“Christmas is at our throats again!” as Noël Coward once exclaimed, exasperated by the
social burden of the festive season. It’s not hard to see why – this time of year is fraught
with peril, especially with regard to the countless invitations to house parties and other
social gatherings you’re receiving on a daily basis, not so? While some of these may hold
great promise, you’ve been at this long enough to know there’s a fair chance you’ll just end
up in tedious conversation with people you don’t know, getting too drunk because a bowl of
Lay’s is apparently what was meant by “snacks”, or getting kicked out within an hour
because the host had a nervous breakdown and the neighbours called the police.
So, intrepid warrior that you are, this year you’ve decided “Basta!” – you could do better.
You’re throwing a party at your house, and it’s going to SLEIGH [ba-dum- tish!]. Good for
you! You’re the boss. You are in control. The music, guest list, snacks and seating
arrangement – it’s all in your hands. But hostess beware, with great power comes great
responsibility, and if you don’t handle things just right, your foray into the perilous world of
festive party planning could be over before it’s even begun. That being said, getting a group
of people together to enjoy one another’s company does not have to be an arduous task. To
help you make sure your gathering pops in the cheering manner of a chilled bottle of Moët,
here are a few sure-fire tips from Liam Mooney to ensure you have it all in hand:
PLAN AND PLAN, THEN PLAN SOME MORE
This really is the key. There’s no point in hosting an event if you’re just going to be
rushed off your feet for the duration, trying to solve problems instead of spending
time with your guests. Carefully plot out the different stages: planning, shopping,
preparation, and the party itself. Write things down, make a checklist – don’t count
on remembering it all. Also, don’t over-complicate things. If you have any doubts, err
on the side of simplicity. Of course you want to impress, but it’s easy to overwhelm
oneself by trying to do too much – often needlessly costing time and money. See to
as many of the details ahead of time, so you aren’t frantic when your guests arrive.
The night before, set and decorate the table, put platters and serving paraphernalia
on the buffet, polish what needs polishing and make sure your fire-extinguisher is in
BE SELECTIVE ABOUT THE GUEST LIST
Here’s the thing, you could plan the swankiest, sexiest, most spectacular shindig
since Truman Capote’s Black & White Ball – if your guest list isn’t on point, none of it
will matter. Ultimately, success or failure largely depends on who you choose to
invite. So make sure you invite an eclectic assortment of guests – different clicks,
generations and persuasions – to spice things up. A solid guest list will make for a
good party – even if everything else goes pear-shaped.
ASK FOR HELP
No matter what kind of fête you’re planning, it’s good to have some backup. Don’t
be afraid to enlist the help of your guests – it adds buzz and makes people feel
involved. If you see someone standing around, awkwardly scrolling through their
phone – ask them to open a bottle of wine or carry a tray of cheese-puffs. While
inviting your party-animal friends is sure to add the fun, it’s a good idea to include a
few dependable peeps on your guest list that will guarantee things run smoothly. If
feasible, make a list of the things you don't want to be bothering with at your party
and delegate. Your primary responsibility is to be a good host – appoint someone
else to empty the ashtrays and replenish the candles.
MAKE EVERYONE FEEL WELCOME IMMEDIATELY
As far as possible, personally greet your guests at the door. Offer them a welcome
drink, and introduce them to at least one other guest. Gracefully acknowledge their
gift and set it aside to open later, preferably after everyone’s gone. Unless you were
very strategic with your guest list, chances are your guests won’t all know each
other. Be a good host and make introductions so you don’t end up having to look
after your socially challenged friends the whole night. Initiate conversations between
your guests, casually apprise them of any interests they might share, then slowly
extricate yourself [hosting to do, ciao for now!] and let them fend for themselves. If
you’re serving dinner, seat the best listeners next to the Chatty Cathies.
It’s silly season; everyone’s busy and dance cards are filling up quickly. If you want to
have the right crowd at your party, make sure to invite people at least two weeks in
advance so everyone has adequate notice. And if you want everyone to be there on
time, lie. Yes, you have punctual friends who will show up exactly when you tell them to, but
others [especially if they’re Capetonians] will roll in after they’ve made casual appearances
at four other parties, and then stay way too long. If you know you’ll be ready at 10pm,
tell your tardy friends to show up at 9.
FOOD and DRINK
Look, people will come expecting to be fed and fed well. Put out some biltong-dip
and a bag of Nik-Naks if you want, but don’t expect anyone to turn up for your next
party. Don’t affront the vegans by having nothing but cheese and prosciutto on the
table, but make sure you have some cheese. People love cheese. If you’re serving
dinner, try sticking to one-pot dishes like roasted chicken and vegetables [always a
winner]. It comes out of the oven and boom! – you’re done. Add a nice salad and
some good wine, and you have a gorgeous meal requiring minimal clean-up, that
doesn’t keep you in the kitchen all night.
When it comes to the booze, provide enough of the basics, but tell people to bring
some of their own as well. You can’t just have beer. You need to have beer, wine
(both red and white), spirits and a fair selection of mixers. Everyone should be able
to have something they enjoy. Equal-opportunity drunkenness should be your goal.
HAVE A GOOD PLAYLIST
Just keep it upbeat. It could be literally anything – but if you’re looking for sustained
conviviality at your gathering, you need to keep the vibe upbeat at all times. At least
for the first few hours, people just want something good in the background while
they make merry. If you’re having a sit-down dinner, some Dusty Springfield or Ella
Fitzgerald will serve nicely. If you’re having a bit of an ‘opskop’ later in the evening,
you’re going to need to prepare a separate playlist. No one is asking you to become
DJ Fancy-Beats McCool, but Damien Rice should not be showing up on your "House
Party" playlist. If you’re really at a loss about what to play, how about the classics?
Give ‘em the old-faithfuls – some Dolly, a little Creedence, a smattering of Erasure, a
dollop of Missy Elliot, whatever passes for a standard in your circle. That way, even if
your guests are bored senseless, they can busy themselves reminiscing about all the
great songs they’ve forgotten about.
How do you throw a party that doesn’t leave a big mess? Um… you can’t. You have
to expect clean-up – the extent of which really depends on how you pitch the event.
If you have a nice house filled with expensive objets and a nice carpet, you probably
don’t want to describe your party as: “The rager to end all ragers! Let’s dance until
somebody goes to hospital!” Do that, and your house is likely going to get trashed by
a lot of heavy-drinking troglodytes, who will throw up on your carpet and shave your
cat. So, when you’re sending out invitations, make sure people know to keep it
MAKE YOUR GUESTS FEEL GORGEOUS AND COMFORTABLE
Everyone looks beautiful in warm candlelight, so go wild. At the very least, keep
things slightly dimmed, cheerful and enchanting. Make sure you have enough
seating, spread out through the entire party, so people don’t congregate in one area.
HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY
Make sure your guests know you’re having a house party and not a sleepover. You
don’t have to be rude about it, but even the best revelry must eventually conclude.
At first, be subtle: when it’s time to say goodnight, grab a garbage bag and start
collecting empties. Turn down the Madonna and switch to Sade. After about 15
minutes, your guests should start getting the hint. If this doesn’t work, tell everyone
that the police are on their way, or that it’s time for prayer and scripture –
depending on the crowd.
STAY [RESONABLY] SOBER
We know, it’s your party and you can fly if you want to, but if you actually want
remember your awesome party – and remember it fondly – stay sober-ish. Major
cock-ups can occur when the host parts with lucidity. For example, say you get a
knock from an angry neighbour at 2am. You’re three sheets to the wind, so instead
of having a civilised chat, you tell them to get a life and a better haircut, and slam the
door in their face. Welcome to several months of awkwardly ducking behind lobby
ferns and taking the stairs. Even worse, if it’s not the neighbour you offend, it could
be one of your guests, or you could just lose total control of the party altogether,
and find yourself hungover and looking for a new place to live the next day. By all
means, have a drink, but save getting wasted for when you’re at someone else’s
party. You want to be able to brag about your awesome gathering without first
having to ask your guests what went down.
RELAX AND HAVE FUN
This one’s important: when the merriment kicks off, let go of the details and have
fun! That’s really what it’s all about, after all. In the end, if you’re relaxed and having
a good time, so will everyone else.
Good luck. Let us know how it went.