Hosting great parties is an art form. You may think you can just invite some friends over and crack open a few beers to make a night full of memories, but underneath the surface, there's a lot that can make a party go wrong. I've had the fortune and misfortune to attend both awesome and truly horrific parties. Luckily, over time I've found that there are a few key things you can keep in mind to make sure your next soiree is fantastic, not a flop.
Food isn't just there to fill your guests' stomachs — it gives them something to do. If you've ever been to a party without something to munch on, you know what I mean. You can only pour so many glasses of wine before needing at least a handful of chips or some crackers to keep you going, and when there's a lull in the conversation, it's nice for people to have something to do, like fill their plates with more snacks. If you're serving a full meal, plan on providing about 1 pound of food per person, including the entrée and any sides. For appetizers and hors d'oeuvres, you should bet on six bites per person per hour.
In my experience, no matter how much fancy food I try to provide at my parties, it's always the classics that go first. I've had parties where baked Brie en croûte and pigs in a blanket were both on the menu, and the pigs in the blanket were the most popular by far. Even if you love experimenting with new recipes, keep some classics on hand for your guests. Hot spinach and artichoke dip, a meat and cheese tray, potato chips and pretzel bites are always group favorites.
Sure, you want your party to be an awesome experience for your guests, but will they really notice that you traveled across town to pick up some new guest soaps for the bathroom? Probably not — but they will notice when you answer the door red in the face and nearly in tears because you have three different appetizers waiting for their turn in the oven and only just got done folding the napkins to look like swans.
My suggestion? Look at your menu and look at your to-do list and cut each by a third. The results may not be as picture-perfect as you imagined, but trust me, a host who's at ease does a lot more for the morale of a party than freshly washed curtains or a garnish of radish roses ever could. In fact, save yourself even more trouble by mixing in a few pre-made trays and dishes. Your guests won't mind — I promise.
Awkward silences kill the party vibe before it even has a chance to get started. Especially when your guests first start trickling in, it's important to have something to fill the moments of quiet that inevitably occur. Keep the music in line with the overall vibe of your party. If you're gathered to watch a sports game, put on some rock; if you're hosting a dinner party, go for something elegant and low-key.
It's natural that we all end up having a solid group of friends that we hang out with on a regular basis. But inviting all the same people to party after party can lead to some dull conversations. Try to invite two new acquaintances to each party. They'll be an engaging new presence that can liven up the whole group. For best results, make sure to introduce them to the people at your party you think they'll have the most chemistry with — don't assume they'll be able to make those connections on their own.
Another easy way to get two strangers talking is to ask them to help you with a task. Ask them to help bring food from the kitchen to the living room or bring more wine out, and their conversation will feel more natural. You should also take care when seating your guests to split up couples and established groups of friends so that newer acquaintances don't feel left out.
It takes skill and practice to know when to end the party. You don't want to call it quits when everyone's still having a good time, even if you've technically passed the end time on your invitation. That being said, you also don't want to watch your party end one guest at a time, each person leaving the party a little more subdued than the last. Pay attention to your guests — when the first people start yawning, or when you start running out of wine, begin wrapping things up. Clear empty plates, switch the music to something slow and easy, and graciously thank your guests for coming to your party. The only thing worse than a great party that ends too soon is a boring party that drags on for far too long because the guests are too polite to leave.
Avoid these mistakes, and your friends will remember your next party for all the right reasons.
This post was sponsored by the makers of HORMEL GATHERINGS® Party Trays.
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