Last week we heard what Summer and Lia think it takes to adult. This week, I think I’d share some of my favorite hostessing tips. Not really related to the stories I tell, I know, but we’re hosting or participating in hosting a lot this month, so it’s on my mind.
There are so many benefits to hosting. You get to make foods you like and party themes or elegance levels that suit your mood. You get all your friends and not all of someone else’s friends. And, you don’t have to drive, so you can drink the entire time!
Having said that, here’s three tips on hosting so that people want to stay the whole time and prioritize your events over that other person who keeps trying to compete with your time slots.
This sounds so incidental but it really is the one thing that people gravitate towards repeatedly.
People like surprises, and for whatever reason, putting fruit in water is seen as some sort of brand new idea. I’ve found, especially at parties with alcohol, people will forget to drink water. It’s not as fun as a mixed drink or as easy to get as a beer. But you throw some orange and lemon slices in a large pitcher (other favorites: lemon cucumber and strawberry basil) and suddenly people will drink water like it’s, well, wine. This is great to stave off heatstroke and from keeping your party from getting sloppy. Plus, it looks fancy AF.
Know your guests
Let’s be honest. People want to eat food and have a good time. That’s really all they want. The messy part is that the food and good time having are individual and subject to change. Who made humans? We’re so fickle! Why are we like this?
Most important, know dietary restrictions. And that there’s a difference between religious requirements, lifestyle requirements, allergies, illnesses and preferences. If you’re going to offer kosher or halal food, really know what that means. If you have someone who will suffer a medical crisis if food isn’t prepared a certain way, you need to add time to scour your kitchen before cooking. If possible, keep a separate cutting board for severe allergy responses. Scouring isn’t necessary if it’s just a preference, but that’s still important to keep in mind. Don’t threaten someone’s soul, colon or heart over a cookie for cryin’ out loud.
Next, the atmosphere. I like to tailor playlists to the group and type of event–a Halloween party with a bunch of punks is gonna feel different than a summer BBQ with your beach bum friends. Lighting is CRITICAL. I get teased for this but whatever fools, you know I’m right. If it’s outside, have different amounts of shade and temperature control options. Dimmers inside are super helpful. Lights on each table to allow people to see their conversation partners keep the party going longer. Knowing how your guests feel about heat or cold, about sitting doing nothing versus playing a game of some sort, joining a karaoke…all this means you’ll be able to anticipate the pitfalls and overcome them in a way that is thoughtful but not overbearing.
For me, as most gatherings tend to be fewer than 30 people, almost all of whom I know personally or in the context of someone I know well, I try to add at least one thing that will speak to them personally. A song on a playlist. A name of a drink, a food they love. This is twofold. First, it makes them feel included and special, which always puts folks a little more at ease. Second, it’s a great chitchat starter. Don’t know what to say? Maybe that one song by a favorite artist will strike a conversation in a lull.
This also helps you to keep an eye on the flow of the event. Scan the crowd periodically like you’re sizing up an assassination attempt. Look for people who aren’t talking or who are looking at their phones repeatedly for they are the party killers in waiting. Have a few ideas on hand for good activities or topics when things get contentious or quiet. Not that sitting quietly is always bad, but having an array of party games, dance music, people you trust to look out for folks who feel excluded (i.e. a counterstrike team) or even just setting up a new center of conversation around the potential sowers of discord can be the difference between a pleasant day and a soulsucking hour with a speedy departure.
Your mood is the event’s tone
This one’s tough, because you want everything to be perfect and let me tell you what, perfect is whatever your guests see. It is an illusion. You will always see the brown spots on your fruit salad or agonize that you hadn’t realized people had switched from preferring lagers to Belgian whites, or that politics came up way more than you thought it would. Whatever, it’s gonna happen. Know what people will find unacceptable? A stressed out host they never see. From long and painful experience, I’ve learned that people would rather wander in on you setting up and cutting veggies than have everything done but at the cost of a stressed and exhausted host.
In fact, I will often intentionally leave a few tasks undone so I can sit for a minute and gather myself before people show up. The early birds are likely those who pride themselves in their punctuality or your closest friends anyways, and both those groups often like feeling helpful. Asking them to fill some glasses or arrange some flowers in a vase is a laid back activity that asks everyone right from the start to feel included, provides more discussion opportunities and takes a few things off your plate. And if they’d rather not be put to work? That’s cool. Have a nice apron, pour them a drink and catch up while you finish the last touches. Whatever it takes to keep your mood joyful and your bearing that of a motherfucking queen. And, of course, thank everyone profusely for the small services they do that says how much they appreciate you, too.
I love getting people together. I know some amazing humans, and making sure they’re enjoying themselves is one of my favorite ways of showing them that I see how great they are. Drowning them with flavored water, scouting them like Secret Service, and making them work are things I will always do for my friends and their loved ones with a smile.