how do I help guests have fun at my parties?
December 15, 2019 2:29 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to know what helps you have fun at chill parties in people's homes. I often feel like I'm doing party hosting wrong, and I'm looking for ideas on what it is I'm missing. When you're a guest at a party, what helps you have fun?

Some relevant details:

* most of my friends don't drink alcohol or smoke pot; we try to have a few interesting NA beverages on hand (success has varied; at our last gathering I did one NA mixer to three alcoholic ones and I should have done it the other way around), plus beer (the hosts like it!)
* guest contingent is usually somewhere between four people at the low end and ten at the high end, with occasional groups of ~15 for particularly well-attended parties
* our parties are usually late afternoon/early evening affairs
* we usually have some kind of stewlike thing for folks to eat and sometimes a baked sweet thing as well
* we have a pretty social cat; we clean the house and change furnace filters before folks arrive and have allergy meds on hand, but don't sequester her away from people unless they ask us to
* two adults who host parties jointly live here, nobody else (except the cat)
* usually MeFites are a sizable minority or a majority of the guests
* we don't have air conditioning and have canceled parties or moved them to the basement in summer. We keep the house at about 68F (~20C) when people are over in the winter.
posted by yomimono to Human Relations (19 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Potlucks make for easy convo
posted by oceanjesse at 2:52 PM on December 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

I host and attend a lot of small house parties of the size you're describing and I think it helps to have a range of things that signal it's a party. For me, this includes:

A variety of tasty beverages that people can try, chat about, and that feel more festive than normal beverages (we do mostly beer but you can do mocktails and setzer mixers and stuff
Music at a volume that you can hear it but it doesn't impede conversation
Food that feels a little festive and special (doesn't have to be fancy, cheese plates and veggies and dip are good, if you stick with stew maybe a variety of toppings?)
Low lights and candles/Christmas lights if you have them
We often put some cool-looking non-narrative film on the TV, like weirdo animation or pretty Earth documentaries, that gives people something to look at/chat about but doesn't require you to pay attention

You can also do get togethers that are activity-based, like board games or movie nights, but for regular get togethers I find the above helps to get people in a party mood.
posted by LeeLanded at 3:00 PM on December 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

I like it when the host tries to foster connections between people, makes introductions and gives reasons for them to talk to each other.
posted by corb at 3:21 PM on December 15, 2019 [11 favorites]

I’m the awkward introvert friend who only goes to about one out of twenty parties I’m invited to so I may or may not be your target, but if you have any friends like me, giving us a task can be really helpful. Let me be in charge of keeping platters filled, or let me come over early and help set up before everyone else turns up, and I’ll be a lot more relaxed.

Multiple areas are great, as are low key conversation topics like the documentaries noted above, or your circulating cat.
posted by Stacey at 3:24 PM on December 15, 2019 [22 favorites]

What makes you think that your guests may not be enjoying themselves, or that you might be missing something? That might help with the suggestions.
posted by tinydancer at 3:54 PM on December 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Is there some reason you think you're doing things wrong? I host a fair amount of events (from small "let's have a fancy dinner we cooked" to "Everyone come over whenever and there will be stuff happening") and a few things seem to be helpful from my vantage point, especially at parties a lot of MeFites go to....

- let people know how/where to park before they get there and if there is more than one door,make it clear which door is the best entry door.
- agree on the "have a few places people can congregate" thing
- either have everything all out in the open obviously, or be very doting on people "Have everything you need?" because no one wants to not have a napkin but also not know where to find them
- super well-stocked and good smelling bathrooms with doors that lock
- extra drinks like water or seltzers for people who really like to have a drink in their hand but don't drink alcohol. Easy to find ice and extra cups/glasses
- clear indications where trash/recycling go and no fussing over people who put recycling in the trash. Your basic job is to make people feel at ease which can sometimes mean not making it obvious that you may be uneasy. Don't fuss if someone puts something in the wrong place generally, try to be gracious with whatever people are up to, thanks them for coming etc.
- I'm a big fan of music (not so loud that people have to raise their voices unless it's that kind of party) and agree that having something nice and interesting to stare at thing on the TV (volume off) can be good for folks who just want to not interact with people for a while but still be in the area
- give everyone the wifi password or have it prominent somewhere
- slightly lower than usual lights with nice accent lights in places
- clearly marked foods if you have people with dietary requirements
- do not talk about how much you had to clean the house, how much the house may not be clean, or how much work you did for the party, be very "Oh thank you" when people say nice things about your place/food/neighborhood.dessert
- have some ready jobs to give people (as Stacey said, above)
- Especially with MeFites or people who may not know each other's names (as opposed to handles) I try to use people's names often, not to be weird about it but just to be like "Hey this guy is Mark, that person is Rae" etc.
posted by jessamyn at 4:04 PM on December 15, 2019 [16 favorites]

In many cases, it's all in the guest list. Getting people some of whom know each other and some who don't. All are sufficiently extroverted to make the party happen by themselves. Don't be too formal. Invite folks to do things. But it's the guest list that makes a party. Not the booze, not the food, not the decorations or the architecture. IMHO.
posted by tmdonahue at 4:28 PM on December 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

If people ask if they can bring something, say yes. I used to be all "I'm the host and I will provide everything" but I've come to see that many guests want to be engaged in the party. Coming to the door with something to offer gives them a sense of purpose, a place to go, and something to talk about with other guests.

Now when I throw a party I keep a couple non-crucial but helpful things in mind that guests could bring -- say, an interesting cheese, a bag of potato chips, some cookies, a bag of ice, a six-pack of seltzer water, a salad, whatever. That way when someone asks "Is there anything I can bring?", I have an easy "You know what would be great? ...." suggestion. (Some guests offer to bring something specific, and unless it creates a problem with my own plans, I really try to say yes or nudge them in a more helpful direction.)

If it's a guest that I think doesn't really have his or heart in it, I say, "You don't need to bring anything, but if you'd like to contribute a bottle of wine, I'd love to discover something new." But in my experience people who offer to bring something really mean it.
posted by woot at 6:11 PM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice above! Wanted to add that having a firepit can make for great conversation if that's available where you are. Sitting around the fire, watching it glow and having drinks and snacks is a fun activity with groups of 4-10.

I also like get-togethers where there is an activity, like cookie decorating for Christmas or sushi-rolling where guests could create their own sushi rolls. I like how an activity like this adds structure to the party, like, if you have pizza dough and people help make the pizza, there's the activity of working together to make the pizza, the downtime while it's in the oven where you can have a drink/snack/converse, and then sit down as casually or formally as you like to eat the pizza when it's done.
posted by shortyJBot at 6:14 PM on December 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

You need some games! Something with easy rules and can be played by 1-however many people, like Munchkin for example. You could also get a good puzzle if you have a card table and a place to set it up. People might feel a little on the spot at a party, and want an ice-breaker or something to occupy their attention while everyone warms up their social muscles.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:15 PM on December 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is the nuclear option, but I recently read "The Art of Gathering" by Priya Parker (she also has a Ted talk) and I learned so much about the, uh, art of gathering! The book was kind of empowering in that I realized that great hosting is not actually that effortless even for the people who seem like natural, breezy hosts.
posted by athirstforsalt at 8:21 PM on December 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

Avoid using the overhead lights! Parties feel nicer when lit by many smaller light sources- ideally placed below eye level and not shining in anyone's eyes- rather than the cold, sterile, unflattering glare of light that comes from overhead lights. When possible, also, use incandescent or halogen bulbs, rather than LED or fluorescent bulbs, to light your parties. Visual warmth makes people feel cozy!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:20 PM on December 15, 2019 [8 favorites]

Nthing a puzzle table/area!! A puzzle is the perfect thing to have available at a social gathering where there are lots of different types of people. You can be social and do a thing at the same time. And there's such a nice sense of small-scale accomplishment when you solve a puzzle. It allows for a really nice degree of interaction with far less pressure than ordinary small talk.

An interesting puzzle topic is a great conversational springboard. Recently at Thanksgiving, we did a puzzle that was an image of "great books in literature" or something like that; everyone talked about the books, whether they'd read them, other books by the same authors, etc. While doing the puzzle, people can come and go, do a few pieces and move on; you don't have to sit and commit to only doing the puzzle. But if you want to- great!

It's really the ideal "activity corner" at a gathering, to help offer a place to hang out for those who don't want to simply sit and drink/eat and talk, for whatever reason. It actually gives you something to talk about, which in itself is a huge deal for anyone who's perhaps less socially oriented and gets anxiety about parties.

Of course then you have to decide which level of puzzle to get. We've found that a 300-piece puzzle, with a nicely defined image is great for a typical social event as you are describing. Not too simple that it gets solved instantly; not so difficult that everyone gets frustrated and gives up.

Maybe have 2-3 options? Have "bring a puzzle" be one of the things guests are asked to bring? Anyway- YMMV but I've been really happy with puzzles at parties being a great icebreaker/activity/conversation started for all sorts of people.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 1:25 AM on December 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

A theme! Even if the theme is "puzzles" or "wear a cool t-shirt" or "we're going to watch a Star War", I find that the added element gives (1) a discussion item that everyone can have with each other person and (2) a thing to do in the party. Make these as low key as possible: everyone bring a favorite bag of chips, or a card game, or a zero-dollar white elephant gift.
posted by sleeping bear at 11:28 AM on December 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Response by poster:
What makes you think that your guests may not be enjoying themselves, or that you might be missing something? That might help with the suggestions.
I once threw a party where everyone had to turn their bike lights on because I realized after the sun set that I didn't have any lamps. I have, in the past, invited people over to help me eat soup and realized, after they arrived, that I only own one spoon. I'm sure I'm doing something similar but less obvious now.
posted by yomimono at 12:18 PM on December 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

I would add more snacky foods that people don't need dishes to eat - ask about dietary restrictions and incorporate those so everyone has something to nosh on. Food is also an excellent conversation starter.

Pay extra attention to cleaning dishes, the kitchen, and the bathroom. Are there enough hand towels? Often one gets sodden with a bunch of guests using it.

Based on your update, mentally walk through your party from beginning to end with what you'd like to happen. Visualize your friends in the space. What do each of them like to eat/drink?

Also, sit in each public area of your house and think about minor problems that you keep forgetting to fix - that chair is wobbly, that window lets in intense sunlight and could use a curtain...
posted by momus_window at 1:22 PM on December 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Excellent advice so far.

Before the party, empty out things you know will fill up over the course of the night:
-Coat closet (to make room for other people's coats)
-Bathroom trash
-Kitchen trash
-Kitchen sink
-Recycling bin

If you have any house rules that are important, please let people know in advance. I loathe when I arrive at a "shoes off" house without advance warning because I usually wear dresses with tights and walking around in tights on someone's floor is a great way to ruin them.

We host regular potlucks and I've found the best thing to tell people what to bring is "a vegetarian side dish - something from the Whole Foods deli is fine if you don't cook." It lets people use their imagination, ensures you don't end up with a bunch of sad bags of pita chips, and can feed more people than a meat dish.

If you host a potluck, I strongly suggest telling people to bring their own serving utensils. It's easy to stock up on cheap dishes and silverware at IKEA, but I really don't want to acquire 20 salad tongs, ya know?

Because our potlucks usually generate INFINITY FOOD, we have taken to encouraging people to bring their own tupperware because the best way they can help us clean up is to take food home. You can also wash and save old sour cream tubs and send people home with food in these.

I rarely put on music and I have a good enough mix of folks that conversation rarely stalls, but when I do need a good icebreaker to get people talking, I find that the question "So what skill do you bring to the table in the event of a zombie apocalypse?" is a great way to get folks chatting away.

I don't know how you invite people - we usually do a combination of Facebook event and actively texting people who are not on social media or who we haven't seen for a while. Take any Facebook attendance lists or other things with a massive grain of salt.

I have never done this and it's more alcohol-focused than your post suggests so it might not be useful, but the greatest idea I ever heard for a party was "bring that bottle you've been putting off opening." Folks who drink tend to accumulate strange bottles of things they put off consuming, like that One Weird Bottle Of Red Wine From A Country You Did Not Think Produced Wine. I have been told having a party like this is a great and very fun way for people to cheaply try new strange booze.

If your guests come back after a couple events, I don't think you should sweat whether they're having fun. You're either underestimating your hosting capacity, or they like you or the company too much to stay away.
posted by mostly vowels at 4:08 PM on December 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Being, as I am, a tremendous nerd, I always like to trot out the Jackbox Party Pack games. As the name suggests, they are party games played on a console or a PC connected to some kind of larger display. Everyone plays by interfacing with their own smart device--you just go to a website on your phone, enter a room code, and raucous party game shenanigans unfold. Despite the level of technology involved these games are remarkably accessible. My mom likes them and she's only just figured out how to use an emoji. It helps to have a stray tablet or two on hand for the odd guest that remains rooted in an era before smart devices.
posted by zeusianfog at 4:34 PM on December 16, 2019

I think you're fine. If I went to either of your parties, I would just find the situation funny. It might help to have back-up plans if things don't work out. If there are stores nearby that are convenient, you can always buy missing supplies there, and if there are bars or restaurants or other places nearby to gather, you can go there if there are issues with your apartment.

If it helps you feel better, I once threw a party in my apartment where at one point we migrated to the rooftop, and I accidentally closed the door completely so that we were stuck on the roof. Fortunately my roommate was nearby to let us back in. But I think in general these sorts of mistakes are just sometimes unavoidable.
posted by chernoffhoeffding at 10:43 AM on December 17, 2019

« Older Candles at Home   |   Tasteful uses of glitter in art Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.