Editor’s note: As an etiquette guide, this article is based on opinion. It’s goal is to create a standard.
Planning and hosting a party is something that many men see as the domain of the fairer sex, but there’s no reason it should be. In fact, many men host parties frequently, they’re just extremely basic, like a poker night. If you plan and host parties you can build relationships and have a lot of fun, so I’m going to help you get into it.
The first thing you need to figure out is why you want to have a party in the first place. There are lots of reasons to have a party and it doesn’t need to be something important. There are three categories of party rationales; building relationships, celebration, and simple fun. There’s no bad reason to have a party but you want to know exactly why you’re doing it. It’ll even make a lot of the decisions for you.
Guest(s) of Honour
Not all parties have a guest of honour but if there is one they need to be the centre of attention. Usually the reason you’re having a party will decide who, if anyone, will be your guest of honour, especially if your celebrating something. Everything you plan needs to be something the guest of honour can sign off on. Generally the official host and the guest of honour are different people.
Again, this’ll make a lot of your decisions for you. The most important aspect of the tone of a party is how formal it should be. Everything else you plan absolutely must fit with the tone.
There are lots of different types of parties, some are inherently casual and some are more formal. Here are some of the most common;
- Dinner party, focused on a traditional meal, can be casual or formal
- Barbecue, focused on a casual outdoor meal
- Cocktail party, an informal or formal evening of drinks and hors d’ouevres
- Pool party, an outdoor party revolving around swimming in a pool
- Beach party, a casual waterfront gathering, typically at a swimming beach
- Casual coffee, similar to a cocktail party but more casual and often with a simpler menu
Theme is another thing that can make a lot of decisions for you. You want it to be something fun that fits the tone and purpose of the party and the personality of the guest of honour. If you’d like you can skip the theme, it is a manlier choice anyway.
Your budget is the one place where nobody else can give you any guidance. Just remember, you get what you pay for but sometimes less is more.
The guest list is the difference between a party and pathetically stuffing your face at an unnecessarily extravagant table. Who should be on the guest list depends on the reason for the party and the associated etiquette. Once you decide on your guest list, don’t hesitate to send out your invitations.
You may not realize it, but every party has some kind of menu. It can be quite simple or quite elaborate, as long as it fits with the tone. Potluck or BYOB parties are inherently quite casual, so if you’re hosting a formal event, you need to provide the food. You also need to take your guests into account, nobody should ever be excluded from dining nor be expected to feed themselves, so try to take allergies, diets, religious or ethical restrictions, and strong preferences into consideration. Also, it’s best if there’s always food, or at least drink, available. It’s more personal to prepare and serve the food yourself but this can be a lot of work and means separating yourself from your guests or welcoming them into your kitchen, so it may be worth hiring a caterer.
This part is often optional but it can be a nice addition to your party. There’s no reason it needs to be elaborate. Simple table games or music and a dance floor are usually plenty. As long as your guests enjoy themselves you’ve planned all the entertainment you need.
The most important factors in choosing a venue are the tone, theme, and guest list. You need it to be big enough to accommodate all your guests but not so big as to have obviously unused space. It also must fit the tone and theme of your party. You also want to look for a venue that has good “back of house” spaces, like a kitchen, that are well placed, and it’s simplest if the venue already has all the equipment and facilities you’ll need, so you don’t have to bring them yourself. Before you discount it, your home would probably make for a good venue, especially for a small party, and it’s inherently inexpensive.
Decor comes mostly from your theme. If you want to go simple, just clean up your house. You can go pretty elaborate if you like as well. The biggest problem with having a theme is that you need elaborate decor to not look lazy. If you don’t have a theme then more elaborate decor makes it more formal. Just remember to keep it classy or elaborate decor will end up looking tacky.
You can either choose an official dress code to give to your guests or leave it up to social etiquette. The problem is, if you do the latter you run the risk of some of your guests dressing in a way that you’d consider inappropriate. Some parties, like pool parties, don’t really have room for variation in attire but if they do, you need to match the dress code to the formality of the party, unless you’re hosting a costume party.
This is the hard part. You should start by making a list of every detail, and then do the same for every item until you can’t think of any more. You’ll also want to develop a schedule and assign duties to anyone helping you. Depending on the type of event, there may be a lot of details to consider, especially if you have out of town guests.
Your primary duty as host is to see to it that your guests are enjoying themselves, not that you can’t enjoy yourself as well. When your guests arrive you’ll need to provide places for your guests to store their coats, hats, purses, and often shoes and direct them towards the food and the space the party’s currently using. During the party, your responsibility is to move along whatever plans you have for the party, serve the food and drinks, and direct guests to the washrooms. If you’re hosting a larger party or would like to be more involved with your guests, you may want to delegate some of these responsibilities, and your venue may require it.
There’s a lot of work involved in planning a party, but the more you do it the easier it’ll get. In the future I’ll also write more specific articles about planning and hosting parties.