Hosting an Engagement Party
The phone rings. You answer. “We’re engaged!” says the ebullient voice on the other end. The caller may be your daughter, your son, your best friend, your college roommate. Let’s just say it’s someone close to you and you’re just as delighted to hear the news as the caller is to deliver it. Why not throw the special couple an engagement party?
Engagement parties are often the beginning of the festivities surrounding a wedding. They are the kick-off for a series of celebrations that will culminate on the big day — the wedding — which may be up to a year or more away from the first engagement party. An engagement party may be big or small, casual or a full-blown soiree — but it is always a special time for a couple and their friends and family.
So you’ve decided to throw your favorite couple an engagement party with as much dazzle as that sparkling new engagement ring they showed you. What’s a host/hostess to do? There are really no hard and fast rules about engagement parties. Follow these tips to make planning an engagement party a most engaging endeavor.
Engagement Party Rules
There is a bit of etiquette surrounding engagement parties. Traditionally, the bride’s parents host the first engagement party. If the bride’s family was not able to do it, the duties would fall to the groom’s parents. Nowadays, those rules don’t necessarily apply. Any friend of the couple can offer to host the bash, especially if the couple’s family lives far away or if there are sticky family relationships. Just be sure you’re not stepping on any family toes by playing host.
Talk the Talk. First. You have to let your blissful couple know that you want to host their engagement shindig. Have an open discussion with them. Maybe they have received several offers for engagement parties. If your couple declines your offer, accept their decision gracefully. You may want to offer to host a shower or some other pre-wedding event instead.
Setting the Date
A Very Important Date. If the couple is thrilled by your proposal, it’s time to set a date. Get out your calendar and coordinate with the couple. Don’t just set a date and expect them to be available. It’s a good idea to communicate clearly and openly with your couple throughout the planning of the engagement party.
Where Oh Where?
Oh where will you have the party? Many engagement parties are held in homes. Others are held in restaurants. Some are held at creative locales — the beach, on a boat, an art museum, a vineyard. It’s up to you, your budget and the number of people you will be having. You can visit the various sites you’re interested in and speak to an events planner for information about prices and menus for your party.
Dollars and Sense.
Speaking of budgets, it’s a good idea to make one from the outset. Write down all of the elements of the party: the invitation, the food, the drink, the entertainment, the décor. Do some homework and make a realistic budget for the event. Keep in mind that some of the nicest engagement parties are low-key at-home affairs. Another way to save is to offer just cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, just desserts, or just wine and cheese, instead of a full-course meal.
Work with the couple on the guest list. All of the people invited to the engagement party should be invited to the wedding. Those invited to engagement parties usually assume they will be invited to the wedding and may be extremely offended if they’re not. Sometimes, though, the wedding will be a small family-only affair and the engagement party will be a big bash. In that case, let those invited to the engagement party know so there won’t be any surprises.
Please Join Us.
Engagement party invitations are fun to select. There are no ground rules here. You can choose anything from formal cream-colored card stock to wacky sombrero shaped cards announcing your Mexican-themed engagement fiesta. The invitation sets the tone for the party and can convey any theme you’re planning. Invitations can be done at the stationery store, on your computer or written by hand. You might want to mention the attire you expect for the party on the invitation. Don’t forget to proofread the invitation before the final printing. I know someone who accidentally sent out invitations to an “engagment” party.
If you’re having an at-home party, think of cooking yourself or having a potluck. Guests can bring their favorite hors d’oeuvres. If you’re not a whiz in the kitchen, call in a professional caterer. The caterer can help you devise a menu, and provide staff who serve and clean up. Many caterers charge per person, and prices vary, so find one that fits your budget. Or see if your favorite restaurant will cater the event. It’s tricky to plan for the right amount of food — you don’t want to overspend and get too much, and of course, you don’t want too little. A caterer or restaurant can help guide you. You can serve the food on colorful paper goods from your local party goods store to save yourself the trouble of cleaning up.
Serve only wine, good quality beer and mineral water at a serve-yourself bar. Or have a fully stocked bar staffed by a professional bartender. You can buy drinks in bulk at a discount or club store. And don’t forget the ice.
Toasts are not just for rehearsal dinners. Toasts are traditionally a part of engagement parties. The father of the bride is usually the first to toast, followed by the groom and whoever else wants to chime in. Set aside some time for toasting — probably about two-thirds of the way through the event.
Entertainment can indeed enhance the mood at an engagement party, although it’s not necessary. How about a pianist playing that piano in your living room while guests mingle in your home? For a bigger party, consider a Mariachi band, a lounge singer or a steel band — whatever works best with your theme. Call different musicians to request their tapes and compare costs before hiring one.
If you’re hosting a large engagement party at your home, make sure you handle parking problems. You don’t want guests arriving at your door sweaty from a long walk. Consider hiring a valet service.
Flowers are great additions to an engagement party. Keep them simple — how about sunflowers everywhere? Work with your favorite florist or visit your local farmers’ market for flowers at great prices. Your local party goods store is full of other festive ideas for your décor.
The Gift Issue.
Gifts are not mandatory at engagement parties, but there is a lot of confusion surrounding engagement gift-giving. To clear things up, you might want to put “no gifts” on the invitation if the couple is uncomfortable about receiving engagement gifts, showers gifts and wedding gifts from the same group of people. But if the couple is game for gifts, remind them to register here in WeddingChannel.com, so party-goers can get them something wonderful. If you don’t address the gift issue on the invitation, be prepared to guide RSVPers who call you to the couple’s registry.
Enjoy the party you planned for your favorite couple — don’t be too stressed out by the details. Keep your hosting duties under control by delegating simple tasks. Ask someone close to the couple, perhaps a sibling, to receive guests at the door and take their coats. Call upon the family shutterbug to capture the event for posterity in pictures. Focus your energy on facilitating introductions and enjoyment. Your efforts are sure to be appreciated by the guests, and by the happy bride and groom-to-be.