First and foremost, it’s a party and parties are all about having fun. But, to get the most enjoyment out of your own party, the host and/or hostess must plan the party as if it were a bit of a stage production. Details involved with staging the party will go a long way to reducing the stress load of the star of the show – you!
Begin with a good party plan, especially if throwing parties is new to you. Themed parties are the easiest because they narrow the focus of your energies and come with some universally understood aspects. Think pirates, baseball, Slumdog Millionaire, graduation, or anything that appeals to you or a particular occasion.
Evaluate your home, if that’s where the party will take place, to determine honestly how many people will comfortably and pleasantly fit in that space. Invite no more people than that. Start small and simple, knowing your guest list can grow and party complexity can, too, as you become a more comfortable host.
Invite people familiar and comfortable to you and to each other. If you know of individuals in your social circles who do or are likely to clash, don’t invite them. Invite one high-maintenance guest, if you must, but no more. It’s a party, not a test of wills. Have another party later and invite whoever was not invited to the first.
Invite your guests, personally, at least a week ahead of the party. Written invitations can be fun but a phone call works nicely, too. Never ask someone to invite someone else for you. Third-party invitations seem more like after-thoughts than invitations.
If the party’s theme suggests specific attire, let your guests know when you invite them. Pool parties are no fun without swimwear and no one wants to play tennis in cocktail attire.
Make sure you specify a beginning time and, perhaps more importantly, an end time for your party when you extend invitations. And let guests know the intended nature of the party. If it’s to be cocktails only, provide appropriate snacks and end the party early enough so your guests can have dinner elsewhere. If it’s a dinner party, let them know that so they won’t have dinner before the party and then feel obligated to eat a full meal twice in one evening.
If you’re new to hosting parties, don’t even consider a dinner party. It’s too complicated and too stressful. Keep things simple so you, too, can enjoy the festivities.
Keep the menu simple, including the beverages. Nightclubs are equipped to serve up a different cocktail to dozens of individuals but that’s too much to ask of a party host. Plan on beer, wine, and perhaps a specific cocktail or two, especially if the party’s theme suggests one – Mint Juleps for a Kentucky Derby party, Grog for a pirate party, or Pina Coladas by the pool.
Evaluate your home through the eyes of a damage-control specialist. It’s delightful to show off your Ming vase but it’s likely to get handled too much at a party. Breaking it wouldn’t be a party; it’d be a tragedy. The same goes with your grandmother’s Irish linen tablecloths, your favorite uncle’s beloved Scotch glasses, and heirloom china or crystal. Put them away and show them off to your friends individually during simple visits instead.
Consider traffic flow and conversation areas for the party. You might need to rearrange the furniture, move potted plants and other decorative objects that hinder traffic flow, and close off some areas of your home.
Plan your party for smooth flow. Put the bar area near the kitchen, where ice and dishwashing supplies are handy. If the party is big enough to warrant it, set up a beer and/or wine table in a separate area to minimize congestion where drinks are being mixed.
Establish separate spots to serve food, keeping accessibility to the kitchen in mind. Put snacks on one table, heartier fare on another, sweets on a third. The more your guests have to move from one area to the others to get to food and beverages, the less the congestion, the easier the conversation, and the more mingling will be encouraged.
Designate a spot for guests’ purses and coats, perhaps a closet or room near the main party area.
If you have more than one bathroom, let guests know which one(s) they are welcome to use and close doors to the others, including bedroom doors that lead to private baths. Have the party bathroom well equipped with toilet paper, handwashing soap and towels, and have a plunger handy, just in case. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it but, if you do need it, it’ll be a party-saver.
The weather is unpredictable so plan accordingly. Outdoor parties are great, as long as the weather cooperates, so have a rain plan in mind to keep the party rolling even as the rain falls.
Select party music well in advance of party day, record it or arrange it to suit the event, and play it loud enough to enjoy but not so loud guests have to shout to talk to each other. Too loud and your neighbors might complain, too. Keep them happy, especially if you’d like to make a habit of having parties.
Prep as much of the food and beverages as you can in the days leading up to the party so finishing touches are all that’s needed on party day. Whatever you plan to do on the day of the party will take longer than you plan for it to so don’t overschedule party chores, or any others, for this day.
You’ll also want to take your time getting dressed for the party so be sure to schedule time for leisurely dressing. If you’re seriously nervous about hosting the party, indulge in a pre-party cocktail to calm the nerves but remember, a relaxed host or hostess is a delight; a snockered one is a mess.
Indoor parties can become a bit stuffy, temperature-wise, especially during the warmer months of the year or in warm climates. About two hours before the party begins, turn your thermostats down to about 60 degrees. It’s likely to be a little chilly when the party starts but, as soon as the room fills up, it’ll get warm quickly. If you wait till it gets hot and humid, it’s impossible to cool down a crowded room quickly enough to regain comfort.
Once everything is in place – tables set, bars stocked, music playing, lighting adjusted – put yourself in your guests’ place for a moment to determine what, if any, finishing touches will add an extra special dimension to the party. Walk through the front door, just as your guests will, to see what they’ll see. Make any adjustments or enhancements to set the stage perfectly. After all, your party is a stage production and you are the production manager.
First impressions matter. If you like what you see when you walk through that door, it’s a sure thing your guests will like it, too.