Wedding reception seats

Seating Guests at Wedding Receptions

I’ve previously discussed Five Things to Remember When Planning a Wedding. Here’s one more to consider: how to seat your guests. The bridal party is traditionally seated at an elevated, rectangular table in the front of the room. The day is all about them, after all. The parents of the bride and groom are seated nearby. For everyone else, it’s kind of a free-for-all, unless you plan the seating arrangement yourself.

If your wedding is small, you may not need to plan seating arrangements. However, if the reception is going to be large, organizing where everyone sits is something to at least consider.

Planned Seating

Ideally, planned seating guarantees every guest will be able to sit at a table full of people they know and like. Without a plan, some people may find the only open seats are with a bunch of strangers. Also, if there’s an unfortunate feud between certain guests, planned seating ensures they don’t end up at the same table…or even the same side of the room, if you so choose.

If a caterer is serving a plated meal, and the guests chose from multiple options when they RSVPed, planned seating makes it easier for servers to correctly deliver meals. With unplanned seating, name tags indicating meal choices are left at the entrance and guests bring them to their seats. If the tag gets lost, things get complicated.

Table nnumbered at wedding reception
Centerpieces include a number for each table so guests can find assigned seats.

The most common way of organizing planned seating is to post an alphabetical list of guests at the entrance, with each guest assigned a number. Tables then bear corresponding numbers so guests can find their seats.

Unplanned Seating

The biggest plus of unplanned seating is convenience for whoever is planning the wedding. Large weddings can mean organizing hundreds of people. And heaven forbid you miss someone who then has to be awkwardly fit in somewhere.

Planned seating also implies you know best about who should sit with whom. Your guests are adults. Shouldn’t they be able to figure it out for themselves? Maybe they want to better know a cousin they don’t see often. Maybe there’s a feud you don’t know about. Unplanned seating gives guests the freedom to choose their dinner companions.

Setting cards on a table at wedding reception
For unplanned seating, setting cards bear each person’s name and something to indicate their meal choice. They will place it at their chosen seat.

If you are going with unplanned seating, make sure the few seats which are assigned are clearly marked. While the bridal table is usually obvious, the parents’ table is not.

However you arrange seating, make sure you have a plan well in advance. Like most choices involved in a wedding, decisions should not be made at the last moment. It may impact other aspects of the wedding, such as how the caterer approaches serving the meal, so it’s best to have plans ready well in advance.

Smiling business woman during company lunch buffet

Mingling with Strangers

It’s one thing to attend a party with friends where you know everyone or, at least, can be extremely casual with those you’re just meeting. However, attending large events with strangers or near strangers is an entirely different story. This can be anything from a business conference to a wedding. You may know some people, but you’re also expected to socialize with a large number of strangers.

The key lesson is to keep your focus on the other person. Behave in a way that caters to them. Hopefully, they will do the same to you, but even if they don’t, you will walk away the better person, and they may still recognize your politeness.

To that end, don’t carry things in your right hand, since that’s the hand you shake with. Constantly juggling items between hands is distracting and awkward. This is particularly a point with drinks. Shaking someone’s wet hand is just kind of gross.

Most people put name tags on their left side, since they’re doing it with their right hand. However, when shaking someone’s hand, the right side of the chest is most visible, so it makes more sense to place the tag on the right rather than the left.

Businessman Attaching Name Tag At Conference
Businessman Attaching Name Tag At Conference

When striking up conversation, ask open-ended questions. Questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no do not move the conversation forward. Also, it shows your interest in the other person. When they’re asking the questions, avoid short answers like “good” even if it will technically suffice. Explain why things are going well. This interaction gives both participants something to build off of in continuing the conversation.

Then, of course, is the age old rule of avoiding religion and politics. You don’t know what the strangers around you believe. It’s easy to presume everyone agrees with you, particularly if you get along with them in general. In fact, they may have radically different viewpoints on some matters, and things can get awkward and even insulting very quick.

Beyond those topics, also be wary of humor. Your friends get your sense of humor, and that may leave you with the impression you’re funny to everyone. You might not be. Poking fun at the wrong things or engaging in certain types of humor can quickly lead to insult. Even if you think a few jokes will lighten up a dull evening, think long and hard about actually engaging in comedy.

Forced to be in a crowd full of strangers can be a daunting task. You’re probably required to be there, so you’d best make the best of it. First and foremost, make your interactions be about others rather than yourself. Make it easier for them to converse with you. Not only is it polite, but it also makes it more likely to continue a conversation with them. The alternative is to continue drifting aimlessly in a sea of strangers.

Man recieving birthday presents

Throwing a Surprise Party

When cake and ice cream seems a little boring, a surprise party might be just the thing to give the birthday-person something to remember. But there are tricks to surprise parties. Have you ever seen a surprise party on a TV show go according to plan? Be sure to think things through when planning a surprise party.

1. Don’t Promise Something You Won’t Deliver

At some point, you’re going to need to be at least somewhat deceptive. If the party will be at the person’s house, you need to get him away from the house. If the party is being held elsewhere, you need to transport them without arousing suspicion. However you’re getting the person moving, follow up on promises. Don’t promise a baseball game unless you’re going to a baseball game. The promise will get him excited about it, which can only end in some degree of disappointment,no matter how cool the surprise is.

2. As Chaperone, Don’t Be Boring

Commonly, a chaperone stays with the target while everyone else sets up the surprise. The chaperone can stall for time if the target gets the itch to head back early. But there’s only so long one can stall if the afternoon is boring.

Sure, you can go out for groceries or some other errand, but why not do something fun? Maybe go out for lunch or even attend that baseball game previously mentioned. Do something that will keep the target away from the party location until the appointed time.

Happy family celebrating 70th birthday

3. Don’t Pretend It’s Not His Birthday

It’s the party that’s a surprise, not the birthday. By all means, wish him a happy birthday. Give him a card. Promise you’re going out to dinner later (presuming you actually are, as per rule #1). One of two things will happen if you pretend you forgot: feelings will be hurt or suspicions will be raised.

Even better, don’t hold the party on his birthday. Offset it by a couple of days and behave normally.

4. Hide the Cars

If you’re holding the party at the target’s home, hide the cars. He’s going to know something is up when there’s eight cars parked outside. Carpool to limit the number of vehicles. This is particularly important if someone has a memorable car. Scatter cars down the street so it doesn’t look like a single group and it doesn’t look like they’re associated with his house.

5. Plan the Surprise with the Target in Mind

Not all parties were created equal. Surprise parties do not require people to jump out from behind the sofa. You can lead him to a room at his favorite restaurant where he’s surprised by all the guests awaiting him, for example.

Do not embarrass the target. He may already feel a bit flustered by the surprise. Let that turn into excitement and love rather than frustration at juvenile behavior.

Consider what kind of party this person enjoys. Does he like huge groups of people, or is something more intimate appropriate? Measure your party on quality, not quantity.

Always remember the surprise party is about him. It’s his day. Help him enjoy it as much as possible in a way they’ll remember fondly for years.

sisters playing Pokemon Go

Turn Pokemon Go Into a Great Party

Pokemon Go is already a phenomena. If your friends or kids have a love of the game, why not turn it into an enjoyable event?

First, you’ll need someplace worth playing. Some areas are loaded with Pokemon, others hardly at all. Good places are generally high traffic locations like downtown areas or locations of cultural significance. You can use PokeVision (when it’s running) to see how many creatures are spawning at a specific place. Then check it out in person. You may find Pokemon there are spread more or less far apart than they looked on-screen.

If this is for children, safety is an issue. Are the children old enough to not wander into the street while looking at their cell phones? Consider how much supervision these children will need in public and make arrangements with some of the other parents.

One drawback of Pokemon Go is it’s difficult to eat or drink while playing. At the very least, you should plan breaks where players can get drinks. You may also want to plan for a meal. This gives everyone time to recuperate and regain energy to keep playing. If it’s particularly hot out, it also gives everyone a respite from the heat.

Adults sometimes turn Pokemon parties into pub crawls. Players will wander the streets catching Pokemon and duck into bars for a drink. Besides merging two things many people love, there’s also a good possibility of meeting like-minded individuals. Just be safe about it. Pub crawls generally happen at night, and that offers complications. And public intoxication is a crime even if you are playing Pokemon.

Children playing Pokemon Go at a PokeStop
Group of smiling children posing at urban street with mobile devices

There are a few benefits of planning a group outing. One, people can coordinate to find more desirable Pokemon. Two, it’s a social outing like any other. Three, lures are amazing,

Free lures are rare, but you can buy them for less than a dollar. Drop one on a Pokestop, and Pokemon are attracted to the location for the next 30 minutes. It gets really fun if two or three Pokestops are close together, and you can drop lures on all of them. People just sit down, hang out, and gobble up Pokemon.

Active lures are visible in the game from some distance, so a great way of motivating people to keep moving is to keep dropping lures ahead of the group.

Critics have complained that Pokemon Go interferes with socialization. Instead, players obsess over a game on their phones. In fact, people can do both. Plenty of people, adults and children, play the game in groups, and there’s lots of goofing around in between Pokemon catches. It’s a hobby like any other, and lots of people plan parties around common interests. So why not Pokemon?

Friends Having a Party in an Apartment

Throwing Parties in Small Spaces

You’d love to throw a party, but you think your small apartment can’t possibly accommodate it. Think again! All you need is a bit of creative management to throw an event in just about any space.

Clearing Space for the Party

First thing to do is determine which spaces are off limits to guests, such as your bedroom. Then, relocate everything  you aren’t using for the party into that space. What’s left will largely be tables and chairs, which you move against the wall. That retains maximum seating opportunities while opening up the center of your entertainment space. You can even throw pillows on the floor for more seating.

For the dining room or kitchen table, removed the chairs and push the table against a wall. That will open up more space. You’ll also likely want to set up those chairs somewhere more convenient as seating.

Food and Drink

If you’re going to throw a party in a small space, you’re going to have to utilize every surface you can. Get all your food preparation done ahead of time so the entire counter space can be used to hold food and drinks.

If you’re going to use your refrigerator for drinks, clear it out as much as possible. Just remember that an open refrigerator door takes up a lot of space, so it might make sense to store drinks elsewhere.  Coolers are one option, but they clutter the area. Consider dumping a bag of ice in the sink and let drinks chill there.

Serve similar foods on a single platter. Every dish you don’t use frees up space for other items.

If possible, put the food and the drinks in separate locations. This will keep people moving rather than hovering in one place. Don’t be afraid of putting the food in a couple different locations as well, such as the dining room table and the coffee table. Keep all of these locations away from the entrance so people can come and go without fighting their way through a crowd.

If cups or glasses are being used, encourage guests to reuse them. This means offering markers to label plastic cups, charms for wine glasses, decorative stir sticks for mixed drinks and so on. This keeps your precious horizontal spaces free of abandoned cups and glassware. It also saves you clean up time after the party.

The Great Outdoors

If you have access to the outside such as through a balcony or patio, make use of it. Leaving the door open will help circulate air which can get quite warm in an apartment full of people, and it will encourage people to meander outside. If you are using a cooler, this can be a great place to put it.

Classy Intimate Party
Friends drinking white wine and sharing cupcakes at party at home on couch

Adding a Bit of Class

If you want to add a bit of class to your party, throw tablecloths or even plain fabric over your tables. Also, you may want to add decorative centerpieces to the tables. Just remember to keep them small since space is such a premium.

Trim the Guest List

You’re not going to pack 50 people in your apartment. Consider the ultimate purpose for the party and invite those best suited for it, guided by how many people you think your space can reasonably accommodate.

Respect Your Neighbors

You have neighbors who live very close to you. Respect that. If you’re going to have music, keep it low. Remind your guests to respect your neighbors as well. Also be aware of noise ordinances for your locale. After a certain time, usually around 10pm, people are expected to remain much more quiet. Police can ticket you for violation of those ordinances and break up your party. Your landlord may even have grounds to evict you.

Small spaces such as apartments pose unique challenges to hosting a party. However, it’s absolutely doable to host a sizable gathering in such homes. It takes some creativity and planning, but the result can be an enjoyable evening for all involved.

Woman Bored at a Party as Others Chat

Surviving Small Talk

When you’re hanging out with friends, conversation comes easily because you already know what one another like and dislike. Parties are another thing altogether, where it’s likely you’ll end up next to someone you don’t know. What options do you have besides slinking off to a corner?

The first key to surviving small talk is asking questions. If you do nothing but talk about yourself, you’ll appear conceited. However, asking questions indicates you’re interested in what your conversation partner has to say. It also gives you an idea of what they like, so when it’s your turn to speak you can converse about something that interests both of you.

Of course, your partner can just as easily initiate conversation. Avoid one-word answers. “How are you doing?” “Fine.” is a conversation killer. Share something about yourself: what you recently did, what you’re planning on doing. Something. Anything. Now your partner has something to build off. Conversation is a two-way street that requires common ground.

But where to start? Here are some ideas to get a conversation started, all of which are general in scope and widely applicable:

  • Where are you from?” This works great at events that draw in people from diverse locales. It also allows for additional questions, such as “What is it like there?”
  • What do you do for a living?” Depending on the answer, this can be followed up with an infinite variety of questions. More generally, you can ask how they got into that profession and what they love about it.
  • What did you think of the event?” Whether you’re there for a wedding or a business meeting, there was likely some central activity that drew you both there.
  • If it’s a wedding, you can always ask “Do you know the bride or the groom?” The follow up question can be “How do you know them?” or “What’s he/she like?”

Four people at a fancy party

Of course, alcohol is a great icebreaker too. A glass or two wears down the inhibitions which make us self-conscious and keep us from expressing ourselves. However, too much and you start over-sharing, so take it easy.

There are topics your should be wary of, most notably politics and religion. Some people have very strong opinions on these topics, and you have no idea if their views align with yours. At best, such people go off on a rant that kills any chance of conversation. At worst, one or both of you end up seriously offended.

Steer away from gossip. Besides it being bad manners, you don’t know who your conversation partner knows. You’d hate to bad mouth someone’s sister or speak ill of your boss to one of his friends.

But what if the conversation just isn’t going anywhere? Politely excuse yourself. Often times, people find excuses such as getting another drink or needing to say hello to the host. Whatever you say, thank the person for talking with you and express your hope they have a good evening.

Mingling comes hard for some of us. However, it’s something we’re all expected to do on occasion. But with a few ideas in mind, you can more easily enjoy the evening.

Women in Pink having Fun at a Party

3 Themes for Your Next Party for Adults

Birthdays and weddings are obvious times for parties, but what if you want to throw one just because? Certainly, nothing stops you from inviting a group of friends and hanging out, but you can really add a festive mood by giving your party a theme.

Why? Themed parties get your guests involved. The more they plan for it, the more excited they get about it. Party themes also help you plan the event, suggesting activities, supplies, food and more.

1. Prom from Hell Party

For a Prom from Hell, I’d say you have to be a minimum of 10 years out of high school, preferably closer to 20. The whole point is that a) it’s a stroll down memory lane and b) your friends are going to dress tacky as hell, with a stress on option b.

If guys can find a terrible, out of fashion suit, great, but it’s the women who will have the most fun with this. If they still have their prom dress and can fit into it, great. Otherwise, they can go to a thrift store and buy the worst formal dress the can find. Trust me, they can be awful.

Pirate Costume for Party

2. Pirate Party

Did you know 42 countries have a political Pirate Party, just like the Republican Party and the Democratic Party? Me neither. But it’s a fascinating factoid.

But I digress. Ever since Pirates of the Carribean, pirates have been a cultural staple. Why not throw a party centered on them? Everyone can dress up with plastic swords, Renaissance Faire shirts, bandannas and more.

You can decorate the space with little chests filled with plastic trinkets and thrift store jewelry. You can have guests eat and drink from a variety of goblets, mugs and more, because it’s not like a pirate steals an entire matching set of place settings. And if you’re including alcohol, of course you’ll need rum!

Now, you may be asking: if there are pirate parties, can’t there be ninja parties? The problem with ninja parties is if your guests do it right, no one will see them.

Murder Mystery

3. Murder Mystery Party

Select a setting so your guests know what to dress for. Then, when everyone has arrived, announce there has been a murder most foul. Present a murder weapon. Leave clues throughout the party area. Select participants to deliver more clues. Present more information throughout the night, perhaps when certain objectives have been reached. At the end f the night, see if guests can correctly guess the villain.

Party supplies will be dictated by the fictional location of your murder mystery. Not sure where to set it? Take a look at the themes online party stores offer. There’s a phenomenal range of them.

Getting your guests involved with your party’s theme makes the night more memorable. Besides hanging out with good friends, they’ve had extra fun with a bit of make believe that made the evening truly special.

Teens Partying With Beer

Play It Safe: Navigating Parties, Alcohol and Teens

Teenagers are in an awkward phase of life. They desperately want to have the freedoms of an adult, and you want them to learn the responsibilities of adulthood. But you can’t have one without the other. The only way an independent teen is going to accept responsibility is if there are benefits that go with it.

The result is a constant tug-of-war between teens and parents as teens push for independence and parents rein them in. But parents have to decide when they’re going to loosen the leash, and one potential issue is alcohol.

A lot of argument can be made for hosting a party for your teen which provides alcohol. A majority of teenagers drink at least occasionally behind their parents’ backs. If they’re going to be drinking, they’re safer under your supervision, right?

It might be philosophically sound, but it leaves you legally liable for a lot of unpleasantness. First, providing alcohol to minors is illegal. Like, potentially a year in jail illegal.

Teens in a Car with BeerSecond, if something happens to those minors while under the influence, you may be held liable for that as well. And you can’t depend on a policy of barring intoxicated individuals from leaving. Teenagers lie. Teenagers sneak out when no one’s looking. Some of them probably sneaked out to your party in the first place. You can’t risk it.

But what if they brought their own alcohol? Then you’re not providing it. Sorry, doesn’t work. Providing a space for minors to drink is against the law, even if you aren’t handing out the liquor.

What about providing alcohol at a party with both adults and teens, with the understanding that teens will not be drinking? Still not enough in some states. Your alcohol, your responsibility. If the teens sneak off with beer and crash a car, you might be held accountable for property damages and medical bills as well as criminal charges.

Teaching Your Teen To Avoid Alcohol at Other Parties

Teen saying no to beerHow do you get around the great fear of teens drinking in places outside your home? The first answer is education. Have them understand the dangers of drinking. Also, make clear you have zero tolerance for underage drinking, and carry through on threats if rules are broken.

Second, if your teen is going to a party, be in contact with the host parent. If your kid doesn’t show up (because he’s sneaking off elsewhere), have that parent tell you. If a parent won’t be in attendance, don’t let your teen attend.

Third, make your teen understand that you will always pick them up from a party if they feel uncomfortable. Maybe a friend is driving, then subsequently gets drunk. It can also come into play if your driving teen drinks but realizes he shouldn’t get behind the wheel. Even if it’s three in the morning, make it clear you will be there if needed.

Dealing with alcohol at parties where teens are present is an important topic. Besides the obvious safety dangers posed by inebriated teens, there is also considerable liability involved for you. Play it safe. Don’t involve alcohol when teens are involved, and make sure your own teen knows the importance of avoiding alcohol and those who have been drinking.

Angry couple at a party

Not Extending an Invitation to a Party

Sometimes, when we’re planning an event, there is someone we really don’t want to invite. There’s lots of potential reasons why. We also likely feel guilty if we don’t. When do we grin and bear it, and when do we cut them loose?

The first thing to consider is the ramifications of not inviting the person.

  • Will this person likely find out? If not, excluding them is easy. However, if you’ve invited all your co-workers but one, odds are the odd one out is going to hear about it.
  • Do you care if they find out? If this is the obnoxious co-worker who does nothing but harass you, are they likely to be any worse if you snub them for your party? Quite the opposite, it gives you an easy explanation: they have made it clear they don’t appreciate your company, so you saved them the embarrassment of having to turn to you down.
  • Do you see this person often? If the answer is “no,” then you won’t have to often deal with fallout, and you have a reasonable excuse: you only invited people with whom you are close.
  • Is this person family? For better or worse, family members expect special treatment. Moreover, other relatives may take their side on the matter. Family squabbles get ugly quick. Seriously consider if the issue is worth division among relatives.
  • Are they an attendee’s significant other? If yes, you’re going to have to put up with them unless there are seriously extenuating circumstances. You can’t ask a friend to come alone just because you don’t get alone with their partner.

So what circumstances justify excluding a person from the invitation list?

  • Threat of harm. If you or one of your guests has reason to believe the person means them physical harm, you are absolutely in the right by not inviting them. You owe your guests as safe an event as possible.
  • History of bad behavior. Does this person behave inappropriately? This most often rears its head when alcohol is involved. If you’re afraid this person is going to break things, behave rudely, break the law, etc. then it’s reasonable to exclude them.

But what if you have no real objection to the person, but you feel they won’t fit in with other attendees? Treat your friend like an adult. Explain your concern and let them decide for themselves. They may decide it’s not for them, but that’s their decision. You extended the invitation. They may attend and feel out of place. That’s a shame, but you did warm them. Or they may attend and surprise you with how well they get along with others.

How do you handle people’s ex’s? If you’re friends with both, you’re in a sticky situation. I suggest inviting both. You shouldn’t have to choose sides. If they can’t cope with one another, that’s between the two of them.

Of course, if you think one of them may harm the other or behave grossly inappropriately, then it’s completely reasonable to exclude them. But if that’s the case, why are you friends with them?

There’s a certain amount of politics involved in creating an invitation list. Understanding your options goes a long way in helping you make an informed decision while hurting the fewest feelings.

Older Kids Jumping with Pool Toys

5 Ways To Keep Your Pool Party Safe

Summer is here, and what better way for the kids to enjoy the sun than with a pool party? But let’s keep everyone safe around the water. Here’s 5 ways to keep everyone safe at your next pool party.

1. Require Parent Attendance

Parents should not be dropping their children off at a pool party. Make it clear on the invitations that parent attendance in required. There is no way you can safely supervise numerous small children all at once.

For children who cannot swim, a parent needs to be with them in the pool at all times, even if they are supposed to remain in the shallow end where they can stand. It’s easy for a small child to slip and not be able to stand up once fully underwater. They can also easily wander into deeper water or be pushed by other children.

For parents of older children who can swim, it may be fine for them to lounge at the side of the pool and socialize. The just need to remember to keep an eye on their kid.

2. Designate a Lifeguard

Even with parents in attendance, it’s a good idea to have someone acting as lifeguard, watching the entire pool rather than being focused on a single kid. This should also be someone who is a strong swimmer who can perform a rescue if necessary.

3. Clear the Area of Non-Swimmers

Children should be kept well away from the pool area if they are not getting into or out of the pool. This avoids the potential for slip and falls. The area should also be kept free of toys, drinks and other objects which are tripping hazards.

Little kid at the pool in inflatable ring

4. Require Parent Permission to Get in the Water

It’s vitally important for children to approach the pool only when an adult knows they are going to be there. There may come a time when everyone expected to get out of the pool, such as for food. Children sneaking back to the pool without supervision creates a dangerous situation. This reinforces the need for parents to keep an eye on their children even when they are not expected to be in the pool.

5. Cover Pool Rules at the Beginning of the Party

Before anyone goes into the water, review all rules with the children. They can’t be expected to know them if no one tells them, and you shouldn’t presume they’ve been taught by other sources. Besides things already mentioned here, rules might include:

  • No running near the pool
  • No jumping into the pool, or only jumping in designated areas
  • No pushing people underwater
  • No pushing people into the pool
  • No drinks in or near the pool