Are you hosting a party in the upcoming season – Thanksgiving or other holiday celebration, a birthday party, a baby shower or some other event? The winter months are often chock full of parties, from intimate dinners to large scale open houses.
In my parents’ day, there were semi-rigid protocols for parties. As a kid, I found adult party routines fascinating and loved serving appetizers from fancy trays. I may not have understood what was being discussed, but I could watch how the party worked and figured out that it needed to be like a well-constructed play. The host was the director and had a script in hand.
At least in the circles I travel in, we don’t have parties like those anymore. As the rules have fallen away, the old fashioned playbook for hosting has become outdated. No longer able to rely on party “structure”, hosts have to figure it out on their own.
I thought about what I have appreciated and admired in a host when I have been a guest. Add in a few lessons I have learned from hosting my fair share of parties, and voilà – 3 “secrets”. Of course, they aren’t hidden-type secrets. They are found scattered through great advice columns, and all of them are common sense. I haven’t come upon them in one place, so I thought they deserved a spot here.
The 3 Secrets to Being a Great Host
- Be thoughtful about arrangements. Will there be guests with special dietary needs/preferences or disabilities. It sounds trite, but having served turkey to a vegetarian, I learned the hard way to inquire (delicately) about food needs and preferences unless the party does not involve food (horrors!) or there are so many choices that a guest will certainly find enough to eat. If it’s a seated dinner like Thanksgiving, will conversation go more smoothly if you figure out a seating arrangement? You can do that unobtrusively by showing people to their seats or ahead of time with place cards. (Place cards may sound awfully Downton Abbey-ish, but you can decorate them whimsically or turn them into a joke if you like.) My husband likes place cards because they show that the host planned for each guest’s presence. For a party where there will be more guests than chairs (hopefully not Thanksgiving dinner!), you may need to be on alert if a guest is cannot at first figure out where to sit. Let guests know the plan. Sure, you know how the party is to proceed. Guests, not being mind readers, will appreciate the care you have shown them.
- Be warm. As the host, there is a temptation to get wrapped up in the details and to fret over every little thing that isn’t going as planned. In fact, as long as there is no true disaster-in-the-making, your time is much better spent doling out smiles, hugs and introductions. Especially for parties that involve conversation, when I see a host interact with guests and seem at ease him or herself, guests (including me) are more at ease, too. Conversation and laughter tend to flow more readily.
- Be inclusive. Moving into an unfamiliar environment and finding a niche for oneself is an art. Some people do it well, while others remain uncomfortable or simply stay aloof. I’ve certainly felt the awkwardness when a friend brings a new date or partner to a party, or there are guests who don’t know the other attendees. And I’ve admired the hosts who have moved in gracefully to those situations, offering introductions, telling a story or finding other ways to bring people together.
I do have one more bit of advice. If you want to take your conversational hosting skills up a notch, check out my favorite source for dinner party sizzle, the Dinner Party Download.
Coming on Monday – The Flip Side: How to Be a Great Guest.