Smokey Joe’s expert insight: Tips for creating an unforgettable party

Discover brilliantly quirky top tips for throwing an unforgettable party as SoGlos speaks to Vickie Godding, the owner of Cheltenham’s retro American-style restaurant, Smokey Joe’s.

Smokey Joes is the ultimate place to host a themed party.
Smokey Joe’s is the ultimate place to host a themed party.

Birthdays, christenings, anniversaries, weddings… whatever the celebration, entertaining your guests and having a good time is key. But how can you go the extra mile to ensure your party goes off with a bang?

SoGlos speaks to Vickie Godding, the owner of Smokey Joe’s, a retro, American-style diner in the heart of Cheltenham, for advice on creating some pretty awesome celebrations.

So, whatever you’re planning, get some quirky top tips and inspiration to make your party absolutely unforgettable.

About the expert – Smokey Joe’s

Combining a vintage café bar with retro interiors, Smokey Joe’s is a family-run restaurant nestled in Cheltenham’s town centre. Serving gourmet burgers, southern fried chicken and pulled pork, as well as freshly-cooked American-style sandwiches, gourmet hot dogs and Tex-Mex classics, the menu takes inspiration from a traditional 1950s diner. All food is made onsite with fresh ingredients, plus, with sweet treats like the S’more Waffle, Unicorn Hot Chocolate and ice cream sundaes, a meal at Smokey Joe’s is a real treat.

With quirky interior features like a retro arcade where diners can get competitive, the venue has experience hosting events from live music and poetry nights, through to parties to comedy nights.

For more information, visit

Smokey Joe’s is known for its quirky interiors, what tips can you give to people wanting to transform their space for a party?

At Smokey Joe’s, we’ve got a unique setting where lots of our things are original. There’s lots of vintage furniture, 50s jukeboxes, vintage American neon lighting and 80s video games, so we’re lucky to have a great atmosphere already. In other spaces though; I’d recommend trying to get a couple of bigger pieces to fit with whatever theme they’re having, and lighting is a key thing to give a really nice atmosphere.

Depending on the theme, it’s best to come up with lots of little things that you can incorporate throughout the party, with food ideas, music and decorations. For us it’s not that difficult because we have lots of things here, but if you have an empty space like a hall, then I’d suggest getting in a few bigger pieces and fill the space to cement the theme.

Do you find that having a theme creates a better atmosphere for parties?

Yes, we do. We have a lot of vintage parties so we’ll have people who want a 50s style, and we’ve done a lot of 1980s-style parties too. We tend to add things to the space to enhance the different themes. I think even if you just had a colour scheme that you stick to, just to give the area and the whole event some sort of cohesion, I think it makes it much easier.

Do you have any quirky food or snack ideas for a party?

With the retro 80s parties we’ve done, people tend to love slider burgers & buffalo chicken wings, or we’ve also put jars of retro sweets with paper bags so people can take them home. There are loads of ideas on Pinterest!

For our own events we run a buffet with a New York deli style, so we can still stick to the whole American theme, or we can do the diner classics, which works well for Smokey Joe’s.

Something else to consider is having food that’s easy to eat whilst people party! Also, it’s important to keep the presentation in line with the theme… that can look really great as well.

What sort of food does Smokey Joe’s do for parties?

Our New York deli buffet is really popular. We have artisan breads, lots of different cheeses, deli meats, salamis, pastramis, pickles, that kind of thing. We also have salads and fries, olives and antipasto.

We’ve also got the option of adding in our diner classics like slider burgers and chicken wings, so there are options whatever people’s tastes are. It’s also really important to cater for different dietary requirements. You don’t have to give someone who’s vegan something completely different – you can give them the same style food, just ensuring that it’s fitting for whatever they need to eat.

Entertainment is key to a good party, so what would you suggest to bring a party to life?

I think music is the most important thing for a party, whether you choose to have live music or to have playlists on your phone. We can have live music here at Smokey Joe’s or we have a PA system, so if someone wanted to have a DJ, they can.

I find that if you have drinks on arrival for guests, that’s always a really nice touch which gets people talking as soon as they arrive. It’s much better than them coming in and going straight to the bar.

Other nice ideas we’ve seen here are when people ask guests to bring an old photo which they then all put on display to create a lovely photo wall. It’s a great talking point for birthdays or anniversary parties, and you can have a guestbook underneath asking for people’s memories, which is another nice idea.

We also have our retro games room, so sometimes we get groups playing multiplayer games together. That’s something you could do at home; you could get some consoles that fit with the theme of the party. We have television screens around the restaurant here and quite often we just put silent films from whatever era the party is in. We’ve put on Cocktail for an 80s party, and rock-and-roll films or swing dance films, so that there’s a constant visual going on.

How important is choosing the right venue for a party?

I think it’s hugely important because it sets up the atmosphere. With us, because we already have a lot of things to look at, there’s no need to do any decorating or anything. The most people bring along to a party with us is some balloons!

So, if you’re looking at possible venues and if you want to set a certain theme or style, when you’re starting with an empty slate, you need to look at the amount of space you’ve got to fill and think about how much you need to get the atmosphere you’re looking for. As I said, lighting is really important for that too.

When you have a party, it’s quite nice to have different areas because often, when it’s a big party, different people enjoy different things. We’ve found that some people like to sit and chat, some people like to dance, and it’s quite nice to have different areas set up where people can do the things they’re most comfortable doing, which also helps the overall atmosphere.

Does Smokey Joe’s offer any bespoke packages?

Yes, we’ve done lots of different special events. We’ve done baby showers and christening parties in our vintage room. We’ve got a huge glass roof so it feels like you’re outside. We have lots of vintage crockery and that works really well for afternoon tea. In the evenings, we’ve done three wedding receptions now and we’ve hosted a lot of birthday parties and anniversaries. We’ve had lots of different style parties in the evenings, like 80s, 50s, and we had a birthday party recently where they made everyone come in 60s fancy dress. We’re doing a Peaky Blinders themed party for New Year’s Eve so we can bring out things that we have that fit with that era.

We’ve actually done Harry Potter parties as well; I’ve got lots of Harry Potter flags and décor. We’ve got sofas and a wood burner, so we say it’s like the Gryffindor common room in here! We can do all sorts of bespoke things – what we generally do is just a guide. I like to meet with the people having the party just so that we can get the perfect thing that they’re looking for.

Have you had any particularly memorable parties?

Yes, we’ve had a couple of great wedding receptions where the bride’s been in 50s-style dress. They came straight here in the afternoon and spent the whole day with us right into the night, with rock and roll bands – they were fantastic! We’ve had some really great 80s ones as well where they wore lots of badges that had all different 80s television programmes on.

We had one party that was great where people were dressed as things starting with the first letter of the name of the person whose party it was. The letter was ‘A’ and their entire family came as characters from Alice in Wonderland which was brilliant! We’ve had lots of different parties and I think they’re all brilliant in their own ways.

What other events can Smokey Joe’s offer?

We have events on all the time! We’ve got a monthly comedy night, swing dance night and monthly retro gaming night, where people come in and we set all the TVs up with games consoles.

We even set up an area where they were doing virtual reality, which was fantastic to watch. We have storytelling nights and poetry nights every month and we do some events for Cheltenham’s poetry festival as well, which is a lovely mix of spoken word and music. We’re often on the Around Town trails for the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Science Festival & Jazz Festival. During school holidays, we have craft workshops and visits from princesses too!

For more information about Smokey Joe’s, visit

By Amy Wright

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