Being a graceful, relaxed hostess comes naturally to some people, but to most it is achieved through experience…for either the old hand or the novice in party-giving the safest way [to a successful party] is to sit down and think through each detail from beginning to end. Whether the party is a big or a little one, this is the best way to insure its turning out the way you intend, with the least exertion on your part. ~ Carolyn Coggins
In my academic career, I hosted several events a month. Most of them were workshops on how to teach college but many of them were “relationship building” (aka “grip and grin”) events. When I first started out, I thought that I’d just have to reserve the room, order the refreshments, send out the announcements, and print up the handouts. I quickly discovered that there were a lot of little details that needed my attention, too.
Eventually, I adapted a “workshop file folder” technique that a colleague shared at a conference. I had checklists and other information printed on card stock that was large enough to become a file folder. Planning on the outside and paperwork on the inside. After that, most of the events were smooth as silk because of the in depth planning.
Do I use that same depth of planning when I entertain? Yes and no. I like to be organized ahead of time so that I can enjoy the party when the time comes.
Miss Coggins suggests you do the following at least two weeks before your party so that you can entertain smoothly (with my commentary added):
- Be an armchair planner Get a notepad and start brainstorming. Who will you invite? What will you serve? Was there that idea in a magazine or on television that you thought would be fun to try? Write it all down.
- Make lists
- Groceries and beverages
- To Do
- Entertainment supplies
- Look glamorous What will you wear to the party? Is it appropriate for the occasion? Is it comfortable? Can you cook in it (if appropriate)?
- Invite your guests by phone (or text messaging but not email), if you are able A common lament in the modern world is that people no longer respond to invitations leaving the host frustrated and wondering who is attending the party and who isn’t. In my rummaging around of vintage books and movies, I have discovered that the telephone was more often than not used to invite people to an informal party. And, as Miss Coggins notes, you’ll usually know right away who is coming or not. After you’ve spoken to your guests, then you can follow-up with an email invitation with the party specifics on it.
- Create a “cheat sheet” for a guest of honor or someone new to the group Meeting a whole bunch of new people all at once can be overwhelming and awkward for a guest of honor or someone new to a group. Once you know who is coming, you can create a cheat sheet with names and key information about them so that the guest doesn’t feel like a deer caught in headlights. This is a trick that leaders (and people who want to be leaders) have up their sleeves and why they seem so at ease when meeting new people. The leaders already know something about the people they are meeting and can ask them questions a little more interesting than what they think of the weather.
There will always be a glitch when we entertain–like the time I discovered that I forgotten to plug in the new-to-me vintage roaster until my family arrived so dinner was an hour later than planned–but if we have things planned out ahead of time as much as possible, the glitches won’t be party breakers and we can still have a great time with our guests.
Do you have a party planning trick? Or a story of what happened when you forgot to plan for something?