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Why a bartender fluent in mojitos was a game-changer for Party Host Helpers

Initially, Renée Patrone's plan for "supplemental income," Party Host Helpers is now a company with 15 regional directors and a network of 1,500 (and growing) people with hospitality experience to answer calls for bartenders, servers and coat checkers in 26 cities.

Renee Patrone, founder of Party Host Helpers, at a friend’s home in Bryn Mawr, having set the table as if for a formal dinner party.
Renee Patrone, founder of Party Host Helpers, at a friend’s home in Bryn Mawr, having set the table as if for a formal dinner party.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

There's boldness in business. Even brashness. Then there's Renée Patrone's style — not cocky, more like an aversion to saying no.

That seems the most logical explanation for why the Wayne resident did what she did that day in February 2015 when she answered the phone, listened, and then told the caller, as Patrone recalled recently: "OK. All right. I can do this. No problem."

Then she hung up and wondered just how the heck she was going to pull off what she had just agreed to: Provide a bartender proficient in the art of making mojitos — for a party clear across the country in Malibu, Calif.

Patrone would turn to her vast network of Facebook friends — currently more than 3,300. Tom Petrucci, whom Patrone had met through a public relations job she once held, had recently moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. When he saw Patrone's Facebook message, he volunteered to be that bartender.

"He did a great job," Patrone said. "From that, it sort of like launched my brain into dreaming even bigger than I already was."

What she was at the time was head of Events by Renée, which the South Jersey native formed in 2009 to indulge that passion for theater she developed as a student at Highland Regional High School in Blackwood: "Putting on a production." Patrone had been in Dallas with Events by Renée, overseeing a recruitment affair for a pharmaceutical company, when she got the call requesting the bartender. It was made to a 1-800 number Patrone had established for what was then a fledgling Philadelphia-focused side business to her events-planning company. She had just launched Party Host Helpers in 2014, expecting it would be a "great supplemental income" to Events by Renée.

"I always thought, 'Oh, Party Host Helpers is Events by Renée's little sister,' " Patrone said. "Well, it flip-flopped."

Party Host Helpers is now a company with 15 regional directors and a network of 1,500 (and growing) people with hospitality experience to answer calls for bartenders, servers, and coat checkers in 26 cities. Patrone would not disclose revenues, saying only they are "a little more than 10 times" Events by Renée's, with more expansion planned.

"I'd love to go international," she said. "I've gotten inquiries from England and Canada, so far.  … I want to be a household name."

The idea for Party Host Helpers was to do precisely what the name suggested: help hosts put on parties so they could actually spend time enjoying them rather than working them.

"It came from me personally hosting a ton of events, and seeing friends and clients spend all this money on flowers and glassware and food and then waking up the next morning and being like, 'That was cool. I did dishes the whole night. I didn't get a chance to connect.' "

There was another motivating factor: knowing there were other Renée Patrones, a self-described "hustler," out there.

"There's people like me that like to work on the weekends, and starting Party Host Helpers helped me create opportunities for those hustlers," she said.

What gave her the confidence to say yes to that caller who needed help for a party in California when Patrone at the time had a new company with "a few" Thanksgiving jobs under its belt trying to build momentum in her own backyard of Philly?

"For me, it represented the future and the possibility of what was to come," she said. "So obviously, if I mess it up, that was kind of like a sign saying, 'Maybe you should stick to just Philly.' "

Her story was one Ellen Fisher wanted this year's Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA! Philadelphia) class to hear as an illustration of the importance of listening in business. Fisher, executive director of the program to help students start their own businesses, included Patrone in a CEO roundtable event at Cabrini University in February, at which budding entrepreneurs — ages 11 to 17 — got to question a range of businesspeople.

"She went out and worked her networks and filled that need," Fisher, herself an entrepreneur, said of Patrone's reaction to the request for the Malibu bartender. "And that, in turn, started the wheels turning at how she could grow that one event into a national business. Listening to others and turning them into opportunities — great lesson for everyone."

From that Los Angeles job, Patrone created a business model and ran it by a few business-savvy friends. It called for hiring "ambassadors," now regional directors, in charge of developing a bench of help to work parties in their service area. Hiring help is based on a process prescribed by Patrone to ensure consistency from city to city. Regional directors get a percentage of the profit from each event they staff.

Party Host Helpers, believed to be the only such company nationally in scope, typically charges $45 to $60 an hour per helper. It recommends one helper per 25 guests. Its top five markets are Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Washington, and Chicago.

Patrone wants people with hospitality experience, such as waitresses, hostesses, caterers, and event planners.

"We have people who are retired … stay-at-home moms who like to get out of the house once in a while … college kids who are in hospitality programs … women and men in their 20s who are like me, trying to start a business, or just trying to make ends meet. It's hard to live on one salary nowadays," she said.

Party Host Helpers staff — all of whom are paid $15 an hour plus tips — can typically make $250 to $500 a week, depending on availability and the size of a job, Patrone said.

"The biggest thing I enjoy is empowering individuals to make side money," said Lauren Del Collo, a Party Host Helpers regional director for central and South Jersey who has a full-time job in procurement for a pharmaceutical company. She described Patrone as "fearless, but not reckless. She empowers you to never say no to a job."

Among those whose jobs — about six to eight — Party Host Helpers has said yes to is Megan McHugh, a 47-year-old mother of three from Bryn Mawr and a director of admissions at a private school. One of the events was a party for her parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

"I'm not afraid to lift a plate, I'll do my share," McHugh wanted to make clear. But, "when you have the Party Host Helpers there, you're not doing anything other than enjoying the party."

Party Tips from Party Host Helpers

  1. Don't make your guests guess. Let them know ahead of time: If you have a specific place to park. Need them to remove their shoes. Want them to bring something. Want them to wear a costume.

  2. Freshen up entryways, bathrooms, and serving areas with flowers.

  3. Have cleaning supplies readily available for those likely spills.

  4. Do the math: Plan on 2.5 drinks and 1.5 food servings per guest.

  5. Have a playlist ready and test out your speakers in advance. There's nothing more awkward than a host fiddling with electronics or dead silence.