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Sunday, April 11, 2010

A party is only as good as its guests

It's time to put together the guest list for your Cinco de Mayo party.  Determine how many people you want to invite. Grab a pencil and paper and get to work. Everyone has their own formula: equal number of men and women, a banker, a journalist, somebody involved in politics, a restaurateur, someone in marketing . . . a butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. My method has evolved over the years and works well for me. Use it as a place to start and adjust it to fit your needs.

I start with my best friends-- you know, the ones who show up early to help set up and stay to put the leftover food in the refrigerator. I even give them a quick call to make sure that they can come. I have three couples on my short list and I try to never have a party unless at least two of them can come.

Then I add someone that we have known for a while, but never invited to anything—you know, that couple that you see and think, “I bet we could be good friends if we got to know each other well.” Sometimes they are a neighbor, someone from church, the parents of my child’s friend, etc.

Next, I pick at least two people from each of our different “worlds”—work, church, neighborhood, soccer, etc. I pick at least two so that everyone knows someone. If it’s a small community of people, I invite everyone. For example, there are only four people in my husband’s department. Even though I only like two of them, I invite all of them. Chances are, the people I don’t get along with will probably not come. I now have my first draft.

I go through the list and edit. Sometimes I add and sometimes I subtract. If you find yourself with someone on the list that is not a good match, it’s OK to cross them off.
  • Singles: If there are single people on the list, I make sure that at least 25% of the invitees are single. I DO NOT try to play matchmaker. My goal is to make them feel comfortable and not out of their element.
  • Social Class: We have a HUGE mix of friends. Our guest lists often include CEO’s, college professors, politicians, doctors, plumbers, electricians, elementary school teachers, firemen, people who live in mansions, people who live in trailers, etc. To make a party work, everyone must feel like they belong. I go through the list and make sure that there are equal numbers of people from each social class. If you try to pretend that we live in a classless society, you will mess this up and people will feel like outcasts.
  • Understand Your Motive: What kind of party is this? Will we be playing games or having a sit down dinner with conversation? With my motive in mind, I go through the list again. I know which of my friends are good at games, enjoy acting silly, are great conversationalists, etc. It is OK to cross off your friends who hate playing games, they will probably be grateful. You can always invite them to your wine and cheese tasting party.
  • Let’s Talk: Review the list for conversation styles. I know which of my friends love to talk politics and which ones love to talk about shopping. Visualize the party: I can see Neal and Bud standing near the beverages discussing health care, Cindi, Heather, and Donlyn sitting on the couch talking about their children. Where is Cathy? She does not fit in with either group-- I have to fix that.
  • The social butterflies: I always add one to two social butterflies—even if I don’t really like them. You know who I am talking about—your husband’s coworker who has something to say about everything and Sally-do-good from the PTA who is always laughing and telling some story about their latest travels. Even though you have long reached the conclusion that you will never break through their hard candy shell to get to the melts-in-your-mouth goodness that makes a friend a friend, they are AWESOME people to have at parties. They will talk to everyone. They bridge the barriers and bring people together. They make people feel welcome. Remember, it took you a while to decide that you don’t really want to be friends with Sally. You neighbor is just meeting her and will probably never see her again.
  • Who did I forget?: I break out the Christmas card list and add anyone that I may have forgotten. I also run my finished draft by my husband. He always finds someone to add.
A few parting words of advice:

Invite just one type of person
Invite someone who doesn’t really fit because you owe them
Invite known adversaries
Try your best
Take the time after the party to critique which guests worked well and which ones left early. Make notes for next time.

Good Luck!

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