Avoid these 17 Pitfalls Many Hostesses Make
Creating and executing a party are big jobs, and on the day of my event I always breathe a sigh of relief when I hear the first doorbell ring. This sound signals my first guests have arrived, all the pre-planning details have been completed, and I can now focus on entertaining my guests. But a great hostess will not lose sight of the fact tending to her guests’ needs is more important than all the work she did to get to this point. The preparation may be behind us, but our display of hospitality is just beginning.
Having attended too many beautiful events that flopped because the hostess thought her job ended when the party began, I want to help you avoid these pitfalls. When we are in charge of an event, there are certain things expected of us if we want to have a successful affair. Remember these important details, and friends and acquaintances will covet your invitations!
Before the party begins, have a quick meeting with your wait staff or friends/family that are helping you with the event. Make sure they understand their responsibilities. I create a list of duties for each person so there are no questions as to what is expected. Example: Suzy: In charge of greeting guests at the door and taking their belongings. Samuel: In charge of making sure every guest is offered a drink. Etc.
Make sure you are dressed and ready 30 minutes before the event begins and all last-minute details have been completed. Running around in preparation mode while guests arrive is something we want to avoid. It makes those we have invited feel they are an inconvenience, and some might even feel obligated to step in and help. It also gives the impression of disorganization, which we do not want (especially if we are entertaining clients or our boss!). We want our guests to enter a relaxed atmosphere, not one full of frenzy.
Assign a person to the front door to greet guests, take handbags, coats, and umbrellas, and graciously accept any hostess gift that might be presented.
When someone brings a hostess gift, it should be set to the side in a discreet corner. Do not make a big deal over the present. Just say thank you, and let the person know you cannot wait to open their gift after the party. A hostess gift is a private matter between you and the giver, and you do not want to make anyone that did not bring a present feel badly.
Space it Out:
I advise hosts to do three strategic things when physically spacing out their party. The first is for the host to stand away from the front door, or in another room, as their guests arrive. If a host is at the entrance the guests will linger as hello’s are exchanged. This will cause a receiving line to form out the front door. I recommend a greeter so guests know what to do when they arrive, but assign this to someone else. The second recommendation is to place the bar outside or in a room towards the back of the event. The third recommendation is to place the food table in a different location than the bar and away from the front door. When someone arrives for a party, there are usually three things they do. They seek out the hostess to say hello, they find the bar to get a drink, and they head to the food station. If you place these three items in different locations, your party will not become crowded, and the flow of guest movement will be comfortable.
Drinks and Hors d’oeuvres:
It is the job of the hostess to make sure every guest is offered something to drink and eat upon arrival. Either direct them to the appropriate station or have helpers walk around with a tray (and when I say helpers, this can be the high school teenagers that live down the street or a professionally trained hospitality team). I incorporate both of these actions in my parties. I have water, wine, and hors d’oeuvre being offered throughout the rooms, and I also have drink and food stations set up in fixed locations. By having a support team walk the room along with a set location for food/drinks, you minimize congestion.
If you are hosting a dinner party, cocktails before the meal should last between 30-45 minutes. If you told guests to arrive at 7p.m., then dinner should be served no later than 7:45. Otherwise, people become restless (and potentially hangry!).
Mix and Mingle:
If your party is a mix and mingle affair, then this is exactly what you should do, mix and mingle! As the hostess, avoid the temptation to go off into a corner with your best girlfriends to catch up on the latest news. When I host parties, I barely speak to my closest friends. I know they can take care of themselves. I spend most of my time ensuring the guests that are not as well acquainted have someone to talk to. Go room to room, group to group and move around throughout the evening. Do not let anyone monopolize your time. If you need to extricate yourself, say, “Excuse me for a moment. I need to check on something in the kitchen.” Or, “Excuse me for a moment, I need to say hello to someone who just arrived.” A well-skilled guest will know not to take too much of your time at a big event.
If you are hosting a sit-down dinner, the seating assignments will become important. Make these decisions the day before your party so you have time to create place cards. I can already anticipate your next question, “Are place cards really necessary?” In my opinion, YES! The first thing a guest does when they walk to the table is decide where they will sit. It is an awkward feeling when people just stand, waiting for instructions. If you allow others to sit where they wish, you might end up with two introverts next to each other. The strategic placement of guests is important for the flow of conversation. Depending on the type of dinner, you can choose an informal or more formal order of seating. As the hostess, you need to be in control of where guests will dine. This helps ensure the exchange of dialogue will be lively and inviting.
Before you call your guests to the dinner table, place a basket of party favors by the front door. This way, if any guest slips out right after dinner, they will be greeted with your warm good-bye.
Do not hold dinner for late arrivals. It will mess up the timing of your meal, which means everyone suffers. Sometimes things happen that are beyond our control. A guest had a flat tire, or they were held up at work. If a friend has called to let you know they will be late, you can choose to delay up to 15 minutes, but no longer. Let your company be seated and begin your meal. Once the late guest arrives, serve them the course that is currently on the table. If they missed the salad and you are already on the main meal, then just give them the main meal. If you are eating dessert upon their arrival, then use your judgement about which course you should deliver. Too often I see hostesses delay dinner beyond an acceptable time. Do not make your entire guest list suffer due to one person’s tardiness. Be kind to your late friend, though, because they are now probably the most stressed person at your event! We have all been in this situation, so show grace.
During dinner, you should have several topics ready to discuss in case the conversation hits a lull. One of my husband’s favorite questions to ask a group is, “If you could only take one more vacation, and it has to be some place you have already traveled, where would you go, and why?” A question I love for first-time table conversations is, “Tell me a little about yourself.” This is noninvasive and open-ended, allowing the other person to answer however they wish. They might discuss their job or tell you about their favorite hobby. They may wish to discuss a movie they just saw. “Tell me about yourself” is such an easy conversation starter that allows people to talk about themselves.
Offer coffee with dessert. Many people drink coffee for dessert. Have available both caffeinated and decaffeinated, along with sugar, artificial sweeteners, and cream or milk.
Once guests complete their dessert and coffee, have everyone retire to another room for after-dinner drinks.
Most guests will stay 30-45 minutes after the conclusion of dinner, then they begin to depart. If they linger too long, politely start saying your own “goodbyes.” This can be done in different ways, but the easiest approach is to begin talking in the past tense. A hostess might say, “This was such a wonderful evening. I am so glad we could get together.” You are now talking about the party as though it has ended. A halfway seasoned guest will know this means it is time to leave. For most events I recommend putting a start and end time on the invitation. For a dinner party, this is a little more difficult, but you can tell your guest when you invite them, “Come over at 7 for a cocktail, and we will eat dinner at 7:30 and then wrap up the evening around 10.” People like to know what is expected of them. I learned this the hard way years ago. My husband and I hosted a party during the holidays, and on the invitation, I listed the start time but no end time. Our event eventually ended, and everyone departed. I threw on my pajamas, and we hopped into bed to watch a movie. Suddenly, our doorbell rang. Standing out front were late arrivals who had been party hopping. Because it was close to Christmas our street was filled with cars from other gatherings, so they rightfully assumed our event had not ended. We all had a good laugh, but it taught me it is my responsibility as the hostess to manage the expectations of my guests.
Close the Bar:
If you host a party and have clearly communicated what time the evening will end, but the guests will not leave, the fastest way to shut down the event is close the bar. This clears the room quickly. I promise, it works!
Keep it Intentional:
Remember, when hosting a party, being upfront about your intentions is the job of the hostess. From invitations arriving on time, to attire suggestions, to asking people to respond, and stating when the party will end, good communication comes from you. The more informed your guests are, the happier everyone will be. A motto we live by in our family is: To be unclear is to be unkind. Every hostess should live by this philosophy.
Together with you,