrate Your Partner, Not the Day Itself

For Valentine’s Day, Perotti recommends celebrating your spouse or partner. Don’t think about celebrating just that one day, he says. “Show the person you’re with how much you love them every day.”

To celebrate his husband, Perotti set a table with red and white plates from an old Christmas set and covered the table with a black and white floral linen. He used a charger showing a love letter written in calligraphy by Napoleon Bonaparte and added black and white paper flowers that could be re-used for different celebrations.

For a Galentine’s event for female friends, Perotti designed a playful Rococo table. Playing off a classic baroque look, he says, “made me think of what might have gone on in a French court. While the men were there in all their pompous glory, the women were in their chambers drinking Champagne, eating, and dishing on the guys.”

Galentine's Day table decor

Anderson Group Public Relations

The table is decorated with hot pink and green leather, pink candles in gold candlestick holders, and an unexpected, playful picture of a French woman eating a hot dog. A glittery cage that was once a Christmas decoration stands at the back. Perotti removed the bird that came in the cage and perched it on a glass instead because, as he says, “a caged bird doesn’t sing.” He wanted the Galentine’s guests to feel as free as the uncaged bird.

“Nobody pays as much attention to these details as I do,” he laughs.

For a Valentine party for kids, Perotti set out colorful plates and plush, toy hearts. “There aren’t ‘boy’ things and ‘girl’ things, so the kids can pick their own and express themselves.” A checkered pink, soft purple, and white tablecloth “still says Valentine’s Day but the colors and pattern work for everybody.”

And once you’ve set the stage, it’s time to figure out food and drinks.

Edward Perotti’s Three Adult Drinks for Valentine’s Day

They all start with a base of bubbly, appropriately enough.

Champagne sorbet floats with lavender

Chowhound’s Champagne Sorbet Float

The Innocent Kiss: Crush fresh strawberries to make a strawberry Bellini and add Prosecco. Serve in a glass rimmed with chocolate sprinkles or hot fudge sauce.

The Passionate Kiss: Add a half-shot of firecracker whiskey to champagne and top it with Prosecco. “It’ll make your lips and tongue tingle.”

The Cotton Candy Kiss: Add small balls of cotton candy to a glass and pour Champagne over them. “They’ll stay intact for a couple of minutes and then dissolve.”

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Foods to Serve for Valentine’s Day

What to serve goes back to knowing your guests’ likes, Perotti says. For Galentine’s, it might be salads, or, he says, “the women at the party could be bar food people.”

For his spouse, he’s considering a charcuterie board, foie gras, and a salad made with Bibb lettuce and Champagne vinaigrette.

Murray's Cheese Italian collection

Murray’s Cheese’s La Dolce Vita Cheese Collection

For an easy Valentine’s Day appetizer, use a melon baller to hollow out the tops of big, fresh strawberries. Fill them with cream cheese and fresh, chopped basil.

For an easy dessert: Use a can of large, refrigerated biscuits and cut each biscuit in half. Roll out the halves to slightly flatten them and tuck one half in each cup of a muffin tin. Fill the halves with strawberries or chocolate chips. Cap them with the remaining halves, pinch the edges of the biscuits together, and brush them with an egg wash. Bake as directed on the biscuit package and serve with ice cream or whipped cream. For a sweet variation, fill the biscuit halves with apple pie filling and sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the egg-washed biscuits before baking.

easy apple dumpling recipe

Anna Gass’ Apple Dumplings

“Have a little faith in yourself and know your ‘audience,’” Perotti says. “At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong as long as it’s coming from you. Express your creativity and have fun.”

Get more tips, tricks, and Valentine’s Day recipes at our Valentine’s Day headquarters, and see our Valentine’s Day gift ideas if you’re still looking for the perfect present.

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Header image courtesy of Westend61 / Getty Images

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