Decades of experience in the hospitality industry, as a caterer, event planner and lifestyle consultant, have helped me develop some tried and true hacks for creating memorable parties. I love to entertain, but what I really love is creating the magic that my guests remember long after the last bite of flourless chocolate cake.
Entertaining does not have to be expensive, take a zillion hours or mean you need to slave away in the kitchen. The best hosts know that a little planning goes a long way and that having a shock and awe feature will take their event to the next level. I have a friend who throws the best parties and never cooks, but she always does something unexpected and her guests arrive ready to have fun. Take your party game up by following these simple and effective tips for hosting great events.
PICK A THEME A theme will set the tone for your party from the minute your guests receive their invitation. Theme parties get everyone on the same sheet of music and give you 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 a fun outfit and arrive prepared.
TELL YOUR GUESTS WHAT TO EXPECT Guests love to anticipate fun and are happiest when you tell them what to expect. So, along with the basic details of the event, like who is hosting, a description of the theme, where the event is, what time and how to RSVP, be sure to specify important details like: 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 anticipated so the time to get ready and provisioned is the week before. Buy your drinks, get your paper goods and start decorating and arranging your space. Order or outline your schedule for cooking or assembling food. I always build in a little me time before my guests arrive so that I can be relaxed and present as a host.
CREATE YOUR VIBE I am a huge fan of moving your furniture and creating a party space. I like to create my theme ahead of time so I can live with it and perfect before the party. Setting up the bar ahead of time is simple and getting the lighting right is really important. 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 play list to go with your theme, make sure your sound system is in good working order. If you are going to have a special drink, try it out and work out any kinks. Get fun glasses or use an ink stamp to brand your party cocktail napkins and paper goods. Party games are always good, adult versions of Pin The Tail On The Donkey or get creative and customize a party Jenga. Decorations can be as simple as lighting and flowers or as fantastic as your budget and imagination allow.
HAVE GREAT FOOD & DRINKS You do not have to cook to be a great host, you only have to be a great assembler. If you love to cook, great, but do not overlook the advantages of buying some of the best goodies your neighborhood has to offer. Having your local wine and cheese shop do all the planning with food and wine stations is an excellent way to wow your guests, without doing much more than creating a great place to enjoy the food and drink. You are simply creating an environment for people to enjoy themselves while they are being feted by you. Nothing kills the mood faster than a bottle of 3 Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s or party platters from Costco. You can certainly take advantage of great food and beverage values, just put in a little effort so your guests can’t tell where it came from if you are cutting corners. And nothing gets a party off the ground faster than top shelf treats.
SHOCK AND AWE FACTORS Surprise your guests with a wow! There are all sorts of ways to capture your guests attention and imagination. When your guests arrive tell them this is a cell phone free party zone and have them turn their phones off and put them in a shoe box. I have little initial stickers that I have my guests mark their phones with to avoid any phone confusion. You would be amazed at how much they hate to hand them over and then how great your party is because everyone is really present. Hire an oyster bar and serve champagne and oysters, take photos of each guest as they arrive and send party pictures to your guests, have a Karaoke machine and a team singing competition (OMG do people get in to this!) be creative and find ways to divide up the evening to create interaction between your guests. Over the holidays I make a flaming punch that really gets a wow or there is the ever popular ice luge for various beverages and one year we had a huge tree trunk delivered to our drive way 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 after my parties. I can be as simple as a bag of spicy holiday Chex Mix or some homemade treats or it can be more elaborate like a 1/4 pound of your favorite coffee and a couple of scones. I love to prowl thrift stores for my favorite books and cookbooks, which I pick up for a couple of bucks each and I also collect holiday ornaments at yard sales which make a nice inexpensive, but memorable, gift.
PRO TIPS Buy an inexpensive coat rack to avoid the “where is my coat” scramble. Have plenty of ice. Hire help if you can afford it…its totally worth it.
And don’t forget to give your guests their phones back!