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I love inviting people to come over to our house.
I think it’s because as a kid this wasn’t something my family did very often. Don’t get me wrong. We had a few people over here and there. But my mom made the times we’d host a party really stressful.
There were a lot of rules to follow – such as making sure the house was spotless – and after awhile hosting events wasn’t very fun any more. Turns out that it was hard to find the energy to celebrate after cleaning for hours on end.
But once I hit adulthood, I really enjoyed the times when I got to host a party. Especially when we lived in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Analia Baggiano
Politics on its own had lots of reasons to host parties. Of course, there were election night soirees every four years that were less about the outcome and more focused on the celebration. But, as I soon discovered, people in Washington also celebrated State of the Union addresses, Cherry Blossom season and softball championships on the Mall. It was quite the place for the party host.
We also hosted lots and lots of dinner parties. My favorites were the ones where guests ate hamburgers from our best china. It was better than the china just gathering dust while waiting for more “official” holiday celebrations.
Of course, there were also baby showers, book club nights, a cooking club that met monthly and evenings where you celebrated that your friend’s boss got reelected for another term. Any reason to enjoy the company of others and have something to plan for.
And once the kids came along, our party hosting shifted. We would cram families into our condo for preschool play dates, princess birthday parties and the occasional moms night “in”.
We have always wanted to become the home where we just “host a party” without too much thought. It’s been one of our priorities throughout our married life together.
And I think I finally understand why. I love community and growing friendships. Getting together is one of those things that builds that community.
It definitely isn’t because we have the biggest or most prettiest home. Every place I have lived since college has always felt like a work in progress. I am so used to it, I wonder what it’s like not to live in a reno project.
And I seem to have no problem squeezing people in no matter the size of our dwelling. I think my record was 30 people in our small condo for a gingerbread decorating party. Okay, so a few of them were pint sized. But, there were still plenty of adults trying to side step each other to get to the drinks.
I remember reading once how Martha Stewart used to squeeze people in for dinner parties in her New York City apartment during her days before she was Martha. They would sit at card tables or stand. And she didn’t seem to have any problem with guests eating on their laps. As long as the food was good.
If it’s good enough for Martha, it’s good enough for me.
So instead of waiting for life to be perfect, we’d just host the party. Because one thing that I’ve learned over the years is that life will never be perfect.
After organizing many different events over the years, I’ve created a system for hosting celebrations – both big and small – that is low stress and manageable. No matter what the circumstances are.
Photo by Pineapple Supply Co
Why is having a plan when you host a party essential?
When I talk to other friends and family, they always tell me that they don’t host that many events because it’s too hard. Mainly they work all week long and are too tired by the weekend to even think about inviting someone over.
This I completely understand. Life is busy. And the idea of entertaining and finding the energy to host a party for even a small group of people can feel difficult. And not always something we want to do.
That’s why developing a plan or set of steps that you always do will help you host more often.
Like anything in life, good party hosting takes practice. Once you organize a few celebrations and get into a rhythm, entertaining becomes a lot easier.
So, use the party hosting tips below to develop a plan for the next time you want to host a party. Then, pick a date and get an event on the calendar. Any event.
If you haven’t hosted anything in awhile, it’s best to start small. Have the neighbors over for a barbeque. Or invite your child’s best friend and family to come for dinner. You don’t have to host the entire football team.
As you start to get into the party hosting groove, you can grow and vary your events from there. Over time, party hosting will become more natural and fun.
Party Hosting Tips I’ve Learned over the Years
Just Choose a Date
When it comes to planning a party, a lot of people get nervous. Is that date a good one for everyone on my guest list? Will people be available on that date? Do they even want to come over?
It’s hard not to get caught up in all of the what ifs. Instead of worrying about whether everyone can come, just choose a date. If your friends and family can come, they will.
These days, when getting together happens less often, I find people just love getting invited. It makes them feel special. If they can’t come, then invite them next time. There’s always another party.
And give everyone plenty of time to plan. For casual events, send out invitations two to three weeks in advance. More formal events need at least four weeks to make sure that guests’ calendars are free.
Don’t Worry about What the House Looks Like
After growing up in a home where everything had to be perfect before we could even invite guests over, I learned that this is a path to failure when it comes to party hosting.
The reality is that your home will never actually be truly perfect. Or spotless. Or free of clutter. You might get it looking pretty good. But perfect is a standard no busy human living in the twenty first century can live up to.
So, stop worrying what the house looks like. This isn’t saying you shouldn’t straighten up before guests come over. But it certainly doesn’t have to be perfect.
Before hosting a party (or play date, book club meeting, mom get together, quilting circle, etc.), have a list of chores that you want to complete. This is not a time to redecorate.
I usually vacuum, sweep, dust and wipe the counters down. These easy tasks give the house a general feeling that it’s taken care of without having to go overboard.
The one place I do focus my cleaning energy on is the bathroom that guests will use during the event. I wipe down all surfaces (including baseboards), add fresh hand towels and make sure the soap dispenser is filled. If babies are coming over, I add a few spare diapers in case a mom gets in a pinch.
During the holiday seasons, I add a couple of fun decorations to make the room feel festive. During Halloween, the mirror is covered in fake spiderweb. And at Christmas, I add seasonal candles. These little touches make this well used space seem more inviting.
Photo by Brooke Lark
Focus on the Food
One of the most important parts of hosting a party is the food. The one thing that every guest will do when they arrive is eat. Even if they aren’t hungry.
Once you choose the date for your event, figure out the best time. The time of your event determines what foods you will serve. If you schedule a party around lunchtime, guests will expect lunch. But if you host the party in the middle of the afternoon, you only need to serve some light snacks or dessert.
After you know the time of your party, create a menu. Make sure you acknowledge any allergies that guests may have so everyone can have at least one thing they can eat.
When creating the menu, choose two or three foods that will be your signature dishes. The things that you want guests to talk about in the days to come. They will love remembering the most perfect chocolate cupcake or cheesy spinach artichoke dip. Whatever those dishes are, make them shine when you serve them.
Beyond your signature dishes, keep all the rest of your food simple. Choose dishes that you can make in advance or just set out. Add in a vegetable platter, chips and dip and bakery cookies. If you’re serving dishes that need to be kept warm, put the oven on low and let them heat up slowly. Try to avoid dishes that need to be baked or cooked right before serving. Or you might never get out of the kitchen.
One of the hardest lessons that I’ve learned about making food for parties over the years is to keep it simple. My most failed events had me doing way too much – usually in the kitchen.
Use Printables to Decorate
I’ll admit that I’m a little bias on this one. But I have found a love over the years with decorating for events using printables.
Haven’t heard about printables yet? They are digital designs that you can print from home and craft into decorations for your party. They are a wonderful and an easy way to customize any event. Plus printables give your event a unique look, making your party seem one of a kind.
My favorite part about using printables is that I can avoid stepping foot into the party store. Even as an event planner, the party store is one of my least favorite places on earth. They always seem dirty, crowded and full of run of the mill decorations that don’t match my theme.
Printables let me pick my theme, customize the designs (at least sometimes) and coordinate with the theme of my event. They are also a great way to set the mood at your event. You can check out some great party printable ideas in our shop here.
Photo by Erik Dungan
Have a Few Key Serving Pieces
So, confession time. I used to have an addiction to themed serving dishes. You know. The ones that are shaped in holiday motifs or can only be used for one specific event.
After adopting some minimalist ideals a few years ago, I realized that these holiday specific serving pieces needed to go. I only used them once a year. And stored them the rest of the time.
Instead, I started building my serving collection with more timeless pieces. A beautiful serving board for charcuterie. White serving vessels that can be used for any holiday. Vintage serving wear that guests will admire.
When choosing the serving pieces, focus on ones that are generic in color and have style that will cross decades. These types of serving pieces can work for any event and be dressed up in many different ways. They will also grow with you as a party host and never seem to get old.
Don’t Go Overboard
Okay, time for another party hosting truth. Pinterest worthy parties are overrated. There. I said it.
The biggest issue about a Pinterest inspired party is that they aren’t realistic. Nobody has the time to make all of those little details in time for guests to arrive. Not even me.
When looking at a styled party, keep in mind that they are only for inspiration. Those parties took weeks of planning, lots of help and many vendors to pull off.
Instead, use them for their intended purpose – inspiration. Choose a couple of details that you want to include in your celebration. But, don’t go overboard. You will only disappoint yourself and end up in the long history of Pinterest fails.
Plan for the Kids
If you’re hosting a celebration that includes kids, make sure that you plan for them too. Think about what they will eat and do during the party.
For food, add some kid friendly options to the menu – basic finger foods that they will enjoy.
When planning something to do, you can go from easy to complicated. For indoor parties, I always put out some age appropriate toys that they might want to play with. Sometimes I set up some physical games – such as balloon play, indoor bowling (affiliate) or a themed pin the tail.
If the party is outside, the kids have a lot more space to run around. We set up relay races, water balloons and bubble activities. Sometimes they even go on a nature scavenger hunt.
Most importantly, have options. Kids have lots of different ideas about how to have fun. So, include a variety of activities that they can enjoy. And the parents can mingle.
Do One Thing Really Well
We all want to do everything perfectly. Unfortunately, when hosting a party that doesn’t always happen. I find that the more things I plan on organizing for an event, the less successful I am.
Instead of trying to accomplish everything all at once, choose one or two things to do really well. If your specialty is cake making, then bake an amazing cake. Or if you love to decorate with flowers, make a beautiful flower arrangement for guests to enjoy.
When planning the party, choose the one thing that you want to do really well and focus on that. Your event will be more successful in the end. And you will be less frazzled.
Follow an Event Timeline
If you have planned at least a couple of parties, you probably can relate to the following scenario. The doorbell just rang and you still have a million things to finish before the first guest arrives.
After having this happen a couple of times, I started to wonder what I was doing wrong. Why couldn’t I ever be ready by the time guests started showing up?
It turned out that I wasn’t following an event timeline. An event timeline includes all of the things that you need to do to get ready for the party. From sending out the invitations to going to the store to pick up food, each step to get ready for your event is on it.
Although I don’t use one for smaller get togethers – like a play date or book club – it’s a great tool for more complicated events. You can even include the time you hope to serve dessert or play a game together.
Check out these ideas for creating your own simple event timeline for your next party.
Photo by Kelsey Chance
Let Guests Help
This one was a hard lesson to learn. When hosting a party, I love the fantasy that guests arrive, the food is perfectly styled, drinks are ready and I am able to sit back and mingle.
It turns out that this scenario is just a dream. Usually when guests arrive, I am just finishing setting up the food. Sometimes I’m still organizing the kids’ activities. But without a doubt, I’m doing something.
So when guests offer to help, accept it. Put aside your pride that you can do it all and let them get to work.
Delegating last minute tasks is a good thing. And sometimes an absolute necessity to get the party rolling.
At one of our gingerbread house decorating parties a few years ago, I had one guest offer to fill all of the icing bags. At first I was embarrassed because this was one task I always completed ahead of time. But this particular year, time had gotten away from me. And we couldn’t start decorating the houses until we had the icing bags ready. I am forever grateful that my friend recognized this and offered to help.
Not sure you will be able to accept help? One strategy when planning the party is to note a couple of tasks guests can easily assist with. Keep those in mind when guests arrive with helping hands.
You Don’t Need a Holiday
Although holidays and birthdays are the perfect time to host a party, you don’t actually need one to plan an event. Celebrating is something you can do whenever and for whatever reason you dream up.
So instead of waiting for the next perfect holiday, why not start planning a party today. Host a BBQ for friends if it’s the summer months. Or celebrate Pi Day in March. You can even host an event to commemorate the changing of the seasons.
Life is too short to wait to host a party. Once you have a great theme idea or party in mind, start planning. No reason to wait.
Photo by Jennifer Pallian
Make Sure the Drinks are Ready
After hosting a number of events, we noticed that the best way to make guests feel comfortable was offering them a drink. Lemonade, hot chocolate, coffee, water, something more potent. It doesn’t really matter. Giving them a beverage option was a great way to break the ice. Literally.
So when setting up for the party, get the drink station ready first. This way when guests arrive, you can offer them a drink. First.
Prepare for the Flow
When thinking about your party, consider the layout of your space and where you want guests to gather. Do you have a living room, dining room or kitchen area? In the spaces where you want them to be, set up extra chairs and a few side tables. This will encourage them to use the space more naturally.
If you have places that you don’t want guests to go in, turn off the lights and keep the doors closed. This will signal to guests that these areas are off limits.
And be sure you talk to your kids ahead of time about where littler guests can be. If you don’t want the party to move to their bedrooms, let everyone know that. You’ll be less likely to have to say “You can’t go there!” if you have clear signals set up.
Just like most things in life, parties don’t always unfold the way you have planned. You host a book club and never discuss the book. Or guests end up not playing three of the games you set up because they aren’t interested.
As party host, be flexible. Roll with guests interests and adjust your plans if necessary. It’s okay if guests spend the entire night chatting together as long as they are having a good time.
Photo by Brooke Lark
Set Clear Expectations
When planning your party, make sure you are clear with guests about what kind of party you are hosting. If it’s a quiet dinner party for adults, make sure your friends with kids know to leave them at home. Or if you are also celebrating a family member’s birthday, add that detail on the invitation. You’d hate for guests to arrive unprepared.
Also, include any details that guests need to know on the invitation. For example, if you are planning a costume party, let guests know to wear a costume. Or if you’d like them to bring a dish to share, make sure that is clear.
An unprepared guest is usually an unhappy guest. And your job as party host is to keep everyone as happy as possible.
Introductions are Important
A sure fire sign that you aren’t doing such a great job as a party host is when your guest tells you “But I don’t know anyone here!” halfway through the party. Yeah, true story.
Making introductions has never been my best skill. I always feel so awkward introducing myself to people that I don’t know. And definitely not the smoothest at introducing two other people for the first time.
I guess I need more practice.
To make introductions happen more easily, do some research before guests arrive. Figure out who knows each other. Then, see what different guests have in common. These are starting points for conversations.
For example, at one party that I hosted, two of the moms had both worked in the same school district many years before. Once they got talking, they were able to share war stories about teaching.
Before the event, figure out how party guests connect to each other. Do they both share a similar interest (even kids the same age works)? From the same area? Have a similar career?
Then, on party day work hard to introduce them. Use those connections as a starting place to get the conversation going.
Another way to get guests mingling is assigning them a task. Ask them to hand out food or serve drinks. This helps guests start talking to each other and can kindle connections that you didn’t even know about.
Keep Your Space in Mind
After living in a small city apartment, I am all too familiar with inviting more people than the space holds. I think that was a trend back in the day. The more the merrier.
But not everyone wants to attend a party and not be able to sit down. Or at least have a space against the wall to lean.
When planning your guest list, keep your space in mind. As tempting as it might be, don’t over invite. Choose your guest list wisely.
Most of the time, smaller is better. Try to invite guests that have something in common or know at least one other person there.
And if your guest list starts to grow too big, host a second event. It’s better to have another party than one that’s overcrowded.
Photo by William Montout
Enjoy the Party
I saved the best for last with this important party hosting tip. Make sure that you enjoy the party. After going through all of the work to plan the event, many party planners forget to have fun.
Keep in mind that it’s a party. You are supposed to enjoy yourself. Make sure you greet your guests, participate in conversations and eat. I always get so caught up with hosting the party that I forget to eat. But once I have some food on the plate (and a drink in my hand), I remember to have fun.
Following some basic tips for party hosting will send you on your way to becoming a wonderful party host.
Have some other party hosting tips you’d like to share? Be sure to comment below. We love to hear new ideas from our readers.
And if you want to save these party hosting tips for your next event, pin below for later.