Take the pressure off throwing the perfect night. You actually do not have to make the whole night a series of bangs, one after another. Here is what people remember most:
THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES
What happens as people first arrive? This is something people remember most– just like an event’s first impression. The first few minutes of a social event set the tone for the rest of the evening: there’s no point having everything just so if your guests don’t feel welcome. So put down that tea towel and swing into action. Greet your guests. Rush to the door – even out to the car – when you hear them. Usher them in, gush over their little gifts of wine or chocolate, and make them feel loved.
Give them a drink. Stay with them. Those first few minutes are vital.
Your party has to have a high. Otherwise? People just remember the low or worse, nothing at all.
THE LAST FIVE MINUTES
How people leave and what happens as they leave the night is the other thing that sticks with them – why? We typically evaluate the entire night right after we leave, so the recency effect sticks with us.
CREATE A BUZZ
This is essential. We think all parties should have the same first impression goals: comfort plus excitement equals buzz. When most people get to an event they are at worst: overwhelmed, awkward or anxious. At best: excited, energised and open-minded. We want to switch everyone into the positive state as quickly as possible. This is surprisingly logistical.
DRINK AND BE MERRY
Nothing makes people feel more relaxed than a generous glass of something when they arrive. Hit your guests with a grand gesture in a glass. We always have drinks out and ready to be grabbed instantly.
We usually offer Campari, generous slugs of gin, whisky, or good champagne. Alcohol is a great ice breaker: don’t underestimate it and it’s ability to get people excited.
PARTY PEAK OR VALLEY
The biggest mistake that hosts make is assuming people will have fun doing the same thing the entire night. Hours upon hours of mingling is torture and no matter how good the food, how cool the people, the idea of 3 hours of mingling around a party overwhelms most people.
It is better when you can break the party into ‘highlights’. You want to insert these into the typical breakdown of a night.
You actually want people to know these phases and then plan some programming for people to look forward to and break up the mingling. These should all be aimed at creating “Peak Moments.” People remember the worst or best moment of an event. If you do not have anything planned, this can often be the worst moment. Typical worst moments are not knowing who to talk to, or having an awkward conversation with someone you barely know. Looking at your watch and wondering when it would be alright to leave or not knowing where to sit or eat. Not having enough to eat or drink.
You want to focus on peak moments. Peak moments are best when you reveal a surprise of some kind, when you have people laugh or when you teach something. We love revealing a special food item such as a new proscuitto, special cheese, spectacular pudding or amazing wine. Announcing we are going to hear a funny toast. Or moving to a new spot for a different course. Or take a walk around the property to see something new.
These can actually be relatively small. It’s basically the moment where the entire group focuses on one thing or announcement for a few moments and causes smiles, laughs or oohs and aahs. At small events, this is actually pretty easy.
THE RECENCY EFFECT
This is a psychological phenomenon where we tend to remember the last item in a sequence. At an event, we are typically assessing our night as we drive home or talk to our companion (or pal) on the way out. So if the last thing we saw or did was great, it optimises the whole night.
This is why gift bags work really well. Except when they are given out at the beginning. Weddings that place favours at everyone’s chair are terrible—you basically waste the recency effect. You are much better having them at the door as people leave.
We like small parting gifts but this can be a bit much for a casual party. Sometimes if we have lots of leftovers we will quickly wrap up some for people to take home.
People typically want to leave at specific times- after the first course, those who have another event or are having a bad time. Prepare for this. It happens. No matter what time, some people will leave after dessert. Prepare for this. Or on the hour. People often make deals with themselves or their companions—we are leaving at 10pm!
Don’t encourage the trickle out. You actually want people to feel welcome to leave if they need to. In fact the worst thing you can do is pressure someone into staying. This can often turn into their low moment. Try saying, “We will do dinner, then dessert and then take it easy,” to let people know what’s coming, and help them know when they can leave.
Permission Exits. At the end of each phase, we usually say something like “Let’s have another heart starter (drink) before pudding”. This gives people an easy out and allows the host to graciously say goodbye.
THE PERFECT HOST
If you want to be a great host, get the introductions right. Introduce people using their first and last names. Make your guests sound fabulous. You’re the host, so you’ve got the license to exaggerate everyone’s accomplishments and attributes. If they’re nice people they’ll be amusingly self-deprecating and that will help get the conversation flowing. If you do the introductions right, the conversations will rev into action. Don’t worry about being in charge of everyone’s good time. The best you can do is give them comfort and excitement.
The best thing you can do as a host is to give people peak moments and connect as many people as possible.
Your Party Spot
You do not have to have the perfect party house to throw a successful party, but you do want to take some time to optimise it. First, make it easy for people to find things.
People will often stay longer and have a better time if you encourage location changes. Set-up hor d’ouvres in a different spot than dinner and a different spot than pudding. Then people kind of circulate and hover differently. We also have a courtyard and try to have that as a ‘stop’ in our party circuit for drinks.
Everyone has food sensitivities these days. Make it easy and tell gluten-free folk what is and what isn’t. Tell vegans what’s safe and what is not. This is just an optional step to be kind for those guests. I like to make everyone feel as welcome as possible!
It’s surprising how being the source of fun and merriment can bring such joy. It might sound like a lot of work to throw a great party – and it can be. But there is nothing better than providing a fun, comfortable, open setting for people in your life. Bottom line- make your party work for you.