My life has always been about hospitality. Decades of experience as a caterer, event planner, lifestyle consultant, and undaunted hostess taught me how to create epic events and still enjoy myself. I love to entertain, but what I really love is creating the magic my guests remember long after the last bite of flourless chocolate cake.
Entertaining does not have to be expensive or take a zillion hours in the kitchen. The best hosts know a little planning goes a long way, and a shock and awe feature will amplify any event from fun to memorable. I have a friend who throws crazy fun parties and never cooks, but she always does something unexpected, and her guests arrive ready for fun. Take your party game up with these simple tips for hosting fabulous events.
Pick a theme: A theme sets the tone for your party from the minute your guests receive their invite. Theme parties get everyone on the same sheet of music and provide a framework for food, drinks, music, attire, and decorations. I just got an invitation for an Apres Ski party (minus the skis). I can tell the event will be casual, there might be some chili and charcuterie, possible hot drinks and maybe some sort of outside games. This makes me happy because I can start thinking about my outfit and arrive prepared.
Tell your guests what to expect: Anticipation is a great appetizer. Along with the necessary details of the event, who, what, where, when, and RSVP. Be sure to specify essential information, so your guests arrive prepared. Come Hungry if there will be a lot of food, or Dress Warmly for marshmallow toasting by the bonfire, or Prizes for Best Holiday Sweaters.
Plan ahead: You never want to be scrambling at the last minute. Everything always takes longer than we think. Leave nothing to last-minute chance. The time to get ready and provisioned is the week before. Purchase your booze, order your food, get set up. Outline a schedule, so you forget nothing. I always build in a little me-time before my guests arrive. This helps me be relaxed and present as a host, and I enjoy myself more.
Create a fun vibe: I am a huge fan of moving furniture and creating a party space. Setting up the bar ahead of time is simple, and getting the lighting right is key for setting the mood. No one wants to be in an overly lit room. Get a bunch of votive candles, use twinkle lights on branches, get ideas on Pinterest, but make sure you have flattering lighting for your guests. Create a playlist to go with the theme, make sure the sound system is in good working order. Offering a special drink? Try it ahead of time to work out any imperfections. Get fun glasses. I often hit the thrift store and pick up inexpensive fun glasses for my event. Use an ink stamp to brand your party cocktail napkins and paper goods. Party games never fail to deliver when tailored to the event. Decorations can be as simple as lighting and flowers or as fantastic as a budget and imagination allow. Pick up fresh flowers and greens the day of for freshness.
Serve the good stuff: No cooking needed to be a great host, but strong assembling skills are a must. Purchase the best goodies your neighborhood has to offer and set up food stations. Have your local wine and cheese shop make charcuterie and cheese boards. Pick up sushi from the corner place, cookies at that great bakery, and hummus from the local middle eastern restaurant. The hosts’ job is to create a delightful environment for people to enjoy themselves while being feted.
Nothing kills the mood faster than cheap booze and party platters from Costco. You can take advantage of food and beverage values, just put in a little effort so your guests can’t tell.
Shock & Awe: Surprise your guests with a wow! There are all sorts of ways to impress. When your guests arrive request, they put their phones on silent. Unless you are hosting a bunch of doctors, this is reasonable. People are more present when they are not distracted by their phones.
- Hire an oyster bar and serve champagne.
- Create a special backdrop, take photos of each guest as they arrive.
- Hire a Karaoke machine, have a team singing competition. People
get really into this!
- Make a flaming punch or cocktail ice luge.
- One year we had a huge tree trunk delivered to our driveway and played
the ax game (it’s a long story).
Goody bags: I always have a little something for my guests to take home and enjoy. It can be as simple as a bag of spicy holiday Chex Mix or elaborate like a 1/4 pound of specialty coffee and a couple of scones. I prowl thrift stores for my favorite books and cookbooks to give as little gifts.
Pro tip: Buy an inexpensive coat rack to avoid the “where’s my coat” scramble. Have plenty of ice. Hire help if you can afford it…it is totally worth it.
ENJOY YOURSELF: The real secret to fantastic events is a relaxed host having a great time.
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