help me make a party a little fun at least
December 26, 2012 11:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm throwing a (potentially awkward) party for about 20 people in my apartment. Mostly couples. Need advice.

My apartment is not so big so 20 people will feel a bit crowded. Most of the couples know each other, some don't and at least two hate each other's guts. The only thing these couples have in common is that they know me. What can I encourage beyond eating and drinking to help ease the awkwardness and help people get on chatting and mingling?
I have a beamer in the living room. Should I beam something? a movie? music videos? ideas are welcome.
I will serve cocktail food and there will be beer and a cocktail station where my husband will mix drinks.
I thought of some board game, but I don't know (my husband hates parties where games are organized by the hosts) what could be appropriate and less awkward.
If you've recently been to a party and there was something great that "made" the party, please let me know.
posted by buck:fuller to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Have music on in a way that people can interact with. Could get messy if you are friends with jerks, but in a normal adult setting people will just queue up songs they like and start talking about music.

If you're doing a reasonably full cocktail bar, have a couple of approachable cocktail recipe books, or an ipod/phone/etc with a cocktail recipe app, that people can look through, and some paper or another way for them to write down their own recipes, maybe made up on the spot.
posted by jacalata at 11:28 PM on December 26, 2012

Apples to apples is the best party game ever. Just leave it set up somewhere and people will self organize a game
posted by spunweb at 11:48 PM on December 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Some will gather in the kitchen, sometimes to the near-crush level. Others in the living room. Hopefully the enemies will sort themselves out into separate rooms, mostly.

Arrange chairs into groups, not along the walls. Along the walls = wallflower = party killer for those who sit there. Set them facing a sofa, in their own "U", whatever.

Spread snack foods (with plates & napkins, if necessary) throughout the small house in 2-3 places, so people won't cluster at the "food hole". Drinks and cups elsewhere; same reason. Soda can be separate from the bar, since people generally know if they want one or the other before they get moving.

20 is too many for board games.

Movies kill parties: either you can't pay enough attention to enjoy them, or the people who do essentially aren't "at" the party at all.

Music, with guest selection, is a good thing.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:48 PM on December 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

What is your seating like? Will people be hanging out in the kitchen?

Please don't organize games for a group of 20 people. That sounds wrong.

Honestly? If the music is good, the booze is good, the food is fabulous, and you've moved out all of the unnecessary furniture (store it in the bedroom or at a neighbor's) PLUS you have some flowers, mood lighting, and some candles going... The party will be a hit!

Oh!! The biggest tip I can give you?

Make sure everything is tasty, but low alcohol. Have plenty of mineral water and such on hand. Prosecco and champagne are low alcohol, especially with a splash of peach or pomegranite juice. Tell your husband to mix cocktails on the light side so that people can imbibe "a lot" without getting trashed too quickly.

While evyone always got on well at the bashes I used to throw back home in NYC, the two times I served a delicious and sneakily alcohol-heavy punch (a white sangria if you must know, with white wine, macerated stone fruit in HEAPS of sugar, Cointreau, & tequila) were the two times absolute dramaz broke out. Don't serve anything like that. Trust me here!
posted by jbenben at 11:50 PM on December 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just to be clear-- not everyone has to play if you set up a board game. Just leave it out and people who want to play will.
posted by spunweb at 11:57 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Question: Why invite two couples who hate each other? Is it possible to invite just one of them?
posted by carolinaherrera at 11:57 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is there a particular occasion this party is celebrating? What are the general ages/interests of your group? Are these close friends or more formal acquaintances?

The best hosts don't just organize, they orchestrate. As soon as someone walks in the door introduce them to whomever you think they would have the most in common with, igniting the conversation between them by introducing their shared interests and them leave them be. Keep an eye out for people who look like they aren't enjoying themselves or who seem shy and facilitate a conversation between them and the person next to them.

The best hosts continuously circulate throughout and help to start conversations among strangers. This doesn't have to happen as a whole group all at once, but if you introduce one person to two other people, who then go on to include that new person in conversations with others they have been introduced to, then by the middle of the evening everyone knows each other.

Don't worry about running interference with the people that hate each other. They are adults, if they can't act like adults, then either don't invite them or pull them aside and suggest that they leave.

But yes, good music is always key. Classic soul is always a good starting place for mixed crowds.
posted by greta simone at 12:01 AM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

You have to play host, and that can go easier with some advance planning. For each person who will be at the party, think of at least five other guests they might get along with, and think of something they have in common that they could use as a conversation topic. Whenever you see someone alone, quickly whisk them into one of your mental pairings and then lob in your conversation starter. "Jeremy, have you met Mathilde? You both collect Serbian pottery!" Etc.
posted by painquale at 3:47 AM on December 27, 2012

Music + food + booze + people = fun.

Make sure your apartment is warm enough, if it's winter where you are. I've definitely left parties because I was freezing my ass off.

Leave out playing cards. People will organize themselves into a game if they want to.

If any of your friends smoke, designate a place where they can smoke. If it's outside, make sure you have a way for them to get back inside.

For the couple that doesn't get along, just keep an eye on them.

Personally I would just let people introduce themselves to each other. Circulate, but you don't need to play social director because you want to have fun, too.
posted by girlmightlive at 5:26 AM on December 27, 2012

We've had good success with getting out a deck of trivia cards like from trivial pursuit, or any of those other talking-type games. Play that stuff later on when people are a bit sauced, and as host you can direct everyone to come play. Even let them know early that it's planned.
posted by ergo at 6:13 AM on December 27, 2012

I think you'll be fine. I don't even think the music's required; food + booze + people suffices; if your crowd is older they may not enjoy talking over music. You can even have a good time with only two of those... OTOH I feel it's nice to have instruments available as there's always somebody who makes good use of them.

I had a very happy party recently where the main (only?) contrived distractions were just a big bar for the grown-ups and gingerbread houses to decorate for the kids (adults tend to drift and 'help' with the houses). I had quite good homemade hot chocolate in a slow cooker and a lot of liqueurs and spirits to mix in to the hot chocolate; that alone is something strangers can work on together and discuss. So was a balsamic jelly and olive tapenade and... Even slightly non-standard food = conversation starter. Don't overthink this; movies are, as stated, party-killers, and a board game on hand might be nice for a few shy folk but do not try to coax people into it.

In re. not getting people too liquoured: there're lots of nice flavoured syrups now; stash some with the booze for 'interesting' non/low-alcohol drinks, especially for the drivers.
posted by kmennie at 8:24 AM on December 27, 2012

I think that having the lighting level just right is a big help in getting people in the mood--bright at the entrance, and then lower in your main space--not dive bar low, but not lit up like a supermarket, either. And the music should be bright and a bit louder than usual at first, so that it "fills up the space" and people have to either get closer together or talk a bit louder than usual, which means that they can't stand at arms distance and mutter. Enlist pals to steer the enemy troops away from each other, and give shy types something to do--like pass chips or help with hot snacks or something. No board games, no movies, although music videos or a slide show on an otherwise blank screen can work. I do roam and introduce people, but only at the beginning. Do you have a place for coats and bags?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:44 AM on December 27, 2012

My sister throws the best grown-up parties! She always uses a theme, much to the success of her parties (and the envy of her non-attending friends watching from the outer limits of Facebook). Last week on the 21st, she threw a party called "Apocapalooza" and it was an Apocalypse/Doomsday-themed party (SOOO much more fun than a Christmas party!).

She had Twinkies (and other Hostess products) at the end of the world. She invited guests to dress as if prepared for Doomsday. Guests arrived in survival gear and gas masks!
She put the movie 2012 on the tv (playing in the background).

She also warned all of the guests not to get too wasted at her party, because no one is safe from YouTube if they start to make a fool of him/herself. This was the best warning ever - no one went over the line, and all she had to do was show them a Youtube video of a previous offender from 2 years ago.

There were no games, a not-too-loud Spotify playlist, not-too-loud guests, and many jokes. ALWAYS invite funny people to a party!
posted by erasorhed at 8:59 AM on December 27, 2012

2nding dividing the space into little conversation nooks rather than one big space. Consider removing some of the non-seating furniture from the main area.

If you want to beam something, it might be nice to beam a slideshow of photos of you with all of these various people — a nice conversation starter and something people can watch without zoning out as they would with a movie.

We've also had success with cheese and chocolate fondues when hosting 20+ people in our small condo. It helps to start conversation between people who don't know each other, because it's more interactive and a bit unusual. (I also recommend social cats and 1–2 toddlers for this purpose, but YMMV.)

Mulled wine is a nice wintery not-incredibly-alcoholic drink. This recipe wins everyone over.
posted by heatherann at 10:00 AM on December 27, 2012

One thing about having a non-pro bartender tend bar is that they're not experienced. It's fun, but they'll do a lot of fumbling and stuff. And then the line for drinks gets long, the bartender gets flustered and stressed, and you end up having to wait for-ev-er for a mudrink. Let alone a second one.

Awkward, when all you want is to take the edge off and get down to socializing, y'know?

So, I would keep the cocktails EXTREMELY simple and have some bottles of wine somewhere away from the cocktail station, where people can help themselves. Preferably in the kitchen, because people like to hang out there.
posted by functionequalsform at 10:09 AM on December 27, 2012

Expect there to be a crowd in the kitchen and a crowd in the other room, and make it easier for this to happen comfortably with bowls of your munchies and dips or whatever in each room.

If your guests who don't like each other get sniffy about the other, just appeal to each (separately) to "c'mon, just take the high road and be the classy ones, go hang out in the other room and you don't even need to look at [other couple.]"
posted by desuetude at 11:15 PM on December 27, 2012

Response by poster: thank y'all for your replies! I read them carefully and the party was a huge, unexpected success.
the kitchen and the living room are connected and as opposed to "parties" of the past, this time I followed your advice and distributed food around the house, set a bar with cocktail ingredients and I let people prepare their own (though most commissioned me or my husband to some classics); house was warm, light was right, music was good. There were no games, but tons of different foods which were the focus: my husband or I passed food around (homemade sushi was a big hit); people chatted and were very mingly and merry; the couple who "hate" each other didn't actually: they sat close by and chatted between them most of the time and seem to enjoy themselves. I owe this success to your replies, which made me a more relaxed and confident hostess. Thank you so much!
posted by buck:fuller at 7:15 AM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

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