Plan a few memorable details, and then focus on enjoying time with your guests.
Planning a party is an art — it takes organization, creativity, and the rare skill of refusing to completely drown in a puddle of stress when things go haywire. But for people like Bryan Rafanelli, party-planning is a career. As the founder and CEO of Rafanelli Events, Rafanelli has gained national recognition for producing some of the most impressive events of the decade, including weddings for the likes of Chelsea Clinton and Alison Williams, White House State Dinners, and charitable galas. Considering he and his team have produced thousands of events in three decades, you can bet that Rafanelli knows how to throw one heck of a holiday party. Here are his tips for hosting a seamless, memorable event in your own home.
Plan around the six senses
When it’s time to start planning a party, Rafanelli suggests thinking simple, visualizing what people will want to see, feel, hear, touch, and taste. “And the sixth sense is fun,” he says. “The first reason you throw a party is to have fun, so lean into that.” Once you’ve thought about things like how the house is going to smell, the type of music you want to play, and the ways you’re going to help your guests have a good time, you can begin to hone in the details.
Time gives you choices
Although starting the planning process early isn’t a requirement, the more time you give yourself, the more flexibility you have in selecting the vendors, ordering products, and making backup plans. But if you wind up with less time than expected, don’t fret. For many people, Rafanelli included, last-minute decision making can be just as advantageous as planning ahead. “As a creative person who loves to throw parties, I am much better at spontaneity,” he says.
Finish your prep 24 hours ahead of time
“If you want to have a great party, you need to be present at your party,” says Rafanelli. But in order to be present, you need to know that all of the hard work is done. The week leading up to the event, Rafanelli prioritizes checking off everything left on his to-do list. Ideally, the only thing to save for the day-of is the food — anything you have to keep warm. “It’s all about taking action, putting things in place, and knowing where they are. That day should really just be about turning up the heat and making it happen in real-time.”
Decorate above eye-level
“The only things guests can really see are shoulders and above,” says Rafanelli. So rather than spending time on intricate table settings, prioritize things that are elevated. Maybe you deck out the shelves, filling them with LED candles (“there are so many magnificent battery-operated candles out there that no one should be putting wax in their house anymore,” Rafanelli notes.) Or maybe you deck the space out with tall flowers or vines. “You want to be able to walk in and see it across the room, That will make such an impact.”
There’s beauty in numbers
The more the merrier may not always apply for the number of guests, but it does for decorations. “If you have a beautiful vase filled with 50 amaryllis — pink, red, and white — that’s what everyone is going to be talking about,” says Rafanelli. “Those big moments are really going to wow a guest.”
Make sure the layout is intuitive
In Rafanelli’s opinion, a good party is one where the logistics are seamless. A guest should be able to walk through the door, know where to hang up their coat, and easily make their way to the bar. “That kind of operation is what I do for a living, but it’s what I really notice,” he says. “It’s not just about how spectacular the party is. It’s really about how organized it is.” It’s especially important to make sure that drinks are accessible to every partygoer. Rather than having one table for beverages, consider setting up several ice buckets around your house with one bottle of white and one of red, and corkscrews within reach.
Label your drinks
As a host, few things are a bigger drag than getting asked the same question over and over again. So when it comes to serving a batched punch or a signature cocktail, Rafanelli recommends having visible signage that lists the ingredients. That way, you can easily avoid allergic reactions, and your guests can automatically know whether or not your drink suits their preferences.
Plan a moment of togetherness
Whether it’s a Christmas carol singalong or a festive toast, Rafanelli loves to gather the guests for a moment of celebration. “It creates an energy and a sense of, ‘We’re grateful that you are here so let’s celebrate in this crazy world we live in — this one moment that we’re all together,’” he says. “I think appreciation and gratitude lives inside a moment like that, and it is super, super fun.”
Forget about perfection
Rafanelli says that one of the most common mistakes that a host can make is remaining so focused on making the party perfect or being judged by their guests, that they lose sight of the bigger picture. “Perfection kills the possibility of having a good time,” he claims. “If you get so wrapped up in making sure that the party is absolutely flawless, then you get lost. You’re not present. You’re not talking to your guests. It becomes a bit of a disaster.” Instead, try to remember that things are always going to go wrong, and that that is okay. Rain or shine, the party will keep on rolling.
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