What's the secret to pulling off a fabulous soiree? There's more to being a gracious host than providing the food and drinks. "It's important that you be a guest at your own party," says entertaining expert Jennifer O'Neil, who, along with her equally fun-loving sister, Kitty, enjoys hosting all types of parties from casual get-togethers to themed events. The sisters say if you're relaxed and enjoying yourself, your guests will follow suit.
Here are more of their tips for making sure your event is the hottest ticket in town:
Rule #1: Be Prepared
- Set the guest list early. Send out invites at least three to four weeks in advance. Give longer notice for more formal affairs and more popular dates like New Year’s Eve.
- Don't leave the details to the last minute. Create your "to do" list at least a week in advance including the menu, drinks and quantities, decorations, and party events. Menu tip: Don’t choose foods that need to be heated right before serving or else you’ll be in the kitchen all night.
- Tidy up. The day of the party, get the public areas of the house tidied up and don't forget that the bathroom will need to be well stocked with fresh hand towels and the like. If you're putting a bedroom to use a coat closet, make sure it's presentable. Keep the lights off and doors closed to the rest of the house to signal to your guests they are off limits.
- Make a party-night cheat sheet. Keep a party night checklist on an index card in your pocket. That way you can know at a glance when it’s time to bring out the warm appetizers.
Rule #2: Keep It Simple
- Forgo the formal dinner. "Appetizer parties are definitely the easiest — even easier than a potluck because you don’t have to coordinate anything," Jennifer says. Shop for delicious pre-made appetizers at fancy grocery stores or even warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's Club.
- Let guests help themselves. A dinner party is more fun to throw and attend when it’s buffet style. People can cater to their own tastes and eat on their own time. Plus you can mingle and mix it up. Just be sure to label the foods — people like to know what they’re eating. To keep bartending simple, pick a drink of the night, set the fixings out on the bar along with the recipe/directions, and let the guests play bartender.
Rule #3: Get Guests Talking
- Pick a theme. For a party that mixes different groups of friends, use nametags, but make them fun, suggests Kitty. "For our Mob Scene poker party, we give everyone their Mafia name like Zoey Baloney a.k.a. 'The Claw.' "
- Give guests an assignment. One sure-fire way to get people mingling is to give them assignments, like having one person check on everybody’s drink or having someone hand-pass hors d’oeuvres. People may be shy and your task will give them an excuse to talk to strangers. Another way to keep the party going is to get the guests involved in the dinner preparations: "Our friend Margaret hosts a Make Your Own Dinner Party — she picks a cuisine for the evening, like Greek food, and everyone brings their own recipes and fixings to cook dinner together."
- Host an event. Keep the evening moving with party "milestones," like an informal icebreaker or a party event. For example, the sisters host an annual Tacky Trim-A-Tree Party that culminates in a tacky ornament contest complete with voting and awards.