Even if you’ve planned your party to the last detail, you might be missing the key ingredient that distinguishes a so-so party from a smashing success. The secret? “Don’t be as concerned about being the quintessential hostess as you are about showing each guest you care from the moment they arrive until the last goodbye,” advises Diane Warner, author of Big Book of Parties and several party planning books.
“People can forgive a dish they don’t like, but if there isn’t warmth from the host, that’s a little less forgivable,” says Susan RoAne, author of How to Work a Room. Not sure if you can put a room full of guests at ease? Try these tips:
1. Be prepared. Decide on a menu that can be prepared in advance — no-fail foods that you won’t have to worry about. “If you have to be in the kitchen the whole time, then you’re really not being the host,” says Roane. “If you’re not there, you’re leaving your guest to fend for themselves.” Warner’s rule of thumb: The bigger the event, the more help you need. “Don’t be afraid to hire somebody,” she says. You want to be sure you’re not working so hard during the party that you don’t enjoy it or get to talk to your guests.
2. Adjust your attitude. No matter how worried you are about mishaps in the kitchen or the table decorations, make sure you greet all your guests as they arrive. The best hosts make you feel special, as if they’ve waited all week for you to come to their party, says RoAne.
“You should take time to speak with every single guest and listen to what he or she has to say,” says Warner. “Give your guest all the time that she needs to tell you about her new little grandbaby, even if you’ve heard the story before and even if you really need to go start a pot of coffee.”
3. Keep conversation flowing. Give your guests something to talk about by taking the time to make introductions. “Know something about each person that you can share, so that the group has enough information to start the volleying back and forth,” says RoAne.
Another way to kick off party chatter is to keep the event moving — literally. Have your party progress from one part of your home to another, advises Warner. For example, serve appetizers and cocktails on the patio, then invite guests to assemble in the dining room for dinner, and have dessert in the living room. This presents more opportunities for the guests to mingle with each other, says Warner.
4. Don’t strive for perfection. If some small mishap occurs, don’t even make it an issue. For example, if you can’t get your guests to sing karaoke on the machine you rented specifically for a party, move on. Try to let the events flow along at their own pace, says Warner. “Even if dinner was served at 7:30 instead of 7:00, or your kitchen looks like a train wreck, as long as each guest leaves feeling pampered and cherished, you’ve been a terrific hostess,” she says.
5. Think about safety. Don’t forget that as a host, you’re legally responsible for your guests. So don’t let anyone drive home if he or she had too much to drink. If necessary, call a taxi or make sure a sober person drives him or her home.