There’s dinner, and then there’s dinner.
From live entertainment to exquisitely curated menus and place settings, event planner on the rise, Amber Mayfield is definitely one to watch. At a mere 25, she has garnered an impressive client list and runs the booming dinner party company To Be Hosted.
To Be Hosted is a space for people who don’t know each other, to come together through food and fellowship. All you have to do is apply and wait for the coveted invite. To give our readers a special treat, on April 3rd, we teamed up with To Be Hosted to co-host a dinner party featuring vegan dishes from Chef Wierdo.
Prior, we sat down with Amber to discuss how to took the leap of faith with quitting her corporate job and branching out on her own full-time to what her rule of thumb is for planning events.
Saturday School: When did you start To Be Hosted and why?
Amber Mayfield: I started in 2017, my first dinner party was in June 2017.
SS: So it’s new! It’s still in its infancy.
AM: Yeah it’s a baby! I was working in television and I liked my job but I always had this niche for planning events. I played with it on the side in college and I was like I think I want to do this full-time. So I was interviewing and not getting anywhere. People were asking me for a portfolio I didn’t really have and I remember I made it to the last round of interviews at The Met and I didn’t get the job and I was devastated. But I realized what I liked about the job was that there were people who liked art and music who had dinner parties so I just said “i’m going to do it” and that’s where To Be Hosted started. When you look at the grand dinner party experiences in New York City they’re not black and they’re super expensive so I did these few dinner parties at first and realized it was bigger than what I wanted out of it. And people who started attending my dinner parties became clients and it just started a rippling effect. It’s bigger than just throwing a dinner party, it’s about being a hostess and the spirit of generosity and getting people together while making them feel good.
SS: Sounds like you had a super strong start. How many dinner parties have you hosted so far?
SS: And you do them every month or every few months?
AM: Next year (2019) it will be every other month. It’s got to be the right time and the right people.
SS: So online people can request to be invited, how do you decide who you want to invite?
AM: It’s hard because it’s not a selection process where you’ll never get an invite but I look at who you are, where you’re from, what industry you’re in, etc. to make sure I get a variety at these dinners. For me, it doesn’t make sense to just invite you to a dinner party if there isn’t someone that’s to the left or right of you that you’re going to be really excited about.
SS: Basically everyone has a chance but you curate it for them to have the best experience. I love how you might not know who you’re sitting next to. What has been your most memorable dinner party?
AM: There was one we did last September and they literally started having a sing-along. We had a cellist playing and she was playing feel good soul music and next thing I know everyone is singing Bag Lady by Erykah Badu.
SS: I love it, that’s such a black moment.
AM: Right! And everyone was besties after that. Some people ended up working together, some people even ended up dating…
SS: Have there been love connections at the dinner parties?!
AM: I’ve had a few people say “I went on a date with so and so”
SS: That’s awesome! I know you have a plus one option but do you suggest they bring someone or go by themselves? Because I know going alone can be nerve wracking for some people.
AM: It depends on your personality. If you feel like you need that extra person in the room I’ll sit you across from each other not next to one another. Maybe your first time you go by yourself and then after that you bring a plus one, it’s really up to you!
SS: Do you personally know everyone who asks to be a part of the dinners or are you meeting them for the first time as well?
AM: No I usually don’t know them so I try and make it a point to go around to everyone and introduce myself and I have them introduce themselves as well.
SS: How do you find your vendors and chefs? Because it’s not the same chef every time.
AM: I honestly go by what I like. If their food tastes good, it feels good and they have a good story. If you’re really passionate about your food and craft I want to share that message because it’s a platform for them too.
SS: What has been your biggest struggle so far?
AM: I don’t struggle in planning it and finding new ideas but I would say spreading the word...but authentically. I like how small the physical dinner parties are because people typically hear about it through word of mouth but that also makes it a slower process to get the word out, but I don’t think I want to change that. I like being the best kept secret in town. Beyond that, I guess just making sure I still have business and never going back to corporate America [laughs].
SS: So let’s get into that, how did you take that leap?
AM: I started To Be Hosted when I was still working in corporate America. After I left television I started working in hospitality and I was the right hand girl to a very popular chef. I think hospitality is a different kind of cut throat in comparison to television so I didn’t really last long in that industry but on the side I was always taking little events and making a little money from that. Probably earlier this year (2018), end of last year (2017) I realized I was getting more inquiries, someone even asked me to plan their wedding and that’s not something you can do as a side hustle. So I got to the point where I was like if I make this jump and really really go for it, I’m still young, I’m 25, still on my parents insurance [laughs] but if I go for it and then fail, I could still seamlessly slip back into corporate America. So it felt like the right time. It was really like ripping the bandaid off.
SS: Speaking about your clients, how did the collaboration with CultureCon come about? Because that was awesome!
AM: Yeah that was all connections, I know the founder from working at NBC and she knew that I was available full-time to work on an event. So we talked and she let me know what she needed, we talked about bandwidth and how it would work and then we just started. It was great because they’re (CCNYC) such a beautiful organization.
SS: Yeah they have great events! I haven’t been to one yet but they seem awesome [laughs].
AM: You’ve got to make your way to one!
SS: It’s hard! It feels like there’s always something to do, and you have a job and need sleep but I’m trying to hit an event.
AM: Yeah you have to go! I think what’s interesting about them and their platform is that collective, there’s about ten of them, they all do something full time and it’s crazy because this giant thing is their side hustle and those are the type of people I like to work for because it’s a project that’s tied to a passion.
SS: Going back to To Be Hosted, I noticed the decor and the locations are really well thought out for the dinners. Where do you get your inspiration from?
AM: It’s a combination of things. I think having an ear and eye for event planning a lot of the things I do are in line with that’s on trend right now and what people tend to look for in events. And then a lot of things are just in my head. I try to be super intentional. It comes from highlighting a lot of details that I want people to notice.
SS: What would you say is your biggest event planning rule of thumb?
AM: I would say think about how you make people feel. Right now we’re in a time where everything has to be Instagrammable but if all you have is your photo moment it’s such a missed opportunity. Take those extra steps to make them feel like “wow this was selected for me.”
SS: Got it, make it feel personal.
SS: If you could have anybody as your dinner party guest who would it be?
AM: I would probably choose Kendrick Lamar. I feel like he would be a great dinner party guest.
SS: Oh yeah he would be good. I think mine would be Michelle Obama. It seems like an obvious answer but I really would love to get inside her mind. Within the hospitality space, who is someone that you look up to?
AM: Joseph “JJ” Johnson is the chef to watch right now so I would love to learn his experience in hospitality and how he carved that space to be his own. He just came out with this book Between Harlem and Heaven and it’s great. I think that would be my dream collaboration with TBH.
SS: So more on a peer level, who are some black entrepreneurs you would like to partner with in the future?
AM: This chef Briana I always creep on '[laughs] her food looks delicious and she always look so happy serving it! I also want to build up the network because I think the hostess things you see are not from our narrative so once you’re a TBH insider you get all these tips and insight on what I’m serving at my next dinner party so I want to partner with more chefs and cocktail enthusiasts to carve that space for us. Because it’s there! We drink Hennessy and moscato yes BUT we also have a palette way beyond that.
SS: Yeah that’s real, they totally miss the mark! That industry sometimes tries to box us in into one type of food and that’s not reflective of all black people. So I think that’s great you’re trying to change that narrative. Last question, if you could give advice to high school you, what would you say?
AM: High school me, and even college me was all about planning and having a path. But I would say to be more fluid and to see change as a good kind of challenge.