How to Host a House of Strangers
Sometimes we forget that throwing a great party is all about the guests. We think of party-planning as monstrous task, involving levels of stress and struggle, often forgetting that we host parties to be with the ones we love. But the ones we love aren’t always familiar with each other, and bringing them all together may seem like an impossible task. However, hosting a house of strangers isn’t as intimidating as it seems. At least, not when you hear what Annette Joseph, a premier stylist and the author of Picture Perfect Parties, has to say about it.
"Hosting a party is like conducting an orchestra; you need a great mix to make beautiful music," she said. "It’s very important to pick a group of guests that have some commonality, and enough differences to make conversations interesting."
To learn how we can make our home a warm and inviting space no matter who is on the guest list, we asked Joseph to nail down a few specifics that will help make our parties enjoyable for all!
What is the biggest mistake that hosts make when inviting people from different areas of their lives?
The biggest mistake hosts make in general is not introducing their guests to each other. When you design your guest list, make sure that you have invited people that don’t know each other but have a common interest, like a related job or hobby. Introduce everyone by saying what each person has in common to get the conversation started. Seat guests that have common interests but may not know each other next to one another at the table. It is the host’s responsibility to get the guests mingling and conversations going. It’s the golden rule in the art of hosting a great party as far as I am concerned. Remember it’s up to you the host to make the connections for your guests.
What should a host keep in mind when making the guest list?
I like to craft a guest list that will offer up great conversation. I think about friends that would like each other, or have interests that overlap — either their jobs mesh, or they might have children the same ages — or for whom simply meeting each other would be a fun experience. Being a connector as a host is crucial to organizing a stellar guest list. It’s as important as putting together the perfect menu.
How can the host bridge the conversation gap?
Introducing your guests and letting them know what they have in common is the key ingredient in making that initial connection and that one important piece leads to great conversations.
What are ways to steer the conversation if it gets tense?
Actually, I like a lively conversation. However, if it gets heated, make sure to casually change the subject. If it becomes really heated you need not be subtle about changing the tact of the conversation. I always like to interject something humorous to break the tension, something like, "Gee this weather has been crazy, eh?" Usually this will spark a chuckle and give a signal that we all need to change the subject.
How do you arrange seating if it is a dinner? If it isn’t a dinner, what is the best way to familiarize the crowd with each other?
I love place cards for a seated dinner, especially if the crowd does not know each other. It makes seating the guests effortless. If it’s not a seated dinner, then your job as the host is to chat with all the guests make introductions and get your guests feeling comfortable with each other. That way you are mixing it up and making guests mingle and chat.
What makes a party warm and inviting?
Acknowledging each guest as they enter your party is the most important job of a host.
Greeting guests as they enter your home is the best way to create a warm and inviting environment. There’s nothing worse than walking into a party and not seeing the host right off the bat. Get out of the kitchen and mingle and greet guests — it is the way to create a welcoming and comfortable gathering. I personally like greeting guests with a cocktail or asking what they would like to drink as soon as they walk in the door.
What are the little details that can affect the party, especially with strangers?
I love setting up signature drinks, preferably right where guests walk in, so people can start chatting about the cocktails — it’s a natural conversation starter. Make sure you set up appetizers in an area that people can help themselves easily. Make table flower arrangements low so people can see each other over the table. There’s nothing worse than sitting at a table with tall, overbearing flower arrangements where you can’t see across that table — it’s very isolating especially if you don’t know many people at the table.
Name your three tips for handling a stressful situation involving guests.
Your job as a host is to be calm and helpful. If a situation arises, take it out of the party, maybe to a nearby unoccupied room, and handle it with discretion and empathy. You should handle all your guests with the utmost respect and hospitality at all times.
Three tips for stressful situations at your party:
1. Be calm and helpful
2. Have discretion
3. Always handle your guests with empathy and respect