Making the Guest List

This is the second post in a year-long series chronicling the process from engagement to wedding. We will share tips, ideas, and real-world experiences that may help you through your own planning process.

It’s tempting to add everyone you know to your guest list, regardless of what kind of event you’re holding. For weddings and engagements, you probably want all the people you know and love to celebrate with you. And that’s great! But sometimes it’s just not feasible, for space, time, or money reasons. So how do you make a guest list that works for you? Here are a few tips to consider.

Say “No” to A, B, and C Lists

It’s common wedding advice to have the couple create an “A” list of folks who absolutely are invited, without question. This could be parents, grandparents, siblings, close relatives and friends, etc. The “B” list might be people you would like to invite but aren’t sure you will have the space or aren’t sure they will accept the invitation. These might be people who live out of the area, distant relations, or friends you aren’t as close to. And the “C” list are folks you will invite if other people don’t come, such as business friends, coworkers, or distant relatives.

I typically don’t advise my clients to use tiered lists. They can get the couple into trouble trying to tally their head count with catering and the venue. It’s easy to lose track of the count like this, and sometimes you under- or overestimate who will accept or come to the event. My advice is to create one list. A common rule of thumb is that only 70% of your guest list will accept the invite or arrive and someone will always cancel last-minute, but it’s wiser to plan for the full number you have invited. 

My advice generally is to create one list and, until you hear otherwise, plan as if everyone you invite will accept. This gives you a consistent idea of what to expect for numbers and also helps you narrow down who you really want to come to your event.

Account for the Space

You likely selected your wedding venue before you started on your guest list. You probably have a general idea in mind of roughly how many people you want to invite. Now it’s time to solidify that rough idea into a more stable list.  If you have a long list of people you want to invite, you probably considered the maximum capacity of the venue.  But even if no one arrives unexpectedly or accepts last-minute, you don’t want your guests to feel crowded, and you will need room for a dance floor. I suggest looking at wedding floor plans for your venue to see what size tables are typical and how many will fit comfortably. Consider the number of guests per table and the number of tables you will need. 

However, although a five-foot round table comfortably seats 8 guests, room for 20 tables of 8 doesn’t automatically mean room for 160 guests. Although you won’t make the seating chart until the RSVPs are back, you should assume that there will be groups of 5, 6, or 7 guests that you will want to seat together. This means leaving room for one or two extra tables. So, I suggest subtracting two tables to calculate the number of guests the room will comfortably accommodate. In this case, I recommend using a maximum capacity of 144, not 160.

If you are having a smaller, more intimate wedding with close friends and family, you will need to consider the venue’s minimum, if they have one. 

Account for the Budget

Involve a wedding planner to create your budget, if possible, or talk to friends who have been recently married and do your research to see what your “must have” items will realistically cost.  The easiest way to stay within your wedding budget is to limit the number of guests, but the cost per guest goes way beyond what your catering and beverage package will charge per person. You will also need to consider the number of tables, chairs, linens, and centerpieces, and it can all change based on the head count you communicate to your vendors.

Once you have an idea of the cost per person, you need to determine how many guests you can afford without breaking the bank. You might want 100 people at your wedding, but your budget can only accommodate 75. That’s fine, but you need to plan accordingly. If you really want that 76th person to be there, you might have to expand your budget somewhat to account for the increase.

Account for Relationships

If you have a large family, it might feel like you have to invite everyone you’re related to. Or your parents or grandparents might insist on having that distant cousin receive an invite because that person is important to them.

If your budget allows for a large wedding, then that’s fantastic. You may be able to invite everyone in the family and then some. But the reality for many couples these days is that they just can’t afford to invite everyone.

It’s time to consider your relationships with people. If it’s a work associate you’re not that close to, or a distant relative you barely know, you may not want to invite them. If you would be absolutely heartbroken if someone didn’t come, then you know they definitely need to have an invite.

These are hard choices, but if you start with the people you know for certain you want to be there and work down the list from there, you can create a guest list that is “just right” for the two of you.

I Just Got Engaged! What’s Next?

Photo by Pearly Kate Photography.

This is the first post in a year-long series chronicling the process from engagement to wedding. We will share tips, ideas, and real-world experiences that may help you through your own planning process.

You’re getting married! Congratulations! You’re probably feeling excited and happy, but you may also feel a sense of being overwhelmed, and maybe a tiny bit panicked. You can head off those negative emotions with a few tips.

You don’t have to take every tip that’s offered, either here or from anyone else—more about this later. But I hope some of these tips will be useful to help you get started.

Take a Break and Breathe

It’s very, very tempting to start wedding planning right away.

DON’T.

The wedding planning process is often stressful, despite all the best efforts, and there will be plenty to plan and stress over later. Take a couple of weeks to enjoy your engaged status. Bask in the glow of that excitement and love with your fiancé. Take some time for you two and just enjoy this initial headiness. There will be plenty of time for planning and questions afterward. Remember to breathe and rest.

Tell Your Loved Ones First

Use the two-week break to call or visit your loved ones and tell them your big news personally, BEFORE you put it out on social media! Many parents have been surprised by seeing an engagement announcement on social media before they heard it directly from their child, and it can really be a cause for hurt feelings. And it’s not just parents—make sure you call all the important people in your life. This can include grandparents, siblings, other relatives with whom you are close, best friends, and your future spouse’s family members. Just because you’ve told everyone on your side and want to put it out there, it doesn’t mean your fiancé’s side has been fully informed.

Once you have ensured that the important people in both your lives have been updated directly, feel free to use social media to announce it to a broader audience.

Decide on an Engagement Party

Generally, your first act after both of the above tips will be to decide if you want to have an engagement party. If you do, who will host it? Will it be the happy couple to host with a few family and friends? Will the parents host something? Or could you give it to the future maid of honor or best man to organize as their first official duty? Ponder over whether you want a party and how, when, where, and who to invite.

During the pandemic crisis, you may not be able to hold an in-person engagement party at all, depending on the regulations in your state or county. If this is the case, you could always consider hosting a virtual party. Gather your friends and family on a private online forum, open a bottle of wine, and be prepared to chat! You could also pick a few games to play, such as trivia, bingo, or pictionary, or take turns with other attendees to organize the games between you so one person isn’t always having to lead.

Also keep in mind that you don’t have to throw a party at all. If you know you need to keep your budget small, then you may decide to skip the engagement party completely. And that’s fine! You are not obligated to have any parties, especially if it will break your budget. Which leads into the final tip…

Practice Saying NO

As a newly engaged person, you’re likely to receive a lot of advice. So many people have been married that it feels like everyone is an expert, and some folks are more insistent in offering advice than others. However well-intentioned that advice may be, it’s often overwhelming. You’re going to get advice from parents, family, friends—really, just about anyone—whether you ask for it or not. Be prepared, remember to breathe, and practice saying one or more of the following statements:

  • “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”
  • “We’ll consider it.”
  • “I’ll check with my coordinator.”
  • “It’s not really what I’m looking for, but I appreciate your advice.”
  • “We’d really like to keep it small.”
  • “No.”

That last word will come in handy should anyone start insisting that you “need” to have items that are not what you want or are outside of your budget. It’s OK to say no, and to repeat it as often as is necessary. You may want to practice saying it until you’re comfortable, especially if you’re not normally an assertive person or if you’ve been taken by surprise. Ask your coordinator for help if you need it.

Also lumped in with this tip is: Don’t ask for wedding help on social media unless you really want it. One bride was astonished to find that a single post on Facebook expressing surprise at wedding costs brought out every female member of her family and many of her friends to add tips, advice, and “you should do…”—all of which wasn’t really solicited or helpful in that moment.

Keep in mind that your family and friends likely are just wanting to be helpful to you, especially if this is a process they’ve already been through themselves, and they want to be part of your special day. If it would be helpful to you to save their advice for later, you could always ask them to email their tips and then filter those messages aside for a later time when you’re ready to look at them.

You and your fiancé will need to decide what you want in a wedding, and what you can afford. A good coordinator can help with this. Once you decide, make sure you stand firm, say no as necessary—and remember to breathe!

Keep Kids Entertained At Your Event

Formal events and children generally have a passing familiarity with each other. Many hosts will forgo including children at the event to avoid the chance of interruptions or meltdowns. But there’s no real reason why children couldn’t be included if you want them to be there, and options abound for how to keep the littlest attendees entertained and happy while the adults enjoy the event.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Kids Only Areas

Arrange for a Kids Only area, if there’s space at your event location. This can be outdoors if the weather is cooperating, but make sure you have a backup plan.  Hire a sitter or two to keep the children engaged and involved in safe activities, minimize separation anxiety, and free up the adults so they can enjoy the party.  Depending on the ages and number of children, you may need more than one sitter.  If all the kids are over age three, typically one adult for 8-10 children works well.  For children under age two, the adult-to-child ratio is 1:3.  If space is available, but hiring a childcare provider is not an option, make sure you assign volunteers to take turns staying with the kids.

Art Tables

Art tables, located off to the side in the event space or in a separate room, are a fabulous idea to keep the little ones occupied. Make sure that the table is stocked with enough paper, coloring books, and art supplies for kids of all ages to enjoy.  PRO TIP:  If the children will be in formal clothes, avoid paint completely and stick to washable markers.  The kids can draw, color, and create whatever they want at the table. Hiring an artist or other adult to run the table frees the host and the other guests from managing the kids and allows them to enjoy the event. If you choose to have an unsupervised art table, it should be within sight of the adult guests.

Hire an Entertainer

If your venue has a separate area for the kids, you can hire an entertainment group which specifically caters to children at events to handle all the work for you. Some may do magic acts while others may include more “carnival” type entertainment, such as balloon animals, face painting, and clowns. Still others might have actors dress up as specific characters, such as superheroes, and come in character to play with the kids.  Some of these entertainers can be enjoyed by all ages and could be included as part of the main event if it is appropriate to the event program.

Off-Site Childcare

Consider securing a room in another location convenient to the event venue and hiring a babysitter(s) – see childcare provider to child ratios above. Finding a good babysitter can be a challenge, though, especially if you don’t have kids yourself, so think about asking for recommendations or going through a known website to find someone you can trust. For a typical wedding, you want to book them for about 5 hours to cover the ceremony and the reception, (more if the ceremony and reception are in different locations).  For other events, such as corporate office parties, book for the full time of the event.

Provide Quiet Toys or Activity Boxes

If your venue doesn’t have room for a separate area for kids, and they need to be where the festivities are taking place, bring some quiet toys or activities to keep the children occupied at their tables. For example, drawing paper and crayons, mini Etch-a-sketch, or fidget toys that don’t make sounds would be great to keep the kids entertained without adding extra noise.

If there is space for a supervised kids only area, feel free to include toys that are louder or which need more space, such as balls, balloons, Play-Doh, bubble wands, and classic outdoor games like cornhole.

Play “I Spy”

One idea I especially love is from a Buzzfeed article about entertaining kids at weddings. You could buy disposable cameras for all the kids and provide a sort of search-and-find game. This has the kids searching for specific items on your list that they have to take a picture of, such as “take a picture of someone laughing.” I love the creativity behind this as you could have the kids search for anything you want, it keeps the kids actively occupied, and it could even add to the wedding couple’s photos after the fact.

How do you keep children entertained at a big event or family function? What has worked for you in the past? Share your experiences with us!

Create a Stellar Retirement Party

It’s your retirement – let’s celebrate! It’s a great accomplishment to achieve, and it’s an opportunity to celebrate you as well as your years of dedication and hard work.

So what do you need to think about for a retirement party? Here are a few ideas.

Themes

Choosing a theme is an easy way to start the planning process. Your decorations, food choices, and party favors (if you decide to have them) can all be determined by your theme. If you’re jumping into the planning process for a retirement party and don’t know where to start, this should be Step 1. Shutterfly has a great article on how to choose a theme that works for your party and your goals.

If you decide not to have a theme, that’s great as well. You can still keep it simple and easy without becoming overwhelmed. For example, if you’re having the party in the autumn, you could use harvest décor on the invitations and for centerpieces. You could decide to use solid colors that go well together for napkins, tablecloths, and invitations, such as blue and gold, and voila! You have a good portion of your decisions already made.

Speeches

Your boss or direct supervisor will likely have a few words they’d like to say about your years of service. But your coworkers or team members may also have some words they’d like to share. Allow at least one speech and/or toast so that everyone attending has an easy opportunity to thank you by raising a glass in your honor.

You may also want to make a speech of your own. You could make it serious and heartfelt or funny and lighthearted, or some mixture of all the above. It’s also a way for you to publicly thank your colleagues for their support and dedication in the office alongside you. Your retirement celebration is all about you, for certain, but if you’re self-conscious or dislike having the spotlight entirely on you, go ahead and thank your team, your coworkers, your spouse or children, or anyone else you’d like to mention.

Slideshows

Decide if you’d like to have a slideshow. Or, if you’re planning the party for someone else, you could decide to include a slideshow in addition to or in place of a big speech. Use photos from past events the honoree was at, photos or video of their accomplishments or key projects, etc. Of course, you may not have photos of these events, so you may have to get creative. But do avoid a PowerPoint presentation style – you don’t want your guests to feel like they’re attending a business function. Keep it simple, keep it lighthearted, and keep it out of PowerPoint if at all possible!

Invite Friends and Family

It’s a celebration for your family and friends as much as your coworkers. Assuming your party isn’t at the office and restricted to colleagues, it’s perfectly OK to invite friends and family as well as business partners, networking partners, and other business connections to join in your festivities. Make sure that your invitations make this clear, however; if you’re inviting friends and family who may have young children, they’ll need to know if they need to arrange child care in order to attend, or if children are welcome.

Keep in Contact

Just because you’re retiring doesn’t mean you have to stop talking to all your work friends or partners. Make sure your colleagues and associates know how to contact you now that your office email won’t be the main method of contact. You could even create new retirement business cards with your preferred means of communication to hand out at the party, or set on a table for folks to take with them. Retirement may mark the end of an era for you, but it doesn’t mean you have to isolate yourself from the people who have made an impact on you.

4 Tips for a Corporate Holiday Party

A holiday party for your company is a great way to let employees relax, have fun, and get to know each other better. A party can encourage team bonding as well as let employees from different departments who may not interact on a day to day basis socialize with each other. It’s also a nice way to thank employees for their hard work through the year, and many companies will fold in awards, special thanks, or holiday gifts or bonuses with the holiday party to make it that much more exciting.

Here are a few tips for improving your company holiday party.

Planning is Key

Like any other big event, make sure you plan it! A holiday party sounds easy – just throw together some food, some music, and you’re done, right? Wrong! If you’re providing food, you need to account for any specialty diets. If you’re providing drinks, are you providing alcohol, and if so, is it open bar or cash bar? If you’re providing a special dessert, who’s making it and what kind will it be? In fact, who’s making any of your food?

Location is crucial if you plan to have the party outside of your office. Many locations book months in advance, and December is a popular time for parties in general. Plan to book a location and secure your spot during the summer months if at all possible. If you wait until the autumn to book a venue, be prepared to shop around or be turned down. If you need to wait until closer to December to book your location, it’s a good idea to have a plan B in mind already so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute, or forced to host a larger party in a small space.  

These questions and many more will come up in the process of planning your party, so it’s best to start early. You may want to have an events committee as well to help take on tasks so that no one person is doing everything.

If you’re planning a large party and you don’t have an in-house events coordinator, consider hiring an event planner to help get things organized.

Guest List

Your employees are invited, of course, but who else do you want to invite? What’s the goal of your holiday party?

If your goal is strictly to honor employees, you may want to limit the party just to your employees and maybe their families. If your party is more open to celebrating the business or a general end of the year party, consider inviting business partners, networking associates, colleagues outside the business, or potential clients or partners.

Once you decide, make sure it’s clear on the invitation who can come. Language such as “All employees and their families are invited – children welcome!” would cover all bases for most people. Also make it clear to whom questions and RSVPs should be directed.

Holiday Gift Exchange

A gift exchange for the office sounds like fun – but account for the length of the exchange when you’re picking the game! I know of one case where the office decided to do a White Elephant exchange one year and it took over an hour to get through all the gifts because of the number of people who decided to participate. While it could be fun, it’s maybe not the best use of your party time.

White Elephant is more fun for a smaller group, but it can be used by larger offices. Secret Santa can be fun, although it has been less popular as a choice for office gift exchanges. For this one, you may want to allow departments to do their own Secret Santa so that employees who know each other better will be more likely to choose gifts the person wants.

A Grab Bag could be a practical but fun gift exchange that’s similar to the White Elephant but without the potential for a too-long game. With Grab Bag, everyone who wants to participate brings a wrapped gift, which is put into a large opaque bag. Then the participants pull a gift from the bag on their turn based on how it feels and unwrap it. There’s no stealing in this game, so what you get is what you get.

Keep Diverse Backgrounds in Mind

A holiday party for your company is a fantastic idea. But you don’t want to accidentally alienate any of your employees or make them feel unwelcome. When choosing decorations or a theme, keep the diversity of your employees in mind. My recommendation is to either honor all the backgrounds represented by your employees, or none. For example, it’s likely that your holiday party isn’t going to be on Christmas itself, so rather than having the party be a “Christmas party”, it’s OK to leave it as a “holiday party” or “winter holiday party”. This also allows the party to be a simple celebration of the end of the year and keep it lighthearted and non-specific to any one tradition.

4 Themes for a Family Reunion

Using a theme can make party planning easier, especially if you’re struggling to come up with a decorating scheme. Family reunions can be a lot of fun for kids and adults alike if it’s planned well and the wide range of ages is taken into account in food choices, activities, and venue. For example, an outdoor reunion in the middle of summer’s heat and humidity might make it difficult for older members of the family to attend and be comfortable, while a completely indoor event might make it harder for children to find play space.

Take a look at four theme ideas for your next family reunion to help you get the ball rolling on your plans.

Simple and Easy

If budget is a concern, or if your family isn’t really interested in something more complicated, then keep it simple and easy. Make it potluck and ask everyone to bring their favorite dish. If your family members are particularly chatty or live very far away, you may not need many activities – they might just want to talk and catch up with each other over some good food. Make sure there are plenty of chairs, tables, and food, and you’re set!

Games

Who doesn’t like to play games? This is a great theme if you have a lot of young children in the family. The kids will be engaged through most of the event, and the adults can chat or play games as they like.

You could ask each family or person to name their favorite game and then provide it at the reunion or ask them to bring it along to share. Make sure there’s adequate table space for tabletop games and card games, and available open space for games like tag or hide and seek. You could also have new games for door prizes.

Children playing table games at a family reunion

Family Tree

A family reunion might seem like it would naturally lend itself to genealogy and family history, and it does – but your guests might need help to get the ball rolling. Making family history or some aspect of your heritage the main focus of the event and then designing things to do around that helps to get things moving.

Provide a large blank book and plenty of pens and ask members of the family to share a favorite memory or family story. This is something you could repeat each year regardless of the theme as well, particularly if you’re trying to collect family history stories, and you could use a new book each year or reuse the old one until it’s full.

If someone in your family is the main genealogist, ask them if they could help you showcase your family tree, either in a printed form that everyone could take home at the end or in a digital format that could be shared at the event.

Family photos are also a great way to introduce the family tree theme. Ask each family to send you a certain number of photos and then display them in a slideshow throughout the event. It gives everyone something to look at and chat about while eating or mingling.

Decades

This could be a really fun theme to work with! Choose a decade, let’s say the 1980s, and highlight that decade at your event. You could play ‘80s music, wear clothes from the decade, play games popular in the ‘80s, and more.

For the more recent decades, you could showcase different family members who were born in that span of years. Maybe they could be the only people to win a door prize, or they could receive a special dessert. Everyone could share a favorite thing they enjoyed about the decade, or what their favorite movie was from that time.

Emphasizing a decade as your theme gives you a host of options to play with!

5 Ideas for Hosting a Launch Party

A launch party is a fantastic tool to create buzz for a new company, new product, or other celebratory event. Everyone from small businesses, authors, artists, musicians, and large companies can use a launch party to announce themselves to the world and invite people to celebrate in their success. It can also be a great way to make new contacts and network with guests who come to learn more about what you have to offer. Here are 5 ideas to consider when putting together a launch party.

Location

Location, location, location! You hear it all the time in real estate – it’s just as true for hosting a party. You want a venue that will meet your needs and still be cost effective. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive venue in the area to be a great party. Hotel conference rooms are always an option, but you could also consider a restaurant with a private room (which has the benefit of built-in food and drink), a park, a theater, or other such unusual space. Depending on the size of your party, you could ask partner businesses if they have space to rent in their offices or buildings that would be appropriate as well.

Free Food

We all love free things. Offer to feed people and they will come. There are multiple options for providing food for guests, depending on your venue and budget. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Catering. Having your event catered is perhaps the most stress-free option, but it doesn’t come without cost. Carefully consider your budget and get quotes from local catering companies to explore your options.
  • Food trucks. If your event is outdoors or on a street that allows food trucks, you could consider booking one or two food trucks to be at your event for 2-3 hours.
  • Local restaurants or vendors. Involving local businesses in your event not only supports your local economy, it can create goodwill and networking opportunities among fellow business owners. Get in touch with some local small businesses and ask if they would be willing to sponsor or contribute to your event, and offer to promote their restaurant or company at the event itself and on social media.
  • Friends and family. If you’re holding a truly small event—as in, less than 50 people—then you may be able to make enough food and drink yourself and with the help of family and friends. However, think very carefully before going this route. Consider how much stress this could add to your pre-event organization, and consider how much your loved ones will actually be able to help in the days leading up to your party. If it’s going to create too much havoc, you may want to consider another option.

Giveaways or Door Prizes

Who doesn’t like to win a prize? Especially if it’s something useful, fun, or unique. A popular door prize is Amazon gift cards, or gift cards in general. However, you can also give away free tickets to an event, coupons or discounts for a product or service, centerpieces, or items from partners and sponsors who have volunteered something for the occasion. I encourage you to think creatively with door prizes, as it’s a great opportunity to provide something memorable or fun.

Backdrop

Provide a backdrop or banner for guests to take pictures in front of. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Depending on the size, you can get a relatively inexpensive banner from online print sites like Vistaprint, some of which will provide designs that you can use. Guests can take pictures of themselves with your product, with other guests, etc., and post their photos on social media. Ask guests to tag you in their posts or use a hashtag to help spread the word about your event.

You may even want to hire a professional photographer for an hour or two to take photos so you have quality images to share on your company’s website or social media. Combined with your guests’ photos, you’ll have a comprehensive view of your event that you can share.

Be You

The most important tip: Be you. Be genuine. People are there to learn more about you and celebrate you. Host an event that showcases your business, your product, or your brand, and let people get to know you in a fun, low-key way. It’s tempting to try to go over the top with a fancy party, expensive catering or location, or swanky prizes. But if that’s not your brand, it’s likely going to fall flat.