NAME: Jackson Hicks | AGE: 60 | HOMETOWN: Houston | QUALIFICATIONS: Society event planner and caterer for 26 years / Has staged galas, balls, and dinners for hosts like Ann Richards, Nellie Connally, Dominique de Menil, Lynn Wyatt, and George and Barbara Bush, as well as for such honorees as Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Bill Clinton, Elton John, and the Texas Capitol

• To have a great party you have to have great guest balance. You can have beautiful flowers, great food and beverages, beautiful decor—all those things are important—but if you don’t have an interesting mix of guests, the sort of interaction that makes a party a party, well, then it’s just another place to eat.

• If the band plays so loud you can’t hear, it destroys the mood, because people can’t interact. Or there might be a Tower of Babel flower arrangement in the middle of the table and you can’t see around it to talk. Or the hostess wasn’t careful about seating, and you have one person seated here and their divorced spouse at the next table, and everyone feels icky.

• The opening of the Menil Collection was really a terrific party in 1987. Mrs. de Menil had an extraordinary eye for detail, and she invited an exceptionally international cast of characters—more than five hundred people. I remember we were doing a tasting beforehand, and she wanted to check the china and the table settings. We were trying to give her options, so we had done several different napkin folds: a pope’s hat, a crown, and such. She took a look at one of those fancy folds and said, “Ooh, that looks like a very grand party in a very tiny town in the south of France. I think we’ll do something simple.”

• It’s not about saying no; it’s about how you’re going to do it. In 1985 we had the groundbreaking for the new wing at Methodist Hospital. They really wanted to have it on-site, with a luncheon for eight hundred in a tent. It was going to be during the day, and air-conditioning twenty years ago was not available for a tent in Houston. So we went out and contracted for thirty window units and had them installed around the base of the tent to keep it cool.

• We buy good quality and we don’t overcook. It just takes about an extra thirty seconds to turn a good $3 shrimp into tire rubber.

• My perspective on food in general is that it should be recognizable. Not overly decorated or covered up with weird sauces. People here grew up, like me, on great Southern cooking. Cardboard piecrust will not be tolerated, or biscuits like hockey pucks. Mrs. Bush’s favorite thing is my grandmother’s strawberry shortcake. She’d rather have that than anything else we cook.

• Guests who don’t respond to party invitations deserve to be taken off guest lists. Also, not taking the time to write a host or hostess a thank you note is so thoughtless. Showing up later than 29 minutes after the appointed time is not okay. Showing up early is not okay either.

• I never gossip about my clients. Part of the privilege of being a fly on the wall is that flies don’t talk.