The JAN Guide to Planning Your Ultimate Party
Before we start drawing up lists and ordering the flowers, let’s start with the most important part: there’s no such thing as the perfect party. It’s about bringing people together and creating a gathering that every one of your guests can enjoy. How much they enjoy it is up to them, but when you’ve created the setting and invited a great group of people, the party is off to a great start!
When you don’t plan a party every other week, it can get overwhelming really fast. My suggestion would be to approach it like a good story. Start with WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and HOW, and take it from there. Everything will literally come together before your eyes. And when that happens, you’ll see where the gaps are and what still needs your magic touch.
In a conversation with the legendary Emsie Schoeman a few years ago, she quoted Alfred Hitchcock when she gave advice on how to put together your ultimate guest list. He broke it down into a dinner party for eight, suggesting there should be one VIP (someone important) that gives your guests something to boast about the next day, a good storyteller (an Oscar Wilde kind of personality) to keep your guests entertained, a good listener who gets people to talk about themselves and feel seen, and someone attractive to add a touch of glamour.
There are no rules, but most important to keep in mind is how compatible your guests are. Clashing opinions are not the end of the world – unless they become handgemeen – but worse than that is a group of people stuck in the same room with nothing to say to each other. It’ll be over before it’s started. Aim for a good mix of compatible people.
The first question anyone will ask is, what kind of party is it? I mean, no one wants to rock up to a tarts-and-vicars party (does anyone still do that?) dressed in their work outfit. Don’t be a slave to themes, even though they have their place. Short of a full-on dinner party, you could go with something more low-key, like a champagne party or wine and canapés. Once you’ve confirmed the general theme, the rest is just details. But for the sake of planning, here’s the list:
- Specify a dress code. Don’t worry about coming across as too prescriptive, people want direction. Plus, one person’s smart casual is another’s loungewear, so aim for glamour.
- Plan the menu. Costs and timing can soon spin out of control when you try to wing this part. With a bit of planning, you can make sure you’re the life of the party, and not putting out fires in the kitchen all night. To help you with this, set aside five minutes to read up on mise en place, a technique chefs use to plan their cooking time. On that note, however, if you have the means, opt for a catering company or a chef to free you up.
- Give the entertainment some thought. There are parties where a string quartet welcomes guests as they arrive and then there are parties that happily bop along to a Spotify Whatever you choose, make sure it’s in keeping with your theme. Live entertainment often demands your guests’ full attention, depending on what it is, which means you’ll have to coordinate your guests to gather somewhere prior to proceedings. If this doesn’t seem out of place, it could be the highlight of the evening, but don’t opt for live entertainment unless you know it’s going to be a hit.
- Put a bit of effort into the décor. When entertaining at home, you can transform your space from just-another-Friday-night into a fabulous feast for the senses. Lighting is everything. In contrast to switching on every house light, candles and lanterns add a sense of occasion and create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Flowers add colour and life. Depending on the size of your event, consider renting cutlery, crockery, glassware and table linen. It’s fit for purpose, you don’t need to worry about personal breakages, and it gives you the option of dressing your home in keeping with the theme of your party.
It’s the burning question, isn’t it? Hosting a party at a venue could hike up the costs and adds travel arrangements to the equation, but you also run the risk of discovering a stale canapé in the sofa cushions two weeks later if you bring the festivities into your house.
You’ll know what works for you, but taking the party off-site spares you the toil of washing up and spring cleaning, not to mention dealing with those guests who don’t know when it’s time to leave.
More important than the exact date is the time. Kick off too early and your guests arrive in drips and drabs, getting into the spirit of things at different times. Too late, and the party might run out of steam soon after it’s started. For a night party, 7:00 for 7:30 is a good rule of thumb. Not after-work early, but not what you’d consider a late-night shindig either.
When planning your party months in advance (look at you!), the season is often overlooked, but it could mean the difference between an indoor and an outdoor party, influences your menu, and determines what drinks you’ll serve.
When it comes to the “how”, budget is usually top of mind. Once you know how much you’re willing to drop on your party, you can decide whether you can afford a party planner or organise it yourself, get a chef or caterer, or hire an extra helping hand (or a few) to help with the cooking and washing up.
Another practical consideration is parking. Urge your guests to arrange a taxi if your venue has limited or no parking. If you’ve booked an on-street city venue, consider arranging some security for your guests, especially if they come by car.
Once you’ve drawn up your lists and have your plans in place, the rest will take care of itself. Now you can start having fun!
Find more of my personal hosting tips in JAN the Journal Volume 11