Six tips for hosting memorable parties

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Well, I guess it’s official; the holidays are just around the corner. I received my first December holiday party invitation the day before Halloween. I don’t blame the sender; the holidays are getting busier and busier and if you have any hope of having people attend your soiree you need to send the invitation out at least four weeks in advance. If you are thinking of hosting a party over the holidays here are some other tips to ensure a successful event.

Establish a budget. Decide how much you want to spend on the party. This will dictate what kind of event you have. For instance, if your budget is limited you could host your party earlier in the day between lunch and dinner or in the evening after dinner. People won’t expect to be fed a meal if it’s between or after meals and you can serve inexpensive hors d’oeuvres such as veggies and dip or cheese and crackers. My friend, who sent the recent party invitation, serves homemade donuts and little sausages and it’s just fine. We come for her gracious hosting and to meet some interesting people. The one area she doesn’t scrimp on is the beverages. She has a full bar with a bartender serving quite a variety of mixed drinks. But if you are on a limited budget, beer, wine and something non-alcoholic would be just fine. Another way to keep costs down is to invite fewer people. The more people you have the more your food and beverages costs go up.

Choose the invitation type. I’ve written about this before, but the type of event will dictate the kind of invitation to send. You can’t go wrong with evites. They have gotten a lot more attractive today and make it easy to track guest responses and send reminders. If it’s a more formal or upscale event a mailed invitation is best. For a small group and an informal gathering a regular email is fine. But, if people don’t know each other be sure to put the email addresses in the BCC field so the invitees can’t see the other email addresses. One mode I suggest you not use is text messages. When you send a text message to a group their responses will go to everyone. It is very annoying. Don’t do it!

Make your guests feel welcome. The big day has arrived. Your job now is to make sure your guests are comfortable and happy. Try to greet them at the door when possible. Take their coats or mention where to put them and offer your guests a drink or point out where they’ll find the bar. State what you’re serving rather than asking “what would you like to drink.” For example, “We are serving beer, mulled wine and apple cider. What’s your preference?” Once your guest has a drink, introduce him to other guests. This is the most important part of hosting. In fact, one of the reasons I love going to the holiday parties my friend mentioned above hosts is she is so good about making sure her guests meet each other and have something to talk about, I’ve met some really fun people because of this. When you introduce people to each other share some facts about each person so that it’s easier for them to find something to talk about. You could mention what they do for work, hobbies, trips they are planning or went on, how you met or a talent the person has.

Another tip is to research what your guests have been up to before the party. When I had my book launch party, I looked through the guest list and thought about what was going on for each of my guests so I could ask about it when I saw them – were they going on a trip soon, did they get promoted recently, did they post on Facebook that they adopted a dog?  Doing this will help you with conversation and will make your guests feel special. And, because you’ll be busy making introductions and attending to your guests, you won’t be able to have long conversations with each person. But if you can have short but meaningful conversations your guests will feel they matter to you.

Don’t forget the non-alcoholic beverages. I find hosts often neglect the non-drinkers in the group. I don’t drink alcohol and many times I’ve had to track down a cup and fill it with tap water. Not a good guest experience. Make your teetotaler guests feel included; always have plenty of non-spirited drinks on hand. And no, plain bottled water doesn’t cut it; even non-drinkers like to have a special beverage. I like to serve a quality seltzer such as Pellegrino or Perrier with wedges of lemon or lime. Another option is flavored water such as Le Croix. Soda pop is fine, but it’s good to also have a beverage that doesn’t have sugar or chemicals in it.

Handle hostess gifts gracefully. Many guests will bring you hostess gifts (as they should) as a thank you for inviting them to your party. This may include bottles of wine, nice chocolates, a tasty spread or jam or maybe some holiday cookies. You might be wondering how to handle these items. Simply take them from your guests, say thank you and put the item in a designated area, not some random place that can make it appear you aren’t grateful for the gift. You don’t need to serve the item if it’s consumable. The gifts are for you to enjoy later. There is no need to send a thank you note for the present, but if you happen to talk to the guest after the party you could mention how much you enjoyed the chocolates or homemade jam.

Say goodbye. Just as you welcomed your guests, when the time comes, try to position yourself so that you can say goodbye and thank those guests who are leaving. Most people like to have some sort of closure by thanking you for inviting them, unless they are leaving early and are choosing to ghost (shame on them). As you notice people starting to leave, you can stand near the door or at least be in a more visible place so that your guests don’t have to search for you as they leave.

After the party, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. You opened your home and brought people together; always a noteworthy accomplishment.

Are there other hosting practices you use that you’d like to share? Any hosting dilemmas you struggle with?


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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