One of the most important secrets to a successful party is to manage your guests. Invite the right enough number of people, throw together a good ‘mix’ of personalities and interests, and keep them happy and comfortable. This matters a lot more than whether or not you served expensive wine, or even if your steak was cooked to perfection.
Here are some guide questions that will help you create the perfect guest list, based on the type of party you’re throwing, the occasion, and even your party budget. These will also help you create a party plan that anticipates what your guests will need. Then they’ll say, ‘That was a great party!’ and ‘You’re the perfect host!’
1. What’s the goal of my party?
Are you celebrating the wedding anniversary of your parents? Then aside from relatives, you may want to invite their dearest friends. Or is your husband entertaining important clients, paving the way for an important project? You may want to include a few people from his office.
Knowing the goal of your party doesn’t just help you decide who to invite. It’s also the basis for deciding the best ambience, the most convenient time to hold it, and even details like the type of menu you should serve. A party should always take the guests’ needs in mind. For example, your parents’ friends may prefer light dishes because of special health considerations.
2. How many party guests can I invite?
Can you hold the party in your apartment or garden, or should you look at alternative venues? Even just increasing your guest list from 30 to 50 people may mean a change in logistics—and costs! Also think about the people your guests may be bringing. Your husband’s business clients may come with their wives. Your parents’ neighbors may take along their kids.
3. How much can I afford to spend?
Of course this will all affect your budget, and as early as now you should prune your list or adjust expectations. For example, hold your parents’ wedding anniversary party at night, so it can be an ‘adults only’ affair. Limiting the guests to just close family and friends also avoids the politics. (Invite his golf buddies, and you’ll have to ask his poker buddies, too.)
On the other hand, you may actually want your husband’s clients to bring their wives—they can be your allies. To control budget, then, you could hold a Saturday brunch (menus are cheaper, and you don’t have to serve drinks).
4. Who are my party guest “must-haves” and “maybes?”
You should actually have two guest lists: the must-invites (or people who have to go, or they’ll be terribly offended) and the may-invites (people who won’t react violently, and whose non-attendance won’t affect your relationship either way). If one of the must-invites cancels, then call one of the may-invites.
Given this, it’s really important to do an RSVP and confirm attendance before the party. Also, when you’re making the menu, give leeway for those who suddenly decide to swing by anyway—even if they’ve said, repeatedly, that they can’t come.
5. Will my party guests have something in common?
Look at your guest list and see which of those friends, family members or business colleagues would probably click. Aside from the general personality types, make a mental note of those who share similar hobbies or backgrounds.
Keep this in mind when you’re making your table seating arrangements, and also when you’re making introductions. For example: ‘Nancy, this is Laura. Hey, both of you work in sales!’ or ‘David, this is Jack. He just came back from a business trip to Florida. Didn’t you work there, before?’ In other words, help break the ice and give them a trigger for a conversation before you attend to the othe guests.
6. Are my guests excited to come to my party?
Your invitations should not only have pertinent details like the time, venue and purpose of the party, but reflect—even by choice of font and design—the ambience and mood. You may also want to pique their interest when you confirm if they got the invitation and ask if they can attend. ‘Oh, it’s a really casual brunch out in the garden. Serving sandwiches and golden sunshine! I’m even using my grandmother’s secret recipe for rhum cake.’ This will clue them in on the kind of clothes they should wear, and give them something to look forward to, too.
7. Do I have everything to keep my party guests physically comfortable?
A good host always anticipates the guests’ needs. Arrange the furniture into small groups that let them sit comfortably and talk. Place clean towels, a fresh toilet paper, and a bar of soap and air freshener in the bathroom. Leave little plates of appetizers in the living room so they can nibble on something while they wait for the party food. Light citronella candles or hang an electric mosquito repellant to keep any bugs away, especially if you’re holding the party outdoors. Inform neighbors of the party and ask, beforehand, if guests can park along the sidewalk. Provide maps to guests who are unfamiliar with the area.
These little gestures that relieve your guests of any inconvenience or discomfort let your guests know that you want them to have a good time, especially since they went through all the trouble of attending.
8. Are there party guests who are feeling out of place?
Keep an eye out for guests who seem to have trouble mingling or making friends. You can introduce her to others, talk to her yourself, or ask her for ‘help’ with a little chore so she feels more involved For example, she can pass around a cheese plate, which will help her break the ice with the other guests, or tossing the salad (so you call tell everyone that she helped ‘prepare’ the meal).
9. Have I made my party guests feel appreciated?
When your guests are ready to leave, personally say goodbye and even escort them to the door and help them get her things, etc. Thank them profusely for coming. You may even want to send a thank you note or email to them the day after the party. Let them know that you were happy to see them, and that they helped make your party extra special. This will help build your relationship and celebrate your bond—which is, after all, what parties are all about.