Party Time :: Tips on Be(com)ing the (Im)Perfect Host(ess)
I'm not one who likes to follow a lot of rules. If you read classic party etiquette guides, it will tell you what fork to serve with which dish and 50 different ways you could turn an ordinary bell pepper into an edible serving dish.
Well, I grew up in New Jersey, eating TV dinners off a fold-up tray table while the Jerry Springer double feature was on. Needless to say, I don't know much about proper utensils or whether you should serve the Hungry Man dinner to your guests from the left or the right. However, what I do know is that San Francisco is an expensive place for everybody to live in. But locals don't let their $3000 rent for a basement studio apartment in the Tenderloin get in their way of partying.
Lively guests, good food, cocktails and bubbly conversation are my cornerstones for a successful party. Here are some of my tips for throwing a party so amazing that it will be archived and written about by scholars for years to come.
Choose a Theme
First, in the invitation you should be very clear about what your party is all about and state what you expect from your guests.
I believe a good party has a theme. However, a theme party can be the most wonderful thing ever or go horribly wrong. In my experience, you have two types of people. The first hear of your party theme and immediately run to Mission Thrift and start working on their costume and brainstorming on other ways they can contribute. Then there is the second type, who hears about your theme and thinks, "Oh, that's fun, but do I have to really dress up? I mean, I'm just so busy. I'll happily go to the party and hang out and drink all the free booze, but I don't want to worry about having to wear a stupid costume." And, they hem and haw over it for weeks, then an hour before the party they are bummed out that they didn't get a costume and then they just don't show up!
One year I kept it simple, and wrote in the invite, "Everyone wear a cardigan!" Still, only half the guests wore a sweater and just made it look like an uncanny coincidence that everyone looked like a frumpy librarian who misses the Dewey Decimal system rather than a fun planned event.
So, perhaps you can invoke a theme to the party without requiring your guests to do much more than show up and get drunk. Pick a fun theme, like come dressed as your favorite serial killer or dress as the person you most wish was aborted.
Maybe the theme doesn't have to require your guests to participate and you can establish it yourself through the decor, party favors or activities. In an effort to keep it fun and save money on buying excess cups, I make a sticker and crafts station near the glassware. This way, everyone can have fun uniquely decorating their glass to match their personality and they won't keep picking up a new cup every time they want to pour themselves another cocktail. And, if you're friends are anything like mine, that would be at least ten times.
"Are you enjoying my 7-Up gals night, Cheryl?" "Not as much as I enjoyed your ex at the Dinah Classic."
Be a Host and Leader
Next, be clear about what you expect of your guests and what they can expect of you. I make it known in the invite exactly what I will provide and since you're the host, you don't have to be shy about telling your guests exactly what they can bring. Your job is to carry the theme out and be the orchestrator of the most amazing party ever. This will not only add to the success of the party but will save you the time and effort of having to silently judge the guest that brings bathtub gin and off-brand cola. Hey, this isn't a college dorm party.
Likewise, if you have a lot of gay couple friends attending, you don't want them all to show up with their best Laura Ashley serving platter stacked with deviled eggs. Don't get me wrong; deviled eggs are delicious. However, first off, you don't want there only to be one type of hors d'oeuvres served. And, secondly, it's going to quickly spiral downhill into an episode of Gay Top Chef and at least one sensitive lad who hasn't been numbed by your complimentary party bowl of Vicodin yet will become emotionally unhinged when he realizes he used way too much horseradish in his recipe and everyone is eating the other guy's eggs instead.
Fake the Fancy
I will source my products from multiple places in an effort to get the most bang out of my buck. However, you should buy at least one product that is recognizable as a quality brand. For instance, if Whole Foods sells a certain cracker that you think your guests will recognize, make it a point to buy a few boxes of those and put them at the center of the table. Then you can strategically scatter products from Safeway and the Dollar Store around the rest of the house.
Since I enjoy a good sale, if I notice something is on sale and it's on the list of things I asked a friend to bring, I may send a text saying, "Hey, Safeway has Skyy Vodka on sale this week at a good price." As much as I hate Safeway, I find they have some of the best prices on booze. And, some of the craziest things happen in the Safeway on Market Street, so just think you get booze and probably a story to tell at the party later.
If you're having a fair amount of people at your party, it's definitely worth the investment to hire someone as a waiter, bartender or just a general helper to keep the party flowing and the premises clean. If you're hiring someone, resist the urge to go for the eye candy. Yes, take practical over pretty!
Craigslist will be littered with ads this holiday season with listings for a muscular stud who is okay with bartending in nothing but a bow tie and a Speedo. That's great. But, he'll most likely have to look up the recipe for a Gin and Tonic. If a haggard 50-year old lady with painted-in eyebrows but a resume stacked with catering experience applies, hire her immediately! Those under-eye wrinkles with caked concealer are not a fashion faux pas, but identification of her years of experience. She knows how to run a party, keep track of the goon who is taking too many bacon-wrapped scallops and will possess equal parts sass and skill in being a liaison between your guests and you the host.
It's your party and the quality of it is also measured by the quality of people you invite. You want a diverse group of partygoers who will compliment each other. You should occasionally monitor who is doing a good job of making conversation and being welcoming and who is acting like a jackass.
One year, I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at my place. My boyfriend and I were slaving away in the kitchen trying to get every serving platter of food hot and on the table quickly. However, while we're frantically working, two guests decided to start serving themselves and begin eating before we were finished and able to sit down ourselves. Needless to say, I marked their names with a big black X over them and they were removed from the following year's guest list.
As the host, you have a duty to the guests, but that doesn't mean there aren't rules of etiquette for them to follow either. If you're skilled enough to do so, don't be shy to create a post-party Powerpoint presentation complete with pie charts and bar graphs noting how each of your friends did as a party guest. If you have good friends, they will take this unsolicited feedback as constructive criticism and only grow to become a better party guest in the future.
It's late in the evening and perhaps the party has taken a drunken turn for the worse. My rule regarding uncouth behavior is this: "If they asked me before they did it, then I'm cool with it." For example, if I walk in my living room and you're in there smoking pot and you didn't ask me if it was okay or if I wanted to join you before I discovered it, then out the door you go. I also don't care if you give a tipsy blowjob in my shower, but yes; ask first. I have no problem holding my pee so you can make a choice now that you will regret tomorrow. Just ask first!
Wow, I just re-read this article and I'm proud of myself. And you should be, too, because now you know have access to all my previously secret tips that I never tried before in how to throw the best party possible. Best of luck!!