Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind, based on your budget and number of guests
How to throw the perfect house party
“I had the most rocking weekend,” my colleague gushes. “My husband and I, and three of our couple friends danced the night away to a spot-on soundtrack, while my best friend had a long chat with someone who might just be his future employer. The food kept coming, and there was none of that waiting for your drink or queuing outside the loo nonsense.”
As you may have guessed, the scenario that got my peer so enthused unfolded in her own living room, where – surrounded by close friends, good music and a well-stocked kitchen – she had “the best night in a long time”.
There comes a point when weekly treks to the latest nightclub – high heels and evening jackets in tow – lose some of their shine, and you’d much rather be at home one night of the weekend, or two, either watching Netflix or hanging out with close friends. And whether you reach this stage in your early 20s or late 40s, what inevitably follows is seeking out the perfect blend of comfort and entertainment: a house party.
Throwing a successful soiree, however, can be a tricky proposition if, like my colleague, you regularly forget to fill your ice-cube trays (tepid punch, anyone?), or if, like me, you fail to inform your guests that no, parking is no longer free in JLT (that they saved money by not going out seemed to be of little consolation five hours later).
Here are four scenarios you might be faced with during your next house party, with expert tips on how to be the best host.
1. An economical affair for a big group
This is the kind of get-together where the idea of using disposable glasses and plates might be floated; don’t do it. If you’re going to be cutting back on the caviar, the least you can do is serve those 2-for-1 crisps or pizza slices on decent crockery. The trick here is to save without appearing cheap, so don’t skimp on utilising what you already have at home.
“All good parties should have a sit-down area, so make good use of your own furniture and rearrange it such that you have both a standing area and a lounge section,” says Paul Harding, general manager of Innovative Hiring. “People mingle more when they are standing, at a bar or high table; then, when the conversation moves onto heavier topics, that’s when the seating comes in handy.” He recommends over-purchasing ice and mixers, both of which don’t really have an expiry date.
“Running out of ice and mixers is one of the most common things I see at parties. It is embarrassing and certain to kill the buzz. Ice is inexpensive; fill three cooler boxes, so you don’t have to think about it. “If you have to spend on something, do so on a good sound system,” continues Harding. “The key to any good house party is the ambiance, so invest in or hire good-quality speakers, so cheap sound does not ruin the vibe. People will overspend on food, even furniture, but they think it’s OK to use a Bluetooth speaker. It’s not.
“When it comes to food,” he adds, “if you don’t want to splurge on a caterer, pick up frozen spring rolls, samosas and the like, heat them up in the oven, and serve them on nice plates. Nobody will know the difference and your guests will appreciate the effort. Do not leave your drinking guests hungry… it’s what they’ll talk about all the way to the nearest drive-thru and forever after.”
2. A small but sophisticated soiree
If it’s just a few people you’re inviting with no real limitations on the budget, Sophie Bogdis, founder of Special Occasions Party Planning & Events, has three words for you: decor, decor, decor. “Incorporate as many lovely elements as you can, from fresh flowers and effective lighting to interesting tableware and sophisticated accessories.” Do refrain from balloons, though, and never use Blu-Tack on walls.
A mixologist is another sure-fire way to impress your guests; and if it’s just a chosen few you’re having over, they won’t have to wait too long for their artistic beverages, which can take a bit longer to prepare. “Fancy recipes put together by a talented barman is a really fun experience; you can even get guests to learn how make their own cocktails,” suggests Innovative Hiring’s Paul Harding. “People remember parties based on things that stand out, so create an experience your guests will never forget.
“I would say hire a DJ as well if you can afford one, but it depends on the mood you’re going for and number of people attending. For a smaller group, you can get away with a good playlist on your iPhone and a decent speaker,” he says.
Bogdis adds: “Don’t think that leaving the mess until tomorrow is a good idea. If you can clear or have someone clear throughout the party, it makes the aftermath so much easier to handle. You want to remember the party itself, not the cleaning-up after.”
3. On impressing a big crowd
Here’s when things get tricky: a large group usually involves people from different backgrounds and varied professions – your friends and your colleagues, for instance. This can lead to awkward silences, and a general dampening of the vibe if the mix is not quite right, but it can work wonderfully if the group is open- minded and shares a few common interests. It’s your duty as host to be aware of who is likely to get along with whom beforehand, and work towards getting them together.
Or, as Sophie Bogdis, founder of Special Occasions Party Planning & Events suggests, hire a host or MC, who will know which direction to steer the crowd in over the course of the evening. “Having a fun and entertaining personality to host your party shows that you care about your guests and that you want to keep them entertained throughout,” she says. “A DJ who caters to personal requests can work if everyone likes the same kind of music, while a photographer will keep your guests engaged and make them feel like celebrities. If you can afford it, hire a photo booth with fun props and instant social media sharing, so guests can live-post how much fun they’re having.”
Innovative Hiring’s Paul Harding agrees that a DJ with an amazing sound and lighting system can work wonders with a big crowd, and that dancing is a great way to break the ice. “Live food stations and buffets are often the best way to feed the dozens or hundreds,” he adds. “People can go and eat when they like, rather than waiting for bite-sized canapes to come around. When it comes to big crowds, beautiful furniture in large quantities can dramatically transform a space, too, and your event will never look plain or boring,” he continues. “Decor is the best way to transform a blank canvas into a wonderland.”
Bogdis cautions that people often tend to forget parking facilities, and informing their neighbours about the proceedings. “If they are not invited or even if they are, it is common courtesy to let your neighbours know there will be a party on, and to expect things to get a little more crowded, with the cars, and noise levels a little louder, with the chatter and music.”
4. Hosting a truly luxurious blowout
There’s no telling what you can do, display and serve if budget is no bar. Fancy hiring an electronic violinist to entertain the guests in one corner of your venue, while a DJ spins tunes in another? How about oyster and cheese stations to start with, and freshly made fish and chips for when everyone is starving at 2am? A Great Gatsby theme can have drinks fountains and personal butlers, while furniture can be customised to transport your guests to another city altogether.
From ample but discreet serving staff to big-name DJs and entertainers, an extravagant house party ensures that its guests are well tended-to for the entire duration. “Hire a capable party planner or events company well in advance and leave it in their hands,” says Sophie Bogdis, founder of Special Occasions Party Planning & Events. That way, once you’ve told them exactly what you want, you can devote the evening to spending quality time with your guests, or even enjoying your own party like a guest.
The key here is to be extraordinary. Don’t just hire a photographer; get one with the white ring light, so your images are flawless. Serving multiple cuisines is a foolproof way to up the food ante, while hosting across multiple rooms means children can be kept happy in their own video-game-equipped universe, even as conversationalists, networkers and dancers don’t get in each other’s hair.
“And even though it’s a ‘house party’, that’s not say that you can’t have it in a hired mansion on the Palm, complete with a helipad,” suggests Innovative Hiring’s Paul Harding. “Remember, it’s all an experience – and people don’t forget experiences.”