Woof. Is there anything worse than an awkward situation at a party? I’m sure there is and I’m just being dramatic, but what a way to dampen the mood. Also, if a situation is truly awkward and uncomfortable, that could be the only thing that people remember for an otherwise truly wonderful and well-planned event. In this post, I’m going to share my tips for getting out of truly awkward party situations. A lot of these scenarios can be avoided with a little extra planning and preparation.
Uninvited Guests: Sometimes a party is “the more the merrier” and sometimes it absolutely is not. Think of a dinner party, wedding, game night where you invited exactly the right amount of people, etc. This uninvited guest now needs a place to sit, has made the teams uneven or the dinner portions smaller. There is nothing more annoying than when someone brings a guest who wasn’t invited, but as a hostess, you have to make it work.
First, always have an extra chair and place setting already ready to go and wrapped in a placemat in the back, just in case you need to pull it out quickly. Also, plan to make extra food ahead of time. If you don’t need it, you can send your friends home with a doggy-bag. When an uninvited guest arrives, you must channel your inner Meryl Streep and act like nothing is wrong. Graciously smile and welcome them into your event. After you have made your introductions, go and make room at the table for an extra place with your pre-made place setting and chair. This is an easy fix. You don’t have to panic and the uninvited guest doesn’t have to feel uncomfortable about being an extra body.
If you are hosting a game night, again, plan to make extra food and pick back-up games that don’t need a certain number of people. Charades, pictionary or anything in the “Apples to Apples” or “Cards Against Humanity” variety are always great options.
When a guest arrives who didn’t RSVP: Suppose you have reached out repeatedly to track down a guest’s RSVP, and they have totally ghosted you. Rude, am I right? Then the night of the event they show up with no warning. You can follow a lot of the same plan above, but since you know these guests are a wildcard, plan like they are going to show up. If they don’t, you have extra food. If they do, you’ve made just enough. Have their place settings and place cards already made in the back to pull out if they make an appearance. Again, you must act like absolutely nothing is wrong and you are not inconvenienced in the slightest. You’ll learn, a lot of hosting events is channeling some Oscar-worthy acting skills.
When a guest asks to bring a plus one: Events are expensive and take a LOT of planning. As much as we wish we could invite everyone we’ve ever met and allow them to bring a date or friend, sometimes this isn’t feasible. The venue either doesn’t hold that many people or our budget needs to be stretched to cover other things. However, people will almost always ask if they can bring a plus one, especially for a wedding. You need to start by being clear who is invited on your invitation, but that doesn’t always guarantee that your guests get the hint.
Now if it isn’t a wedding or pre-planned catered event, and you can easily make the accommodation, then say yes and let your guest know you are looking forward to meeting their friend or date. If it is a structured event, and there is no way to invite any more people, you need to just be honest. Let your guest know your financial and space limitations. Be kind and let them know that as much as you would love to invite their date or friend, you can’t expand the guest list. You need to be firm, but kind, and consistent across the board. If you make an exception for one guest and not another, but the other finds out, then you’re in for a TRULY awkward situation.
When people aren’t mingling: Yikes! You’ve planned the perfect event, but then people are keeping to themselves and it’s a boring party. This is the time to go into “Hostess Crisis Mode.” If your guests don’t know each other, then it’s your job to introduce them. Jump-start the conversation by explaining where you know your guest from and something they might have in common. You will have to steer the conversation until they begin talking to each other without you, then you can move on to the next group.
If you have a dance floor, a group dance or popular song is a great way to get people on the floor. Tell your DJ to encourage everyone to join and then keep the tempo high.
How to exit a conversation with a “Chatty-Cathy”: You’ve been cornered by the group mansplainer. What do you do? Luckily, as the hostess, you’ve got a built-in exit strategy. Actually lots of built in exit-strategies. Is something burning, you better go check on that. Did an old friend just arrive? You must go greet them. Are people’s drinks looking a little low? Gotta go fill them. You get the idea, just say, “I’d love to hear more about that later, but right now, I need to go check on the appetizers.” Or insert your excuse here. Easy as that!
What to do with unexpected children: Someone brought their child to an adults-only party. Now what? First, you can probably avoid this situation by clarifying on the invitation that the party is for adults. However, we all know that people only read what they want to on an invitation, and sometimes children show up. Again, don’t panic but be prepared. Have a box of kid-appropriate activities in the back. Toys, coloring books, Legos etc. If you want, you can even queue up Netflix or Disney+ in a separate room. It’s also never a bad idea to have a babysitter already on deck in case this happens.
Always prepare at least one dish a kid would appreciate so they can have something to eat. Snacks and desserts are always great for bribing good behavior. If the parents have a new baby, it’s a little more expected that they will bring their child. In this case, let them do what they want, but set up a private space for them to go for diaper changes, nursing, or anything else they need.
Having an unexpected child show up might throw a wrench in the party, but it’s not a grenade if you are prepared. Again, always act like you are totally fine and happy to see them.
How to avoid kid-related disasters: Sometimes, the party is completely kid-friendly and you are inviting whole families to attend your event. You still need to prepare for a party like this. Go ahead and make peace with the mess that is coming to your house. Turn a blind eye to the tornado, and deal with it later. You may want to think about child-proofing parts of your home. If you don’t have kids and your house has never been child-proofed, put anything that might be dangerous to children in high cabinets. Also, put your Grandmother’s China, favorite wedding present or anything that could get broken in another closed-door room.
Snacks, kid-friendly meals, and desserts are a must. Put those low and where they can find them. Put the food for the adults on a higher level. Also, have kid-friendly activities ready to go. If this is an event for the whole family, it’s not a bad idea to hire a babysitter to entertain the kids, while the adults get to mingle. If it’s a child’s birthday party, then obviously the focus is on them. Always have a first-aid kit available!
The most important thing about hosting a party where children are involved, is you must remember they are your guests too. Even if they act like Gremlins, you cannot complain, make a scene or scold these kids. Just deal with it and know that they are going back to their own homes soon.
When someone has been over-served: Ah, the unruly guest and what to do with them. First, remain calm and don’t make a scene. They are probably already doing that themselves. If you have a bartender, go ahead and subtly notify them to stop serving the unruly guest (we’re going to call them UG from now on.) If you don’t, then delegate someone to keep an eye on UG and don’t let them drink anymore. Ask for UG’s help in the kitchen, give them a glass of water and politely let them know that they are acting a fool. Tell them they need to get it together or you will call them a car.
If it’s past the point of no return, you as the hostess need to call them a car or delegate a trusted friend to do it for them. Don’t embarrass UG, and calmly and subtly get them safely into a car.
When a guest overstays their welcome: It’s 3 a.m. and you still have stragglers. A. Congratulations, you threw an awesome party. B. How do you get them to leave?
There are lots of non-verbal ways to give a little *hint, hint* that it’s time to skedaddle. Turn off the music, turn on the lights, stop serving drinks, pack up the food, etc. If that doesn’t work, move to the next phase and start cleaning up. Pick up empty cups and bottles, start throwing away trash, etc. If that doesn’t work, start asking if they are finished with their drinks, and throw them away. They’ll get the hint eventually.
How to look calm when you are freaking-the-freak out: Like I mentioned, hosting is a lot of acting. You have to act like you are cool, calm and collected even when you aren’t. You can help relieve a lot of stress by planning ahead. Make a timeline of the day so you know when to heat which dish, when to go get ready, and when to set up the signature drinks. Also, do as much as you possibly can ahead of time. Prepare all your dishes to sit in the fridge or freezer and heat right before the event. Also, have an A, B, and C plan for all weather-related issues.
Prepare a timeline of the event is well. Knowing exactly what time everything will happen will make your event look effortless. Don’t forget to delegate. Have people on deck to help with refilling ice or appetizer trays, taking people’s coats, opening wine, etc. On your timeline, make it very clear, who is responsible for what task and send the timeline out to everyone involved.
Make an plan for each of the scenarios above, so when they rear their ugly heads, you can squash them like a bug. If the plan gets derailed, take a deep breath and a sip of wine, then spring into action. You will be ok.
I am an Enneagram Type 6 meaning I need a plan in place for every potential scenario. Having these plans to avoid awkward party situations has helped me more times than I can count. These are easy steps to take so that people remember the wonderful event you planned and not the uncomfortable situation that took place.
What are some scenarios that have happened to you at an event before?