Event coordinator is the fifth most stressful job in America, right after police officer and before reporter. Throwing a party is perhaps even worse because you’re not getting paid for your efforts.
Feeling obliged to make people happy can make you irrational and vulnerable to mistakes that can easily be avoided.
When planning a party, if you keep in mind that the ultimate goal is for guests to be comfortable and have a good time, you may avoid overthinking the details. After all, who really remembers or cares about little things such as the color of the invitations?
However, throwing a hit party is not as easy as ordering pizza and having a fridge full of beverages — no one is immune to festivity faux pas — but it’s not rocket science either. The best way to learn is from somebody else’s mistakes.
To compile a list of mistakes to avoid when throwing a holiday party, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a dozen articles and personal blogs by event planners with tips on organizing parties, and selected the best and most frequently mentioned.
1. Serving warm drinks
Most people don’t like warm beer or cocktails. With the exception of tea and coffee, and maybe eggnog, which are served hot, and malt whiskey which should be served at room temperature, most spirits and cocktails should be served cold. Running out of ice is a common mistake party hosts make. Start stocking up a few days in advance.
2. Inviting too many people
Inviting too many people or the wrong people happens all the time. Inviting the people you always hang out with is not a great strategy because this leaves out the element of surprise. But inviting extended family as well as colleagues you see once a week may lead to overcrowding. No party is fun if you keep spilling your drink because you have no room to walk. Consider the size of the venue first and then, if you have to, narrow down the guest list based on people’s common interests.
3. Playing the wrong music
Playing the wrong music is among the most common mistakes during holiday parties. It’s difficult to get it right because you have a lot of people — each perhaps with a different interest — coming over and you can’t make them all happy. One solution is to ask them what music, artists or specific songs they like and to make a playlist. Another is to use common sense — death metal is likely inappropriate for a Christmas party. It’s a safe bet to start with soft music and move on to more upbeat tunes as the party goes on.
4. Getting the snacks wrong
Is it worse to have insufficient amount of food or too much of something people won’t eat? The result is likely the same — hungry guests. Food is more than just an energy source; it’s also a potential subject of conversation. A simple rule to remember: one recommendation is about eight to 12 ounces of meat per person if it’s the main feature. Don’t try new foods or a different spin on popular foods. People may not like being forced to eat something they don’t want. At least have familiar versions of the unusual foods available as well.
5. Scheduling a lot of games
There is nothing wrong with being ready to provide entertainment in case you feel the party is not going as well as you planned. But if you see people talking, dancing and/or having fun in general, there is no reason to take out the bingo or Cards Against Humanity. Making people do something they are not in a mood for is not fun, it’s rude.
6. Having too many seats
This is a party, not a lecture. You don’t need to have 40 chairs available if you’ve invited 40 people. Most of them will be standing up chatting, mingling and socializing, so don’t limit their space by having too much furniture around. The rule obviously does not apply if you’re having a dinner party. In that case, don’t make people eat standing up.
7. Running out of cups
How many times do you lose your glass or cup when you’re at a party? Either provide markers so people can sign their cups, or have plenty of extras. It’s safe to assume that most people at the party will use at least three or four cups. Recycle them the next day so you don’t feel guilty about harming the environment.
8. Serving food that is not easy to eat
Do you want to embarrass yourself by spilling sauce or other food all over your shirt or, worse, somebody else’s? Probably not. Buffalo wings are standard by now so they may be considered a safe choice, but stay away from hard-shell tacos, pork ribs, Sloppy Joes, watermelon slices, noodles and long sandwiches. Make sure you have finger foods if kids are going to be at the party.
9. Putting food and drinks in one place
This is a recipe for disaster unless you want to have everybody in one corner at the party. Think about what people will do as soon as they walk in — most of them will go for food or drinks. Place them in locations with enough space between them so bottlenecks are avoided and everyone has access to the goodies.
10. Running out of drinks
This is arguably the most serious and unforgivable sin of party throwing. Don’t put yourself in a situation where people won’t even consider going to another event you’re hosting. There are several sites that help you calculate how much booze you need. For example, a party of 25 people (five light drinkers, 16 average drinkers and four heavy drinkers), about four hours long, and where beer, wine and liquor will be served, requires 41 bottles of beer, nine bottles of wine and three bottles of liquor.
11. Having only alcoholic drinks
That’s just rude. There will be people at your party who don’t drink or want a lemonade, just water, or perhaps a ginger ale. They may be fasting, on a diet, or even pregnant. Or they may be the designated driver, or have a drinking issue.
12. Forgetting to lower the heat
Remember — a lot of people means a lot of heat. People are warm blooded which means that the body produces heat based on metabolic rate. The more people you have in a closed environment, the warmer it will get. About 50 people in a room can generate as much heat as a five-kilowatt fire. So check the thermostat regularly and adjust accordingly.
13. Not making introductions
Unless everyone at your party knows each other, don’t expect people to just come in and start interrupting others by introducing themselves, hoping they’ll find something in common to talk about. Making introductions is the job of the host and an easy way to break the ice. It helps avoid awkward pauses and sets a positive tone for a conversation.
14. Spending too much time preparing
First of all, this is a party, and stress should not be part of it. The bottom line is that if you have drinks, food, good music and fun company, the party will succeed. Secondly, you can always ask guests to bring a bottle of wine or food. Chances are they will anyway because many people don’t like showing up empty-handed.
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