A truly wonderful party host not only is attentive to making things beautiful, but is also careful to be thoughtful and considerate of her guests. I feel that this is especially important when it comes to wedding planning. Sometimes brides get to wrapped up in themselves when making wedding plans that they forget that they have guests...not witnesses or slaves, but guests. If they truly want to cater only to their own desires, they should elope. I digress. Back to general party planning...
SO what kinds of things make guests more at ease? How can the party be worth their time and money (the gifts they bring)? I think we should break it down to a few categories!
1. Children's birthday partiesA) Organized fun.
I think that a theme is a necessity. Not only for the decorating and beautification of the party, but also for the entertainment factor. If you are having a barnyard pals party, you can have hayrides or play Duck, duck, goose or whatever. For a Tinkerbell party, have kids decorate cookie wands, do a treasure chest pinata or a treasure hunt. Themes help inspire fun. Having one or two organized activities for children is thoughtful for your guests: the kids will have more fun AND the parents will enjoy watching the kids. Also, the adults will not feel as though they are at a chaotic playgroup with kids running and screaming with no organization. Kids thrive within structure.
B) Props to the kiddos.
Another benefit to choosing a theme for a kid's party is that kids can all feel part of the event by giving them a prop to become engaged. One example is my daughter's Tinkerbell party: I made tutus and bought fairy wings so that when the girls arrived, they each were "transformed" into fairies complete with fairy dust (body glitter). My other daughter's 1st birthday was a French bakery theme. To engage the kids, I used fabric paints to write their names on kids aprons that I'd purchased online. In addition to the kids feeling like the party is not just for the guest, but also for them, giving them "props" that they can reuse is far more thoughtful than simply sending them home with a sack of candy. My friend made mermaid tails for the guests at her daughter's Under the Sea party. These props don't necessarily have to be elaborate. At a barnyard pals party, giving each child a bandana to wear is a small but fun thing for them to feel part of the event.
If the children are really little and they haven't gotten any sort of "props," giving them each a gift bag filled with small toys or colors right after the birthday boy or girl opens his or her gifts is a VERY thoughtful idea. Small children don't understand why one child gets presents and they do not. By providing small toys or colors (NOT just candy) as favors in gift bags, each child understands that it is a "thank you" gift from the birthday child.
D) Food for all.
Be sure to provide food and beverages that are adult friendly if you are having adults at your party. Serving only star-shaped chicken nuggets and Cheetos may be inexpensive, but does not communicate a loving message to your guests. Although the parents are there to accompany their children, they too are guests in your home. Throw in some sub sandwiches and a veggie tray and something to drink other than CapriSuns.
Also, please see C & D of the Dinner Party tips.
2. Dinner parties
A.) The kid factor.
Having friends with small children over for dinner can be difficult. You are forced to either request for them to pay for a sitter or to shout over kids all night. One thoughtful option would be to provide child care on site: hire a teenager or two to watch the children in the basement while the adults mingle inside. Ask your friends to either chip in for the sitters or bring a dish to contribute towards the meal: don't ask for both. If kids will be present, try to provide food and beverages that are kid-friendly and an area apart from the adults where they can eat. Happy kids make happy parents!
B) Know your audience.
If guests are uncomfortable around alcohol, make the party an alcohol free event. If they are more likely to be socially-inhibited, provide a few simple alcoholic beverages to help them relax. The same question arises when planning the menu: if your guests are on strict diets or have allergies, it'd be thoughtful to prepare something they too can eat. When planning a desserts party, be mindful that some people do not like sweets and try to have an alternative available. Always remember that food and drink are as much a social thing as they are practical so it is always wonderful to try to think of all of your guests needs when planning. It's also nice to be aware of allergies...
C) Greet your guests.
This is a lost art. I am guilty of neglecting this ritual. I am often too busy with last minute preparations. If this is true of you, it may be a good idea to assign the greeter role to your spouse. Someone should greet guests, take their coats, explain the child care situation (if necessary), and usher them to the waiting area where you wish for them to mingle before sitting down to dinner. It's then customary to get each guest a drink or point them in the direction of the beverages. Even better, have a few snacky things laying out in the conversation area.
D) Label things.
I know that this is done largely for aesthetic purposes, but labeling foods and drinks on buffet tables is very thoughtful to your guests. It saves them from making the awkward, "What's that?" question aloud in front of the host. It can also help the food stretch further because guests will know what they are taking prior to putting it on their plates.
E) Use place cards.
Strategic seating arrangements are nice because they help ensure that the conversation flows well. Assigning a place for each guest helps him or her to not have a "uh, does it matter where I sit?" moment where they just stand in front of the table trying not to offend the host or other guests.
F) Serve a balanced meal.
Try to not only offer meats and starches or just vegetables, but create a menu that is well rounded. Serve things that can be made in advance so that you can join your own party. I have made this mistake often and have ended up feeling more like hired help than a host.
G) Have background music.
This helps suck up any awkward silence. Warning: don't have volume high enough to drown out conversation.
3. Co-Ed Showers (bridal or baby)