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Turn that awkward social gathering into a soiree

Posted: December 25, 2011 - 1:02am

I’m sorry you haven’t all been invited, but I throw one heck of a party. I don’t want to be the only hostess with the most(ess) and feel that I would benefit from sharing how to host a truly splendid soiree.

Why a soiree? Unless you want to be cleaning blood off the carpet, I recommend capping events at soiree status. Even in college, I wasn’t brave enough to host a kegger. My parents always suggested not having a “rager,” which I suspect is something people did in the 80s, and there aren’t enough straw bales in Juneau to host a proper hootenanny. You also don’t want anything too mild. Who wants to attend a gathering? If you got excited about a gathering, you may have reached some point of no return in the world of adulthood.

A soiree is classy and fun at the same time. You want to invite slightly more people than will comfortably fit in your living space, knowing that 20 percent will forget, be too lazy, or go to someone’s “rager” or gathering instead. Also, inevitably, that annoying guy nobody actually invited will show up. Using this incredibly scientific formula, you should have enough people to keep things interesting but few enough to keep the wait for the bathroom short enough that nobody has to resort to uncouth measures.

Music will be necessary. Since most people don’t have a stage handy, hiring a band is generally out of the question. Create a playlist instead. It is crucial that your playlist be well thought out or that your Pandora station be chosen with care. Someone, or everyone, will make fun of your for having a single by Justin Bieber, even if it is for your daughter/sister/a joke. I recommend something reasonably upbeat but that won’t cause heart palpitations. If you make a playlist on iTunes, be sure your playlist is long enough that it won’t repeat six or seven times over the course of a four hour soiree. Especially if you included terrible music.

Possibly more important than music and breathing room is the food. As host or hostess of an event, you are making a commitment to provide for the guests. Sure, you suggested that people might bring a snack or a drink, but unless you want all pita chips, hummus, chips and salsa you had better have planned ahead. I made 50+ mini chocolate cupcakes with Nutella buttercream frosting for my Mad Men themed birthday party earlier in the year. I’m lucky I got one. You don’t have to slave over a hot oven all day, though, try making Caprese salad bites — skewer grape tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil on toothpicks and provide some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I also recommend getting some fancy cheeses from Rainbow Foods. That Humboldt Fog is amazing.

Most soirees are not complete without something to drink. If a guest is age 21 or older, they might appreciate some wine or beer and maybe even cocktails. The easiest thing is to have some basic liquors and mixers on hand, an oversized bottle of wine or two, and a case or so of beer from Alaskan Brewing Co. If you are hosting a holiday party, it is also the perfect time to make hot-buttered-rum or mulled wine. And if you are ringing in the new year, be sure to have enough champagne on hand for a midnight toast. Adjust your budget according to your own needs. Where I may submit my guests to some $10 sparkling wine, others might be able to provide something Jay-Z would approve of (talk to John DeCherney about that, apparently). If you feel like playing bartender, consider doing a holiday inspired mojito.

When you host a soiree, you want to have fun, but it is also important that nobody dies and that people feel their needs are met and choices are respected. For those who don’t drink, consider having some sparkling cider or other non-alcoholic beverages on hand. For your gluten free friends, pick up some rice crackers. Vegan friends? They don’t eat grass. Be respectful and provide some vegan friendly options. And be honest about ingredients - whether dietary restrictions are self-imposed or due to allergies — bad things can happen.

A proper soiree is, as I said, classy. There are 364 other days of the year for people to wear Xtra-Tufs — let your soiree be special and encourage people to dust off their dress shoes and wear their finest. You don’t have to turn people away at the door, but some mild threats before the event might encourage people to look their best. If you are really serious about this soiree being a sparkling example of class and fun, keep some glitter on hand to throw at guests who mock your enthusiasm for looking good.

Now, if you are requesting that your guests put in such effort, you should probably have a few things in order. Bring out your finest not-paper-or-plastic-plates, consider having some real stemware, even if it isn’t fancy crystal, and think about some nice lighting choices that will bathe everyone in a warm glow, rather than that sickly pallor that fluorescent lighting and Juneau weather combine to create.

As a good host or hostess, you should be sure to greet every guest and spend a little time chatting, except for that annoying guy, and if you find out who told him about the party, you don’t have to greet and talk to that person either. Try to keep an eye on how people are doing. Empty glasses? That should be remedied promptly. A wallflower? Try to engage people in conversation so nobody feels left out. If someone has had one too many, provide them with some water and keep a number for a cab company handy. This might go without saying, but nothing ruins a soiree like puke.

Be gracious and fun, and don’t lock people in. Sure, your Facebook event or paper invitation that people promptly lost said the party goes from 7:30 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. and people arrived at 9 p.m. and some people will get antsy at 10:30 p.m. — thank people for coming and let them be on their way if they feel so inclined. The soiree will be the most fun if the people who are there really want to be there, whether they number three or 30.

If it gets down to you and just a few others, maybe it’s time to call it and celebrate with the masses at one of the many parties around town that can host a band. At least if the most festive hours of the night are hosted by someone else, you can be assured that the worst of the clean-up is not yours to do.

Well, you have a week to plan a soiree — go on, get started.

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