How to be a guest at your own party

(or that time I talked my friend out of having a DIY grilled cheese bar at her son’s first birthday party)

Once upon a time, my friend, a mother of two boys, was running ideas by me for her second son’s first birthday party.  She was expecting 77 guests (43 adults and 30 kids). It was October, two weeks shy of Halloween.  She ordered a bouncy castle, organized mini pumpkin painting and a DIY grilled cheese bar.

I was still recovering from my daughter’s second birthday party.  A Bubble Guppies themed barbecue for 50, complete with bubble machine.  We barbecued burgers and hot dogs.  How hard can that be?  It was a disaster!  I forgot to buy buns, so someone had to run to the store to get some during the party.  We ran out of ketchup. Kids like ketchup (and only ketchup! Am I right?)  We were so busy running in and out of the house, cooking and bringing out food that we didn’t really get to partake in the fun.  To this day, I have yet to see one photo of my daughter at her party that day.  (So, if anybody has some, please send them my way!)

So back to the DIY grilled cheese bar.  I immediately told her not to do this.  Although the words DIY seem to imply no work for the host, it would’ve been a logistical nightmare.  At a two-hour party, everyone is hungry at the same time.  Can you imagine 43 people hovering over two hot griddles, trying to butter bread, assemble and cook grilled cheeses, while supervising their toddlers?  No thanks.

The idea is fun and interactive.  Fun and interactive makes an excellent party for your guests.  But what about you?  What happens if nobody gets around to making their grilled cheese?  What will they eat?  What if one of the toddlers touches the griddle? (99% likely!) You’ll feel terrible and you probably won’t have a good time at your own party.  Did I mention buttery kid hand-prints all over your furniture?  You get it.  Back to the drawing board on this one.

It took a few conversations for me to convince her not to do this.  In the end, she chose a cute little DIY popcorn bar instead and thanked me for talking her out of grilled cheeses.

A message re: the grilled cheese bar kibosh from the hostess herself:

Dear friend,

Thanks for talking me out of what would have been the biggest mistake in my party planning life. Having a grilled cheese bar was a great idea in theory and imagination, but you knew right away I was going to end up standing there being a short order cook for my child’s entire first birthday party. When planning a party, simple is best. You know it best and this is why I listen to you.  Having a food bar is a great idea but it has to be self-serve and simple to plan and prepare.  Grilled cheese bar does not fit the bill when having an extra-large party with tons of kids.  I’ll save the idea for our next party for two. Thanks for always being the voice of reason!

-Your friend.

DIY popcorn bar
This DIY popcorn bar is fun, interactive and extremely simple to put together.

Entertaining always seems like a great idea, until you spend hours doing cleaning and prep.  By the time the party starts, you’re exhausted and disappointed that all your guests have shown up to undo all the doing you’ve just done.

I’m all about a perfectly executed theme, fun food ideas and all the details.  However, since I’ve had kids, I’ve had to scale it back a bit and take on less responsibilities when it comes to party planning.  I’ve learned how to be a guest at my own party, and you can too!

1) Plan ahead

As soon as you have invited guests, you should start this step.  Do everything ahead of time!  Don’t serve anything that needs to be cooked during the party or that will take you away from entertaining your guests.  The only exception I have for this, is if you’re having a smaller gathering and for example you’re barbecuing outside and you will still be in the vicinity of the party to interact while you grill.

Tip: Make a list of absolutely everything that needs to be done.  Do everything you possibly can before the party.  Use a box to contain everything you’ll need from decorations to food to supplies.  On party day, pull out the box and start emptying.  If everything is in the same place, you won’t be running all over the house looking for things, and you won’t forget anything.

Tip: Use sticky notes while setting up so you know which dishes you’ll be using to serve your food.  Also use sticky notes on the food table so that any helpful guests know where to place the food AND so you don’t forget to serve something that might be hidden in the fridge. 

sticky notes on dishes
Use sticky notes to identify dishes you’ll be using for quick set up once the guests arrive.

2) Know your audience

It’s important to know who your guests are and what they’re into so that you can tailor your party to meet their expectations to ensure that they have a good time.  That’s what entertaining is, after all.

Kid guests

If you’re hosting a kids’ party, make sure it’s about the kids.  Kids care mostly about having fun and wow factor.  Go the extra mile on executing a good theme for kids and making a fun activity they will remember.  Fuelling up to continue having fun throughout the party, seems to be less of a priority for kids, in my experience.  Grab and go snacks work well for this.  If you are having adults at the party who will be supervising their kids, don’t ask them to make their own grilled cheese sandwiches.

Adult guests

It’s important to ensure that food and drinks are top-priority here.  The entertaining should take care of itself although it’s never a bad idea to have a back-up plan, depending on the purpose of your party.  A more formal event such as a baby shower or bridal shower, may require a few ice breaking activities if most of the guests are meeting for the first time.  Some people don’t care about the details.  There is nothing more defeating than to have gone the extra mile for your guests, to have the details go unnoticed or be unappreciated.  Know your people and what they’re into.  For example, don’t waste your fancy charcuterie board on people who are not worthy.  The end.  What’s charcuterie?  (Your first hint.)

3) Self-serve food and drinks

When your guests arrive, it’s always a good idea to serve the first drink to greet everyone and make them feel welcome.  This allows you to interact with your guests as they arrive.  Have a self-serve area so guests can serve themselves drinks if you’re tied up.  If you notice that someone is low on liquids, of course, offer to get them a drink.  This shouldn’t take you away from the party, but will keep you engaged with your guests. When it’s time to eat,  put out the food and enjoy the food while mingling with your guests.

Try these pineapple or tomatillo salsas at your next party!

4) Dishes and clean-up

Have a plan for dirty dishes.  Make sure your dishwasher is empty for quick loading after the party, have a designated area for dirty dishes or use disposables.  Just have a plan.  It’s never a good idea to start cleaning until you’re ready to shut it down.  Ideally, people will just leave and you can clean when they’re gone.  Sometimes, people overstay their welcome and you need to give them a hint (especially if an end time was specified on the invitation) so by all means, if you feel it’s necessary, start casually cleaning and “taking down” the party.

Tip: Have empty garbage and recycling bins in a designated area and identified for your guests.  People will (hopefully) naturally want to throw out their garbage when they’re finished and that means ongoing clean-up during the party and less work for you when the party’s over.  

5) Keep it simple and trust your instincts

Don’t overdo it and don’t take on more than you can handle.  If, when preparing for the party, you are dreading a certain aspect, don’t do it!!! You are setting yourself up for hating being a guest at your own party. If you don’t have time to make all your food from scratch, for example, buy pre-made food items.

Tip: For an easy homemade veggie tray, arrange pre-cut veggies and veggies that require minimal effort like cucumbers and peppers, on a nice platter.  Boom, you’ve got a veggie tray nicer than that one you see at everyone else’s party in the round plastic container.  

vegetable tray
This veggie tray makes it look like you put in some effort, but really, it takes no more than 5 minutes longer to assemble than it would to peel the plastic lid of that store-bought veggie tray you were thinking about buying.

4 thoughts on “How to be a guest at your own party

  1. I love this! Thanks for the tips! I’m so guilty of cleaning up after everyone during the entire party 🙈🙈🙈.

    1. We’re all guilty of some party fouls! It took forever for Brad to convince me that at parties (and in life), the dishes can wait. He’s right. 😉

  2. Too good friend! You are the best hostess so this is a fool-proof guide for sure! Thanks again for always guiding me in the right direction 😆

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