We had our engagement party recently, and it was a blast. My fiance and I both agreed afterwards that it was the most successful party either of us have ever had. Admittedly, we both had somewhat poor track records in this regard. But this time, it seemed our guests had a good time, everything went smoothly, and we were able to enjoy the afternoon.
It wasn’t anything too over the top – just a nice, casual relaxed afternoon with good food and good company. So what’s the secret to hosting an engagement party that everyone can enjoy?
1. Great decorations and a nice location. Attention to detail can make or break an atmosphere. Taking that little extra time to string up fancy decorations and make your room, backyard or community hall a pretty place will ‘wow’ your guests and set a party vibe. We had colourful bunting which we borrowed from a friend and hung throughout the party space; some inexpensive tissue paper balls hanging in the dining room; paper lanterns from Typo, balloons and flowers near the food table (pictured); and a banner strung across one wall.
If your party is outdoors, always have a wet-weather backup plan. We wanted to have our shindig in a lovely big backyard, but the weather had other plans, so we strung up all of our decorations on the morning of the event through the living and dining rooms.
2. Careful selection of music – but not too careful. We spent a fair while carefully selecting and curating a playlist of some of our favourite songs – and then barely heard them during the event. They provided great background music though. The key is to select music that is fairly uniform in terms of dynamics (or volume) and has catchy beats and melodies. Don’t have it too loud – your guests want to be able to talk without shouting.
3. Invite people you may not be able to invite to your wedding reception. This one’s a bit controversial. You should definitely make sure that everyone you invite to your engagement is also invited to at least some part of your wedding day, whether it’s the ceremony, reception, or both. We’re planning to invite lots of people to our wedding ceremony, but to only have a small number of close family and friends at our reception to help keep total costs down. However, there were some people we still wanted to celebrate with and to show that they’re important in our lives too, even if we won’t be able to include them on the reception guest list.
4. Make sure your guests will all have some people they can chat to. Do you have one or two friends who are otherwise outside of your regular social circles? They don’t necessarily know your uni friends or your church friends or colleagues from work? Try to invite one or two other people that they know, so that they’ll have at least a few other people they can talk to. (This is especially true for introverted types who may feel a bit too awkward striking up a conversation with total strangers.)
5. Good food is a must. This almost goes without saying. It’s one of the things that your guests will remember the most. We were able to provide stacks of home-made food – cakes, brownies, cookies, dip with chopped vegetables, mini quiches, meatballs, and so on – supplemented with standard store-bought chips and a few frozen ready-made party foods. This is something quite a few guests commented on. Make stuff a few days before if possible – and remember it’s always better to over-cater than to have not enough.
6. Have a group activity available, but don’t force people to participate. We left a (partly censored) stack of Cards Against Humanity on one of the tables so that guests could start their own game if they chose to. A bit of structured fun can help keep things chugging along and it also helps guests from different social circles to mingle without awkwardness.
7. People will naturally cluster in groups, and that’s okay. Worried that some of your friends might just plonk themselves down in a huddle with one or two others and not move for the entire event? That’s okay. Not everyone has to mingle and chat to new people if they don’t want to, as long as they don’t feel left out, and are having a good time.
8. Let someone else serve the food. Once your guests have started rolling in, it’s time for you to take a step back and allow yourself to enjoy the event. If possible, ask someone else to be on Food Duty, walking around with plates and offering them to guests, as well as making sure there’s always enough to go around, and taking the frozen party pies out of the freezer (and then out of the oven) in time.
9. Don’t spend all your time chatting to just a few people. It’s rare to be at an event where you know at least half, if not all, of the people in attendance. This means you’ll need to divide your time as evenly as you can between different conversations with different guests. But how can you get away once you’re in an established conversation without seeming rude? Try the “Hey, I’m just going to go grab a drink/some more food/check on the party pies” line. It sounds like you’re coming back, but really, you’re going to grab that drink and then move on to another conversation. Smooth.
10. You don’t need speeches, but it’s nice to have a cake. We didn’t organise for anyone to give formal speeches – not even ourselves. However, it was nice to have a proper cake to ceremoniously cut and then serve. It’s a simple matter of getting everyone’s attention, saying a few quick words to thank them for coming, and perhaps a toast. Then cut the cake and let the festivities continue.
Above all, just remember to have a good time and enjoy your day!