Turns out, a party is not everyone’s idea of a good time. So, I have envisioned throwing a big To-Do that has something for everyone to enjoy. That way (hopefully) no one will have a reason to mope around. Nothing bugs me more than seeing someone at a big party moping in the corner.
1) Three is company. Three hundred is a protest rally.
I’ve never liked giant blow-outs. Big parties that are kept to under 100 guests, and preferably under 50, are genuinely more enjoyable than 300 people with whom you may, or may not be all that well acquainted. Think about it: A 50-person guest list will be almost entirely made up of those you know well. Plus, you can make your budget stretch farther with only 50 people. Anyway, a smaller group tends to enjoy each other’s company more than a larger group (and, think about it: How many under-50-guests parties have you been to that included gossip about what was going on in the bathroom?)
2) Do not get thyself to a nunnery. Nothing is more depressing than a banal hotel banquet hall or Elks Lodge (or a converted Convent built in the industrial/institutional post-war years, “re-envisioned” as a special event venue. Yikes).
For me, the first and foremost task when planning a good party is securing the perfect venue. Not only must it be fully functional for a large event (decent food prep area, plenty of toilets, warm lighting, plenty of parking, well maintained, sufficient staffing, etc.), it must be picturesque, both in its looks and in its location. The ultimate party/event setting would be a place at a beach. Barring that, any charming outdoor location with an easily accessible and appropriate indoor venue will do.
3) Make it a home away from home. I like a cozy, easy, homey feeling at a party. Therefore I like the seating to be a combination of tables and a lounge area. The tables would seat only 6, so that a whole table can participate in conversation. The lounge area should have big chairs, small couches and ottomans. This, by the way, is a reasonably gracious place for the I-Hate-a-Party-Mopes and other reclusive types. The outdoor area should have a variety of furniture as well for the same purpose: Tables for those who prefer it, casual outdoor lounge chairs for others.
4) Plan activities, but don’t be such a Nurse Ratched about it.
First things first: enlist at least one other person to help, and preferably several people. As a host, you’ll be flitting about in many directions, plus you should be enjoying your party! Asking people to help out makes that possible. And…AND…you don’t come off as some sort of Nurse Ratched because you have to be relaxed and having a good time. Otherwise no one else will have a good time.
No.One.Likes.Cares-about.Will-listen-to.A.Nurse.Ratched…Ever. Especially at a party. So, check it at the door.
5) Keep it short, keep it funny, and then say, goodnight.
The reason for a big party is to celebrate a milestone of some kind. But, whatever the purpose of the party, the time spent focused on it should be brief, no more than 15 minutes, and it should be memorable. Maybe a (politely) funny roast of the guest of honor, or a short trivia game about their life. But, seriously, 15-20 minutes, tops.
Most guests are good to go home after two hours, and most of the rest are pooped at about three hours. So, speeches, presentations, cake cuttings, etc., should start about 30-45 minutes into the first hour, and should wrap up by the end of hour-two or 2.5 hours in to the party.
Get started right away. Don’t worry if every last guest is not yet arrived. If your most favorite Aunt hasn’t arrived, well…then, too bad. The party isn’t about her. Except for the guests of honor, who cares?
When you get under way, don’t be a bully about it. Don’t force people to drop everything they’re doing and pay attention. Make a single announcement, wait a minute, and then just get started with whatever it is. Folks that care will fall into place. Those that don’t care are enjoying themselves with whatever else you’ve offered your guests to do. Just let ’em do their own thing.
6) Bring on the dancing girls! For the most part, people at a party mill about, keeping themselves occupied with drinking, eating and talking while music plays either very loudly or softly in the background.
But it’s nice to provide things to see and do.
There must be dancing at any big shin-dig I’m going to throw. DJs are OK as long as you are specific about the play lists, and you don’t get someone who yearns to be some sort of super celebrity. Seriously, the party is not about the DJ (unless you hire a well known club DJ. Then, whatever. The party will go from being about the people attending the party to being about the DJ).
I far prefer live music, and by that I do not mean your cousin’s friend’s middle-aged man garage cover band. If the party is a quiet event, then the music would be a classical guitar or jazz trio (keyboard, bass and either vocal or percussion), or for a more contemporary sound, an acoustic Indie ensemble. If it is a rowdier event, then the group has to have some sort of ethno-musical flare: Latin, Gypsy Jazz, Reggae, World-beat, etc. Even better if they can mix it up with a variety of genres, and all of it be actually danceable. Lots of great music in the world, but not all of it is danceable. Ask them to play some recorded music on their breaks, too. The energy drop at a party during a band break is always a drag.
I also like the idea of bringing in a 30 minute performance/presentation of some kind; somewhere at the end of the second hour. But not a play, stand-up comedian, or musical concert. The point is not to stop partying entirely in order to give a performer undivided attention. Also, no roving entertainment. Not everyone is amused with intrusion of their personal space (especially the sit-in-the-corner Mopes. Roving entertainers zero-in on the sit-in-the-corner Mopes after they’ve gone through all the kids. Leave Mopes where his is. He’s doing fine, watching a game or a movie on his mobile device. Mobile devices are a Party Mope’s best friend).
Because the party is outdoors, I’d provide activities particular to the setting. At the beach, for example, I’d have beach volleyball, Frisbees, and supplies for for the kids for building sandcastles. Beach chairs for those who wish to just sit and enjoy watching the surf. If it’s a formal event, I’d invite people to bring a change of clothes and, then make absolutely sure the hall has some sort of changing facility, so that any who wished to change from their suits/dresses into beach wear could do so. An informal event would imply casual beach attire, so no change of clothes necessary.
I like the idea of bringing in amusement for kids: games, toys or a small bouncy house. Provide “babysitters;” paid supervisors, so parents or teenage cousins aren’t stuck supervising children, unable to enjoy the party (be sure to say you are providing babysitters in your invitation).
8) Please sir, can I have some more? I am a firm believer in “heavy hors d’oeuvers” finger food for parties. I am not a fan of sit-down dinners unless I’m at a house dinner party, and I hate hors d’oeuvers or desserts that require utensils. Utensils imply plates, and plates are best used on tables. Otherwise, OOPS! There goes the meatballs in thick tomato teriyaki yummy sauce all over the front Trixie’s new $350 party dress she’ll only wear this one time. Trust me, she’ll be joining Mopes -in-the-corner in very short order buried in her smart phone because she knows now she hasn’t got a chance to score with super-uber-sexy-groovy-guy-at-the-party now that she’s covered in meatball sauce.
Moving on… I think it’s good to have about three impressive epicurean selections among the more common, tried-and-true options. I also think it’s important to have at least two solid options for diet restricted folks (btw..a vege tray does not constitute a solid option), but I do not think it’s fair to plan the entire menu for any one particular diet or culinary theme, even if the guest of honor is particular about what they eat, or loves to eat (please consider the fact that not everyone loves, loves, loves Mexican food, or has long harbored an insatiable curiosity about how sumptuous gluten-free vegan can actually be. Seriously. I get allergies, and I get Steam Punk culture. But, gluten-free Vegan does not a party make. Ever).
Food and drink should be served from the moment the first guest walks in the door until it’s all gone (or until it’s time to get everyone on their way out the door. Stopping the music altogether and clearing the food and beverages, even before it’s all consumed, closes a party down fast, short of shooing everyone out).
I like the idea of a variety of desserts, rather than just the one offering. Again, finger-food style service only. Do the cupcake version of the reception cake. And, oh-my-god, what a queen among fairy godmothers you’ll be if you offer Twinkies or Chocolate Ho-Hos! Stack them on a cupcake server, unwrapped, and they will disappear faster than anything else you serve. Parties are all about living La Vida Loca, and what is more depraved than eating forbidden processed sweet food stuff?
However, on that note, I am not a fan of the hosted bar, because I’m not a fan of the folks who go to parties just to get wasted. It kills the mood for everyone else. Non-hosted bars seem to keep the number of very drunk people down to just a few. I do, however, think a complimentary glass of wine, beer, specialty cocktail, and a soda for those who prefer such, offered as people arrive is a very nice gesture.
9) David Tutera was never here. I am not a fan of the over-the-top, lavishly decorated party, even if it’s done by a pro. If I want Viva Las Vegas, or a Very Disney Adventure, then I’ll go there (for those who don’t know…David Tutera is a celebrity wedding/event planner who designs very amazing, elegant, but nevertheless, spare-no-expense, over-the-top parties). In my opinion, the guests and the hosts get lost in translation in over-the-top parties, so all that is really remembered is the spectacle, not the experience.
Understated and “simply elegant,” or “simply festive” is my motto, even if there is a predominate theme. A party is about the person(s) of honor and/or the people attending, so that should be the focus. The setting and party location should be its own decoration. Everything else added to it just makes it pop, as the designer phrase goes. Cheap-and-cheerful is fine, as long as it isn’t ticky-tacky (unless campy is what you are going for, such as a Halloween costume party, or a show-your-team-spirit gathering for the “big game”).
10) Now that your party is well underway, grab a drink, some of that fantastic food and go visit with Mr. Mope. Mopes-in-the-corner, however stubbornly he or she is refusing to enjoy themselves, nevertheless showed up to your party. Maybe they are painfully shy. Maybe they were forced to come—the just-divorced-still-smarting-about-it friend, or your cousin’s teenage daughter who was not allowed a choice about it—but here they are.
Take a few minutes to sit with them and chat. Don’t ask them if they are having a good time. They’re not. Ask them what’s new, what’s up. Better yet, tell them about how the whole party nearly went to hell-in-a-hand-basket because of some horrible mix up. They’ll love to hear any story about how the party that’s making them feel completely miserable was almost a complete failure. Or, ask them if they caught the embarrassing but funny faux-pas your Uncle Bob made during his speech (next time you’ll be a little more specific with what you mean by “make the presentation memorable”). Maybe they didn’t hear about one of the toilets backing up. Highlighting things that almost ruined an otherwise happy time are a source of entertainment for the mopes. You might even get them to share a laugh with you. Then tell them you’re glad you had a chance to chat and leave ‘em be.
It’s at that point, just when almost all is said and done, you can be assured that a great time was, in fact, had by all. Even Mr. Mope. So, eat,drink and be merry. Ya done good.