How to Be a Great Party Host & Tips for Creating a Memorable Event

Photo of a woman pouring wine into a flute glass outside. Below her is a table filled with other glasses of wine and plates of food. The lighting is blue from nighttime, and there are warmly-colored candles scattered around the table.

Spring is upon us (finally!), and that means summer isn’t far behind. One of my favorite things about summer is that it provides endless excuses for evening hangouts, late-night cocktails, outdoor lounging with friends, and parties of all kinds. Do you prefer hosting gatherings or being a guest at them? Whatever your preference, She Leaguer Christy Howley, a flourishing event planner and seasoned party host here in Cleveland, has all the tips and tricks you need to have a memorable party. If you’d like to get in touch with her about Cleveland-based event planning, you can reach out via her website at Read on for all of Christy’s party-hosting and party-going wisdom!

If you want to host the best soirée ever at your place...

Mastering the art of hosting a great party can be intimidating, but with practice and a few tools up your sleeve, you can leave your guests feeling delighted by your soiree and impressed by your hosting skills.  With a little planning, and help for your friends, you’ll be hosting a memorable party that “sparks joy” for your partygoers!

Enlist a co-host

When your invitees arrive, you will likely be very busy taking coats (depending on the time of year), answering the door, serving drinks, and perhaps even getting appetizers out of the oven and onto serving platters. Consider inviting a close friend or spouse to arrive early to either help you with food/drinks or entertain your first arrivals. If you have some butterflies pre-party, you can even have a mini dance party together before the doorbell rings.  

Create connections

When I first moved to Cleveland, I was worried I didn’t have a big enough friend group to host a party. Eventually, I realized that I knew a number of fantastic people through different groups & events, and I HAD to bring them all together! As new partygoers arrive, try to take a minute or two to provide a good introduction of your guests to each other. Sharing an anecdote or interesting story is a great starting point so the guests can dive into conversation.

Always have more food than you think…depending on the time of day

I’m including this tip as a bit of a joke with my husband, who often remarks that I have overestimated my guests’ hunger. That being said, particularly if alcohol is involved, you will want to make sure attendees are well-fed so they’re not drinking on an empty stomach. Inclusive hosts will consider gluten-free and vegan options (hello, fresh cut veggies, anyone?!). If you will be serving an abundance of food, why not move the party time up to 6 or 7 pm, rather than 8 or 9 pm, so your guests know to come hungry? The time of day will dictate hunger expectations…plan accordingly.  

Above photos: Behind-the-scenes photos from Christy, during different party setups.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

While we’re on the topic of food & beverage, having a selection of sparkling water and/or a few classic soft drinks on hand is a great way to encourage hydration. I like to set out some sparkling waters so guests can grab them easily, as well as a pitcher of infused water (try lemons or cucumbers & mint), which doubles as an effortless centerpiece for your table. And if you have nice glassware, use it! There is no occasion too frivolous to hold back on using your best kitchenware.

Accept the help of guests

Friends often offer to bring a dish or dessert to a party. This is a wonderful gesture! There can be a lot of prep work involved in hosting a party and having one less thing on your plate will be a relief when you’re in the final hours/days ahead of your event. I’ve had friends bring in a dessert that gets the whole room talking! Shared dishes are a conversation starter and guests love the opportunity to be a part of the party on a deeper level.

My advice to anyone who’s looking to host a party is to just do it! It doesn’t have to be a formal affair. Parties are all about bringing people together for connection and celebration. Some of my most memorable parties have been imaginative get-togethers around a theme, something that gets your guests excited and talking. There is nothing like a fabulous party!

If you’d rather not host, but want to make a good impression as a party guest...

Many of these principles I’ve learned from my lineage – my mom, best known as Party Marty, and her mom, the Grande Nona, Kathy. Both love a dinner party & cocktail party and have seen their fair share of ‘do’s and don’ts.’

Always RSVP

My advice on RSVPing is pretty simple…always reply with a yes or no IMMEDIATELY! This will mean so much to your host, who has put in a ton of effort to plan this special affair. It takes you less than a minute (I promise) –  therefore you should do it as soon as possible when you open up the invitation. You will feel better, your host will feel better, and you can count down the minutes until the big day!

Offer to help

Coming from a host who will not ask for help with party planning, it’s a really nice gesture to offer to bring a dish or help in some way. Many hosts will refuse, but often they welcome the opportunity to delegate a course such as dessert. Find a fun recipe to try out and live it up!

Never show up empty-handed

Photo of red-orange cocktails in short glasses. The glasses have dancing frogs on them.

Your host has been kind enough to open their home, and a hostess gift is a great way to thank them for their time & effort. No need to break the bank: gifts can be as simple as a bottle of wine or a funky 6-pack of local beer. You can also give a unique, personalized gift, or something entertaining-related, like a fun set of cocktail napkins. I often like to give a gourmet specialty snack that you might not bother to buy for yourself, but will be a fun treat for the host post-party. My current favorite hostess gift is a custom bouquet of flowers from Blossom Cleveland – beautiful blooms always bring a smile to the party.

Mingle like a pro

Adam Grant, the organizational psychologist, has written about the power of giving and not taking, and this applies to conversations at parties as well.  His advice is to focus on 1-2 longer & deeper conversations at networking events, and if you’re attending a party where you don’t know anyone, the party may feel a bit like a networking event. A great conversation starter is simply to ask someone about how they met the host. It’s a simple yet effective way to get chatting. You may come away learning more about your mutual friend, too!  

A note on hydration

The need to alternate water & drinks is real. Especially if you don’t know many attendees, you’re going to want to put your best face forward.  You will be a better conversationalist if you alternate your beverages. I like to have a glass of water alongside my beer/wine/cocktail so I can simultaneously hydrate as I enjoy a beverage.

Have fun!

And smile! Being open and inviting to others is so powerful.  Some of my best parties would not have been the same without my amazing guests who came in with their whole selves, enjoyed the food & company, and were present. In a day and age where we’re so focused on digital connections, there is something so special about putting your phone away and enjoying the magic of a great party.

Feature photo by Dave Lastovskiy on Unsplash. Inset photos of party setups by Christy Howley. Photo of cocktails in frog glasses by Hilary Bovay.