Not a tea party, hopefully.
July 26, 2010 4:02 PM   Subscribe

I haven't thrown a party since I graduated last year, and I'm not sure that Cheetos and beer pong will do this time around. How do I make sure that the upcoming get-together I'm hosting is a success?

Attendance: there'll be people from two social circles, my partner's work friends and my work friends, as well as a couple of unaffiliated people. Overall, I'm inviting about 20-25 people. We're all professionals in our mid to late twenties.

Music: my apartment is not particularly small, but it's an open space that is all hardwood and concrete, so it's loud - voices and music get amplified quite a lot. I might buy a rug to absorb some of the sound. Fortunately, the insulation is great, so our neighbors ought to be fine – I could still tape a note to their door. Do people do that?

Space: there's not a whole lot of seating: a sofa and a soft chair, as well as 4 dining chairs and a two-stool bar set on our (large) balcony. There's also a futon in the office (not walled off) and two orphaned bar stools. Will that be a problem?

Drinks: I stock a large variety of good alcohol and mixers (tonic water, sparkling water), and we own a blender that I could utilize to make margaritas. What else should I be aware of?

Food: ???

There won't be any themes or dressing up.

So, Hivemind, what are your tips for a good party? Consider me a newbie; any advice is welcome.
posted by halogen to Society & Culture (40 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
A few bottles of red and a few of white wine will help keep people out of your liquor.

Food that is easy to eat while standing. Bite sized food.

Can you buy some folding chairs?

A rug would be nice and help make the place seem homier. Buzz some music throughout to keep voices more muffled. Warn your neighbors a day ahead of time, let them know to let you know if you're disturbing them if it gets to be too late. Bring them by the leftover wine the next day.

Set up natural congregation points--a bowl of chips here, the wine in buckets of ice there.

Coat rack, or bring them into your bedroom.

Take all the stuff out of your medicine cabinet and stash it somewhere.

Have lots of napkins and paper towels.
posted by Night_owl at 4:10 PM on July 26, 2010

Put on some Roy Ayers as background music as people are arriving. Instant cool.
posted by phunniemee at 4:11 PM on July 26, 2010

I think the trick is engaging people when they come in. I'm all about a hokey activity or two. Try the "make a nametag for the person you came with" activity. Provide markers and name tags from office max and everyone goes to town on little art for their friend to wear all night.

Have some posterboard up that people can draw on. Get a pinata. Have people make their own mini pizzas. I get cheesy with this stuff, but that's also why I am known for the best parties in town.

With Halloween you can bring in a whole host of other fun games/cheesy activities/etc. I usually go to the party store and wander the aisles til I come up with a fun block of things for people to do. They often take on a life of their own, which becomes the story of the party for the next day. Just roll with it.
posted by timpanogos at 4:15 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

For the neighbors, I check in with them in person. I generally think the classy thing to do is invite them (unless it's a total mismatch), which could give you a chance to get to know them, too. I've got a young family next to me now, and I'll definitely be inviting them to the next shindig.

Limited seating is not a bad thing per se. I find that most people stand anyway. If you make sure the seating is far from the food and drinks, it will keep people cycling between sitting and standing, so everyone can get a chance to rest their feet.

I'd skip the blended margaritas--blenders are loud, and you can get trapped in the kitchen making people drinks. I think it's always fun to have one bottle of something your guests might not customarily drink (Fernet, maybe Pernod, Pastis--I drink these almost daily, so YMMV) OR to have a signature drink for the night--like a pitcher of, say, Aviators (yum!) or some sort of rum punch.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:16 PM on July 26, 2010

the most glaring oversight I've encountered at far too many parties is lack of/insufficient ice! seems like such an obvious thing, right?

be sure you have plenty of ice for drinks on hand!! your guests will be pleased.
have fun!
posted by supermedusa at 4:20 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

There is no better party music in the world than The In Sound From Way Out! The only problem with it is that it doesn't last long enough to cover a whole party.
posted by jeoc at 4:29 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Buy more non-liquor beverages (I'm thinking of beer in particular; wine too) than you think you'll need.

It is far far far better to have extra beer left over than the alternative: you run out and have tipsy-to-moderately-drunk beer-drinking guests not ready to end the evening who start laying into whatever liquor is left. This is a recipe for disaster. Mixers will likely also be depleted, which leads to shots of schnapps and Cointreau. Not only is this a poor use of liquor, economically speaking, but everyone will be much more miserable in the long run, especially you.

Or maybe this was just my first few parties before I learned better...
posted by supercres at 4:30 PM on July 26, 2010

Booze, food, and a place for the smokers to smoke.
posted by mckenney at 4:37 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also: it might go without saying, but try to exert control on your guests as little as possible. Instead of worriedly telling a tipsy acquaintance, "Please don't touch that-- it's fragile!", just remove the opportunity beforehand and put it out of reach. Same with food or drink; if you don't want it eaten or drunk, don't make it accessible. Instead of reacting to something that makes you tense up, be proactive and make sure it can't happen.

(This relates to my previous comment in that it would've been a giant buzzkill to pry shotglasses and cooking brandy away from my guests. Much more so, at any rate, than just making sure it doesn't/doesn't need to happen in the first place.)

In short, relax. People -- especially tipsy people under 30 -- are going to do what they're going to do. If you do plan activities, don't stress if people are/aren't taking part, or are doing them "wrong". As someone said upthread, roll with it. And just because you're the host doesn't mean you can't/shouldn't enjoy yourself.

(Obvious caveat: a hands-off attitude of course doesn't apply if someone is making another guest actively uncomfortable. Yelling and conflict always spoils the mood of a party more than a quiet-but-firm aside, naturally.)
posted by supercres at 4:47 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Night-owl: Take all the stuff out of your medicine cabinet and stash it somewhere.

I second that. People are sometimes not at their best when alcohol is being served.

With respect to phunniemee, for your crowd you might consider dogglounge for early background. Deep house sets a party tone, but maybe that's just me.

Whatever you do for food, make it minimally labor-intensive, so that you aren't chained to the kitchen, unable to mingle.

Again, this may just be me, but shove a drink in my hand when I arrive and I'm engaged. Which is to suggest, don't over-structure things.

Finally--I hope this doesn't sound crass--good parties feature plentiful booze. If you're on a budget, by all means indicate that guests are welcome to bring their own beverages. They'll understand and act according to their interests. (Have ice or fridge space available.)

Oh, I almost forgot. If memory serves, Fifties hostess with the mostest, Elsa Maxwell, recommends that you "press every table into service." I'm not sure why, but there you go.

Related, a question like yours all but demands party recipes, so allow me to suggest a crowd favorite: Spam Crown Roast.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:48 PM on July 26, 2010

If you're going to provide beer-level alcohol (as opposed to liquor-level alcohol), please be kind and get some non-beer stuff (Mike's Hard Lemonade, Twisted Tea, Smirnoff Ice) too. Some of your guests might not like beer and might feel left out.
posted by Lucinda at 4:54 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Cheap but decent wine is always a great addition to any party. If you're hosting it soon and you live in the northern hemisphere, I suggest white. You probably don't need to pay more than $8-10 per bottle. IMHO your best bets are Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand = More Affordable), Vinho Verde, or Gruner Veltliner. I like white wine sangrias a lot, but not everyone does.

A good friend of mine who has been "entertaining" a lot lately is in the habit of making a big pitcher of cucumber water - just seltzer or even tap water with thin sliced cucumbers and ice, but it's delicious and seems like you went to some trouble to prepare a special beverage.

If you do beer, get something a little nicer than Bud Lite and Heineken. That will make your party "classy" as opposed to "undergrad throwback". Bottles, not cans.

Food - for 20+ people, a full dinner party is probably not on the table (pun!). I'd do simple munchies like chips + salsa, hummus with crudite or pita chips or whatev, olives, cheese and bread, maybe some simple tapas-ish things if you are an ambitious cook. The more you can buy pre-prepared and ready to go, the better.

Seating - Unless you are having some seriously dignified grownups, I wouldn't worry too much about this. If you really expect 20+ people to come, there will be a lot of standing around in clusters and chatting, anyway.

Music - if you use iTunes, use the Genius feature to create a playlist of subtle background-ish music. Ideally you want something generally tasteful, but where, occasionally, if someone pauses to listen, they'll catch something odd and quirky. French pop of the 60's is hipster-approved "odd and quirky" these days. Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy, etc. Delete anything creepy/perverted (for instance "Lemon Incest"). Obviously this won't work if your friends aren't the "ironic retro French pop" sort of people - in that case, play whatever you generally listen to, but nothing too loud or assertive.
posted by Sara C. at 4:57 PM on July 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

Think about the last really good parties you've been to, and figure out what made them so great. Make sure to add those ideas/items in to your party. Also, conversely, think about parties that have sucked- why? Make sure those don't happen.

I agree with short attention sp in making sure that anything you do cook can be cooked the day before and served room temperature or cold.

Have a round of mojitos ready to go for people when they come in. Just one a piece, but it sets a great tone for the rest of the night, as mojitos are truly the best drink there is.
posted by TheBones at 5:01 PM on July 26, 2010

grr, there was supposed to be a sentence in there about how sangria would be a good idea. whoops.
posted by Sara C. at 5:02 PM on July 26, 2010

Ooh! Ginger beer in your fridge, for people who don't want to/can't drink. Abundant supply of cold, filtered water is good, too, but sometimes people want something with a tasty flavor.
posted by Night_owl at 5:07 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

I want to go to a Sara C. party.

And she speaks truth about Portuguese Vinho Verde being a good, cheap, sipping wine. You won't find them in grocery stores, but in a decent wine place you should find Casal Garcia or Aveleda for, like, seven bucks a bottle. Serve cold. Perfect for summer. (The trade off: they don't keep. At all.)
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:11 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Invite the neighbors. I cannot stress this enough! If it's obviously a mismatch, they probably won't come anyway, but at least they'll have a heads-up and be able to make plans to be away that night if they are noise-sensitive old farts like myself :)
posted by chez shoes at 5:18 PM on July 26, 2010

Awww, you're just saying that because I wrote "crudite".
posted by Sara C. at 5:20 PM on July 26, 2010

As someone who can feel intimidated by parties where I know few people, I would encourage you to make sure when guests arrive, that they get introduced to at least one person they don't know--especially the unaffiliated ones. It's also good to stir the party every so often if it looks like it's clumping up into two camps with a couple little lost lambs in the middle.

For food, make sure right away when people arrive there are plenty of starchy, lipid-y finger foods available--hummus with toasted pita points, mini quiches (look for ready-made in the frozen section of your grocery store), baked brie en croute (top a kilo wheel of brie with chutney or jam/nuts, wrap in ready-made puff pastry, seal shut with egg wash, bake until crispy on the outside and gooey inside) with water crackers or French bread slices, pinwheel sandwiches--like a wrap, but sliced into one-inch segments (go heavy on the cream cheese spread to hold it together).

There are lots of really easy-to-make appetizers--askmetafilter has a number of threads full of them, or look for recipes online, or snag a book of appetizers from any local bookstore. You can either mix and match appetizers or go with a theme--mezze plate: hummus and pita, feta, kalamata olives, eggplant relish. French: baked brie, pate, cornichons, mini quiche. Tex-Mex: mini burritos, salsa with corn chips, cheesy corn muffins with jalapeno jelly. The theme can suggest what booze you choose to serve. Distribute said food in several places to help the party spread out.
posted by miss patrish at 5:31 PM on July 26, 2010

I'm aware that I'm repeating some advice, but here goes:

Buy enough ice. No, buy too much ice. Buy ice until half of your freezer is full. If this means you have no room to store your super-chilled vodka or your lazy-host frozen appetizers, then buy your ice half an hour before the party starts and put it straight into coolers.

Trash cans / recycling bins. Where are all of those beer bottles going to go? Ideally, your guests know what to do with their cups and plates without asking you repeatedly. Otherwise, answering mundane questions like this can take up a lot of your time.

Relatedly, is it obvious what to do with your shoes (if those have to be taken off; I'm guessing no for hardwood)? What about coats and handbags? Where's the bathroom?

If you're going to play music or have some other running entertainment, make sure it's totally hands-off on your part. You have options beyond iTunes; programs like Virtual DJ can sort by BPM so that the songs blend together more seamlessly.

Is it going to get too hot during the party? Is it going to be hot and loud at the same time? Opening the windows can really compromise the extent that your apartment is soundproof to your neighbors.
posted by tantivy at 5:32 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Music: all the stuff recommended above, plus just about any down-tempo electronica. Some hard-bop jazz if you want to show off (don't).

Food: Lots of finger foods/apps. You don't have to get all fancy here-- chips & dips, crackers, cheese, perpperoni, sliced fruit, plus some warm apps will do (do not underestimate the pull of pigs in a blanket, even to the most sophisticated of palettes-- a quick walk through the frozen food aisle is all you need). You may want to make a big ol' thing of mac & cheese for later in the evening if people have been over-served and are now ravenous.

Beverages: n-thing lots of ice. Keep a couple of coolers stashed away with fresh ice in them. As far as liquors go, put away the good stuff. Lower-tier booze is fine for mixed drinks. Any guests who drink high end liquor on the rocks/ straight up should be adult enough to have a go-to mixed drink just for occasions like this. If you have a large number of guests who drink martinis and cosmos, etc., you're better off making that stuff by the pitcher. Tonic & Selzter, cranberry/pomegranate juices. Keep some soda on hand (diet, regular and lemon-lime), preferably in cans/small bottles.

Activities: Keep these discrete and opt-outable. Leave out a set of Apples to Apples cards, trivia cards/books or Zobmondo at different tables. Let the guests find them and play them in small groups. Nobody likes mandatory fun. I would rule drinking games in general, but if you must, stay away from prop-driven games (LEAVE. THE. BEER. PONG. BACK, IN COLLEGE!!!). Instead focus on mental/verbal games.

Supplies: make it easy on yourself for clean-up. Disposable clear cups for drinks, plastic silverware, paper plates and napkins. Also make sure you have enough garbage bags and paper towels handy.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:37 PM on July 26, 2010

baked brie en croute (top a kilo wheel of brie with chutney or jam/nuts, wrap in ready-made puff pastry, seal shut with egg wash, bake until crispy on the outside and gooey inside)

You don't even have to do the puff pastry and it's still drool inducing. Best ever is a wheel of brie, straight up, left on the hearth of a fireplace or on the edge of a firepit until gooey (I'm sure there's a way to achieve this in the oven, too). Served with green apple slices.
posted by Sara C. at 6:04 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you have a big TV, leave it off (unless you have a console for it and people ask to play it). It's a huge distraction.

If you use disposable cups, leave sharpies around for people to tag them. If you're setting out wineglasses, think of tags or something - I've seen people use different resistors/capacitors/whatever and twist the wire stems around the stem of the wineglass.

Games: pictionary or trivia games. Maybe set it up as your spouse's coworkers vs. yours. Whoever wins, the opposite spouse has to buy the winners lunch. Those who don't participate don't get free lunch.
posted by porpoise at 6:06 PM on July 26, 2010

Re activities: unless it is specifically German Board Game Nite and/or your friends are teetotalers, leave that stuff in the closet. Several of guests got annoyed when I waited till late in the party to suggest a complicated board game. I believe the evening quickly descended into people throwing Trivial Pursuit cards at each other (thankfully it was my old 1982 edition where all the questions were hopelessly out of date).
posted by Sara C. at 6:09 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Trader Joe's carries a wide variety of frozen appetizers. All the ones I've tried (many!) have been delicious. Fifteen minutes or so in the oven and you're good to go.
posted by rtha at 6:11 PM on July 26, 2010

Depending on the guests involved, you could probably go two routes, "casual" or "grown-up" and once you've made that choice, it's pretty easy.

Casual would be beer, snacks along the chips, dip, crackers and cheese line. It's pretty simple to do, and again, ice. You could put a bucket of ice and beer by the food (or even the bathtub, as long as you clean your bathroom. I guess it's pretty clear I think you should do the grown-up thing.

Grown-up would be a table of drinks, a couple varieties of red and white (keeping the white cool/on ice, good idea) and a punch bowl of something. Sangria was mentioned before. Homemade lemonade would be another good option, made better by having a bottle of decent vodka (say, Skyy, since it looks nice, tastes nice, and isn't too expensive/cheap) available for those who'd like the perfect drink. As mentioned before, food could be hummus (easily bought, or easily made) with pita, baby carrots/mixed veggie plate with some sort of dip. I've mentioned rujak in a couple threads before. It's definitely not what people expect, but it is delicious. Thinly sliced bits of jamon serrano, chorizo, and salami are a mile above cocktail wieners. You could even go with a couple spanish omelets, cut into small portions, for people who want a little more substance.

Make sure, whatever you do, you've got plates, napkins, and cutlery for everyone (and extras for people who lose theirs). Definitely get a rug, or even some wall hangings that might muffle sound. As for music, play music you like, but not music that'll kill conversation. And definitely talk to your neighbors. Notes on the door might be done, but they send a pretty negative message, to me at least, saying that you want to let them know, but don't actually feel it's worth the trouble to talk to them. Since you're neighbors, you should try to be polite (good neighbors are a lot less painful than bad neighbors), which means invite them, but don't push. Maybe they'll come, maybe they won't, but you'll definitely score some brownie points by making the effort.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:37 PM on July 26, 2010

A rug or two (even cheap bamboo or sisal mats) will deaden echo-y noise. Tack down the edges. Having even a few framed pictures on your walls does wonders.

If you can invest the money a nice set of even four folding chairs (comfy ones- nice fabric seats, etc) always come in handy a few times a year anyway and are worth it over the long run.

Lots of non-alcoholic drinks! Have some frozen stuff socked away in case you run short esp. if it is hot out. Have fun and remember there's always someone willing to help refill bowls, mix frozen drinks, etc.
posted by variella at 7:52 PM on July 26, 2010

To add the the many good suggestions here already... 20-25 people is where "flow" starts to matter. Look at the space and imagine how people will move in it, where they will bunch up, which areas may be underused, how the space and seating will form different areas, and so on. Admiral Haddock touched on this when he mentioned keeping seating and food away from one another. Look at other bottlenecks, too: Is there a hallway near the bathroom? Don't put anything interesting there or traffic jams will build up.

Consider putting food and drink in different locations, or beer and liquor in different locations. Also, for some reason the party is always pulled towards the kitchen, which can be a hassle when you need to take something out of the oven or grab a bag of ice and there are 12 people packed where you need to be. For this reason I'm a believer in keeping food and drink away from the kitchen so it is not a desirable place for people to linger. Similarly, if there is only one trash can it should be somewhere else.

It's nice to have paper towels out somewhere so your guests can wipe up small messes without bothering the host, too. If there will be lots of beer bottles, have a place for them to go.

If people are talking loudly on your balcony late at night, be mindful of your neighbors--the sound can really carry, and it's warm out so their windows are probably open. Also, please situate the designated smoking area away from your neighbors' bedroom windows! I smoke but I loathe the smell wafting in; it's not too much to ask your smoking guests to walk out to the sidewalk if the smoke will bother your neighbors otherwise.

That's all I got. Have fun!
posted by kprincehouse at 7:52 PM on July 26, 2010

Oh, regarding ice? Make it fresh. Or buy, whatever- odd tasting ice can ruin a drink. Bacon-wrapped 'scallops' aka water chestnuts are always a hit. As mentioned above, pigs in blanket are always good- people will comment on them if nothing else. They're excellent with jalepeno jelly as a ketchup alternative.
posted by variella at 8:01 PM on July 26, 2010

Nthing the non-alcoholic option. You don't know for sure about people's medical, religious, and psychological status (plus, 20 guests = at least four or five designated drivers, right?) As a Mormon I personally dig lemonade at summer parties, because other people will drink it, too; this would not have helped my diabetic grandma. Have nice water, if nothing else, just in case. Remember that "non-alcoholic" beer is only mostly non-alcoholic.

At the parties I've been to, tiny sausages in barbecue sauce always disappear the fastest. I hate the things, so I have no idea why. People also like cookies.

Do not force fun, as someone up there said. Make sure people are introduced, and remember that one of your hostly responsibilities is to wander around making sure people are happy and comfortable. With 20 people, odds are someone is an introvert who might not mind an introduction or three but will hate playing Apples to Apples with strangers (actually, odds are four or five are introverts, but hey.)
posted by SMPA at 4:23 AM on July 27, 2010

Ooh, is this the part where we post recipes for party munchies? I have two that will earn you the love and respect of your peers. Or at least make them more likely to come back to your next gathering.

Buffalo chicken dip

2 chicken breasts
5 oz hot sauce (I use Frank's; you may have a better local one. Not too hot, unless you know your guests are really into it)
8 oz cream cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Boil the chicken breasts. Yes, I know that's counter to every piece of culinary advice you've ever received. Trust me on this. 8-12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meat, and if you have to cut it in half to check that it's done, no problem, they're going to get chopped up in just a minute anyway. Try not to overcook them and dry them out, but things happen during party prep and it won't make a huge difference.

Take your boiled chicken breasts, and toss them in the food processor. Ten seconds at the lowest setting, and you now have shredded chicken that is still very hot. To this, add the two cheeses and the hot sauce. Stir until the cheese melts in and it's all sort of one texture with a few lumpy bits left. Dump the bowl into a 9x9 glass casserole. Cook at 350 for 15 minutes, or until the top starts to brown. Serve hot with corn chips.

Next, pick your favorite recipe from the jalapeno poppers thread from last week. I used this one. I have never gotten such good feedback from a recipe. The writer is spot-on: make three times as many of these you think you will need, or they will disappear in seconds. If you have spicy food lovers in attendance, make two batches: for the first, use just the cheese mixture. For the second, add about a quarter of the seeds you removed from the full set of peppers back into the remaining cheese mixture. Wear gloves. Label your plates accordingly, with a big skull and crossbones. Even at only 1/4 strength, these suckers will burn like the fires of hell, but are the most delicious things known to man.
posted by Mayor West at 4:33 AM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

People will hate me for this, but I'm actually a huge proponent of beer pong no matter what age. I know everyone seems to view it as the epitome of a Big Wild Frat Party, but there are ways to tone it down, like using nicer beer and not filling the cups up not nearly as much. It's a great way to get people to mix and socialize, signing up with different partners and playing different teams. And gives people something to do if they aren't sitting and chatting, standing and chatting, or awkwardly standing around by the chips and dip.

I just graduated too, and I still see beer pong at most parties in my age range (21-25). Also, people a little bit older (early 30's) seem to get a real kick out of learning it, in an "oh man I miss college" sort of way. But in conclusion beer pong can be fun and does not have to equal everyone getting shitfaced.
posted by windbox at 4:58 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you do decide to get some beer, stay away from "beer pong beer", i.e., Natty Light and its cousins. Since its summer, I'd pick up some hefeweizens (Flying Dog makes a good one) and some IPAs. If you can find a decent cream ale, get one of those too.
posted by King Bee at 5:00 AM on July 27, 2010

Provide one hearty vegetarian/vegan option (that is not salad) and mark it. It shows a lot of respect and foresight on your part, and goes a long way with the folks who need it.
posted by jander03 at 5:44 AM on July 27, 2010

oh, and n-thing picking drinks for the season.

Heffeweizens, sangria, light beers in summer

stouts, spiced cider or hot chocolate (spiked), heavier beers in winter

Really, provide whatever you want, but it's nice to have one signature drink for the night, and why not pick one that goes well with the weather?
posted by jander03 at 5:47 AM on July 27, 2010

I will just attack the role you should play as host.

1) When people come over, explain general housekeeping issues, i.e. There is the bathroom, If your too drunk sleep on my floor, Smoke out back, etc.

2) Keep the drinks flowing. Ask people "Would you like the other half?" while pointing to their empty drink. This will get you moving around the party and you can facilitate conversations / introductions, etc. If they turn you down, tell them where they can find additional drinks if they are in self-service mode. Don't be frantic though. Be the coolest god-damn half-drunk waiter you have ever seen. Which brings me to my next point...

3) Don't get too drunk. You need to make sure everyone is taken care, stays safe, can find their keys, jackets, shoes, whatnot.

4) While your pouring and distributing drinks, clean up. Make sh*t disappear. Again, be cool about it. I usually make it some kind of game where I see how many people I can talk with while pouring drinks, and cleaning up.

5) You have to seek out boredom and correct it. This is a tough role to fill but it will ensure a successful party. Find the wallflowers and stalled conversations and entertain them. If one guy is sitting alone, you need to give him some special attention. Or at least get something in his hands to keep him entertained. Make connections with people and things. Get people lubricated with booze. Get people talking or playing or fighting or something.....
posted by jasondigitized at 9:04 AM on July 27, 2010

More lemons and/or limes and ice than you think you'll need

Smartly designed space flow, yes--imagine where you want your guests to wander and perch and congregate in small clusters and make those areas as inviting and inclusive as possible beforehand. Personally, I recommend multiple more intimate pockets, nooks, crannies, so people can flit from group to group as opposed to one or two big monolithic table spaces where people on the ends get left out of conversations and don't have anywhere else they can go to talk.

Lockdown/hide any fragile or precious items beforehand to avoid stressful awkward moments, yes. People will sense tenseness on your part, so do as much as possible BEFORE the party to make stress a non-issue. Ina Garten mentions this all the time--it is better to burn a roast and shrug and order pizza and still be cheerful than flip out privately about it in the kitchen making the entire party uncomfortable. No matter what goes wrong, stay calm and cool as a cucumber, because being stressed will make it much, much worse. Just laugh things off whenever possible. I wish I had known and followed this advice at my wedding, because looking back I think my stress really showed and made it not as great as it could've been for my guests, alas.

Have a lockable room (usually your bedroom) you could go to privately if you need to take a stress break during the party or need a place of peace and quiet for an important phone call, etc.

Figure out your hours and how to make things conform comfortably to said hours--if you only want your party to go on until 9pm or something, make that explicit beforehand somehow even if it involves a white lie/excuse on the invitation about plans you have afterward or something, or some other smooth segue/cues when the party should be winding down

One go-to place for people's coats/purses

Yes, a place for people to smoke

Yes, clear it with your neighbors and yes, the best way is to invite them

If you're finicky about your furniture/water rings/whatever, put down protective table cloths or have cheap but effective coasters everywhere, etc. If you want people to keep your place fairly tidy, make it easy, is what I'm saying

This depends on the social group, but a lot of grown up parties I've been to still manage to have clusters of people who end up playing a board game or card game or something. This happens because the hosts leave games in the line of vision without being in the way. Depends on the kind of party and your social circle, but tipsy Scrabble can be a lot of fun, with people watching and rooting for different players, etc.

Something non-alcoholic but still sophisticated or inviting for DDs and other nondrinkers so they don't feel relegated to being kids. Rosemary iced tea, virgin gimlets, whatever.

I agree about not focusing on drinks that are prep-blender-heavy, but I've been to parties where that stuff was available for people who just HAD to have a pina colada or whatever, just, they'd make it themselves at their discretion. Old fashioned less fussy prep drinks and/or pitchers of things beforehand, yes.

If you have music, don't make it super loud. That's one of my biggest complaints at some parties we go to--you want it as background, not getting in the way of people's conversations

If there is food you should think through logistics, a lot of people don't go all the way here--not only in terms of food that keeps fine room temp or whatever, but food that can be replenished seamlessly, that is portable and not messy/too liquid-spilly, that doesn't require utensils, that doesn't end in leftover garbage (skewers, bones, pits, etc. unless you have a spot for them afterward), etc.
posted by ifjuly at 11:18 AM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

What tantivy said re: ice. That's what I always forget at parties; my fiancé's saved me on at least two occasions by going out once the party already started to get ice. He'll never forget this exchange he had with a mutual friend of ours just after the start of one of my, ah, parties:

Fiancé: So how're you doin'?
Friend: [Pauses, gives him a mournful look] "I'm drinking a Malibu and Coke......with no ice."

Fortunately, the insulation is great, so our neighbors ought to be fine – I could still tape a note to their door. Do people do that?

Yes, they do! (Or at least, I do, and my former roommate did.) We used to type up a quick summary in Word noting the date/time of the party, what the theme was, and that they're invited—as well as asking them if they had any potential conflicts with the party that we should know about, e.g., an early wake time, a job interview early the next day, etc.—and then print it out and slip it under the neighbors' doors. It's just the nice thing to do, and could help you get to know your neighbors better if they do take you up on the invitation—and it ensures that even if the insulation fails to muffle all sound, your neighbors know what's going on and won't call the cops on you. (And that you have plausible deniability if they they find some reason to call you out for having the party, like, "Hey, we submitted this for comment, and no one in the building told us they had a conflict, so...")

I live in an apartment with a "quiet building policy," though, so going to those lengths may be overkill if you don't; then again, as I said, it's just nice and polite to do so.

Also, have music going before people walk in—and give guests the option (within parameters; set up a few playlists for them to go through) to change the song or playlist via your MP3 player or laptop.

Oh, and re: games: Apples to Apples, hands down, is a great conversation starter, and especially fun with larger groups.

Also, yes to what people said earlier in the thread re: making your space as people-friendly as possible beforehand, so you don't need to get all uptight about who forgot a coaster under their drink and who's putting their feet up on the tan ottoman and whose elbow's endangering the decorative vase and oh no, that lamp is a bit of a fire hazard, just decorative, don't turn it on. (God, my space is high-maintenance...)
posted by limeonaire at 5:01 PM on July 27, 2010

I almost forgot!

Wine Away will get rid of red wine stains like magic, but it's also worked on every other visible stain that our guests have left behind.
posted by tantivy at 7:59 AM on July 28, 2010

Response by poster: Party was a success, other than the fact that only about 15 people showed up. Flakes. Oh well, we're still trying to go through all the alcohol and beer I purchased. I had way, way too much of everything, but that's still the better option, I guess.

I didn't put ice in the bathtub, but I picked up a giant ice bucket that I will probably use once a year and currently holds our baseballs. It came in very handy for chilling all the beer and white wine. We stocked several bags of ice in the freezer.

Guests were welcome to mix their own drinks; the college kids I invited immediately went after the most expensive scotch we had and were totally giddy over it (I have no problem with it, just mentioning it for future reference). The people whose tastes I specifically tried to accommodate didn't show up. Everything other than wine was served in plastic cups.

I had the wine purchaser at a local store pick about a dozen wine bottles in a reasonable price range (sub-$10) and ended up with some fantastic selections that we still get to enjoy at dinner (I believe just a couple of people at the party drank wine). I've learned from the experience that it is totally worth it to ask for his advice!

Food served included an unnecessarily large selection of local and imported cheeses, cut into very small cubes (Mom had just been to some sort of upscale event and suggested that), a variety of crackers and breadsticks, and an overly gigantic fruit salad with seasonal selections. I also served plain strawberries that people ended up loving. Overall, the food was a hit and appropriate for a 9 pm event – even the vegans complained about how tempted they were to eat the cheese. It also took less than an hour to prepare and serve.

Music was inobtrusive until a tipsy guest got hold of the Pandora channel and started playing obnoxious crap.

Games and other planned activities (I'm generally against forcing anything on guests) thankfully proved to be entirely unnecessary. In retrospect, beer pong would have been nice at some point.

Many thanks to everyone who offered advice!

The Office reference: upon checking out with a couple of cases of various liquors, I quoted Michael Scott's "All right, you’re the expert. Tell me, is this enough to get 20 people plastered?". The liquor store cashier got it. That alone was worth it.
posted by halogen at 2:16 PM on September 21, 2010

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