I love a good house party – in particular, I love hosting them. Hedge and I just threw our annual holiday party last weekend (a tradition of mine since 2009, and one we have shared since 2013!!), which we relish in trying to make bigger and better every year – more guests, fancier food + drink, more features. That said, we’re both “normal” people, throwing parties on a budget, so we’ve gotten pretty clever at stretching our spend to reach for Gatsby-esque party glitz.
For those of us hosts + hostesses who similarly have grown out of red Solo cup parties but aren’t quite at hiring full-service caterers + valets, here are some tips to take your next house party to the next level:
1. RENT YOUR GLASSWARE
This was the “drinks station” we set up for the 2013 holiday party.
A lot of people don’t realize you can rent wine glasses, champagne flutes, low balls, etc. (not to mention serving plates, silverware, etc.) from party rental companies. These are the same companies that outfit large-scale events like corporate parties and weddings, but they also accept small orders that you can pick up and drop off at will-call. Just google “[your city] stemware rental” to find some options.
Not only does real glassware take the “class” level up immeasurably from plastic disposable options, it’s also much more environmentally friendly. Plus, I’ve noticed that guests are better-behaved when holding a real glass – maybe out of fear of breaking it, but also I think because it adds a different elegant tone to the party.
Good news too: when the party’s over, you don’t need to wash or rinse anything: just put everything back in the shipping crates and bring it back the next weekday.
Cost: it varies by the style (I mean, you can rent actual crystal!), but expect a wine glass to cost $0.75-$2.00 a piece to rent from Friday afternoon to Monday morning, and a lowball to stay under $1.00.
2. START A TRADITION
Of course, traditions are only official after they have happened more than once, but even if you think you might throw another party again, it’s worth thinking of something special you would like to your guests to remember about your events. For instance, Hedge used to live in Sevilla; and during the holidays in Spain, a family will put out a big leg of jamon serrano (or ibérico, if you’re fancy) and slice pieces off throughout the season. He wanted to share that Spanish tradition with our friends last year, and it was such a hit that we knew it needed to be a feature of our holiday parties every year.
Before and after: our leg of jamon serrano. Note to the wise that in 2013 we had the leg be a participatory thing, but we decided going forward that drunk friends wielding 14″ fileting knives = not the safest.
3. SET UP A PHOTO BOOTH
In this age of social media and digital storage limitlessness, people love taking photos at events – and house parties should be no exception! Hedge’s awesome idea for this year’s holiday party was to turn his man cave into a photo booth for guests, using my Nikon DSLR, backdrop decor + silly festive hats from Amazon.com, and this $50 photo booth software for his laptop.
Our little photo booth template, which I created in Illustrator. Lil Viv in her reindeer antlers stars in the template, as well as photos!
Another cute thing about this software is that you can create custom templates for guests’ photos to be arranged into – from a single photo to multiple, and include party messages or hashtags. We chose to make the largest photo in the template the *third* photo taken, since we figured the first would be practice and the third would be the wackiest.
Then, guests can email the finished photo booth output to themselves, or even text (but it costs $0.0075 per text, via Twilio).
Hedge’s friends from college and +1s, a few hours into the party (lolz), sporting festive headwear.
For backdrop inspiration, I turned to the interwebs for how to get something cheap + decent looking for our first photo booth attempt – turns out a lot of fabulous bloggers have shared their insanely creative photo booth decor ideas. Next year, the backdrop will be taken to the next level: green screen (maybe. Or just less janky).
Our backdrop, a little haggard the day after the party. It’s made of 2 cheap plastic tablecloths, and 2 packs of tinsel “curtains,” all from Amazon.
4. CONSIDER BOXED WINE IN DECANTERS (Yes, really!)
Our go-to boxed wine brand is Wine Cube (far right), available at Target of all places.
Boxed wine has come a long way since the Franzia days. Really legit winemakers have been introducing new brands of boxed wine whose quality is on-par with very reputable *traditional bottled* wine. I have taste-tested many Wine Cube wines with my wine-loving friends over the past couple years, and they’ve all been so surprised and impressed.
Another benefit, besides cost-effectiveness (average $4-5/750mL), is how much waste you minimize with boxed wine. 8 boxes of Wine Cube (at 3L in each box) takes up only 2 cubic feet of space, and only weighs what the wine weighs inside – compare that to its weight and space-taking equivalent of 32 bottles! You’re saving from consuming and disposing of all that glass, as well as (if you’re an eco-friendly nerd like me) the amount of energy + fuel it takes to produce the bottles and transport them. PLUS… Hedge and I live in a 3rd story walk-up, so party prep AND clean-up involves carrying everything up and down a bunch of stairs. It was a lot tougher when we were trucking cases and cases of wine vs. just a few boxes.
That said, don’t serve boxed wine out of the box – that’s tacky. Decanters, on the other hand, are so beautiful, and functionally help aerate the wine. I’ve collected a few over the years, and a very thoughtful friend bought me one as a hostess gift; but if you don’t have enough for your party, guess what – yes, party rental places do rent decanters as well 🙂
Some wacky decanters, which wouldn’t hold a ton of wine, but would definitely impress some guests and start conversation
5. GET A COAT RACK
It sounds really minor, but giving your guests a civilized place to put away their coats and bags when they arrive at your house (especially during winter parties) makes such a difference – particularly if you live in a city-sized place, as we do. I’ve always felt that having your guests throw their belongings down on a bed or a couch in another room makes their process of leaving the party more stressful. Inevitably, someone loses their coat, or takes someone else’s, or their coat falls off the bed and gets stepped on.
Party rental companies rent coat racks (super affordable – ours was a 6 foot rack that folded down for transportation, and only $16 for the weekend!), but you can also buy them on Amazon for $20-80 (“garment rack, or rolling garment rack”), if you have room to store one after. Note: whether your rent or buy a coat rack, the rack will NOT come with hangers. So you’ll need to get some online or borrow a bunch from your neighborhood dry cleaners.
Do you have any other house party advice for those of us with fancy party tastes on a budget? Share the wealth!! And happiest of holidays, everyone!!