Engagement Parties 101
Although they may sound conventional, engagement parties can be trickier to plan than your regular get-together. It’s a party with a twist. For one, your clients may not actually be the ones getting married. Often hosts will want the special care that comes with hiring an event planner—which means that you’ll have to negotiate both the needs of your client and the happy couple.
Because the engagement party is usually a prelude to the wedding, you’ll have to see the ways it connects it to a larger theme. That’s no small task when you are already balancing the logistics of one event! To keep it simple, we’ve put together this engagement party checklist—so that you can plan the first half of a love story without too much headache!
Are your clients getting married? Or is an event planner a part of their engagement gift? Traditionally, the parents of the bride host the engagement party, but this particular custom is often disregarded nowadays. Some couples are choosing to pay (and host!) for an engagement party themselves. Others are throwing joint parties with couples who have gotten engaged within the same timeframe. A party cohosted by both the parents of the bride and groom is a sweet middle ground.
The timing of the engagement party is also significant. It should be set far enough from the actual wedding date so that the engaged couple can celebrate their happy news before having to plan the next big event!
The guest list
Before you start to think in terms of budget and venue, consider the number of guests your clients would like to invite. Generally, engagement parties are smaller and more intimate than the wedding itself, but your clients may opt for an extravagant pre-celebration instead.
Find out if both families and friends will be attending. It may just be a formal occasion for both families of the bride and groom to finally meet each other! Once you formalize the list, settle upon invitations. Evites are perfectly acceptable for a smaller and more casual get-together. However, do send invitations for an engagement party that is more formal. Make sure you give guests enough time to RSVP, and indicate dress code or theme—if there is one!
Pro Tip: Many couples are now turning to wedding websites to keep guests in the loop. So find out if your clients are using one!
What’s your budget?
Once you know the size of the event, you can start to crunch numbers. As always, ensure that your services are priced appropriately. While it’s not as elaborate as a wedding, planning an engagement party requires time and effort.
Just like any other event, you will be arranging décor, negotiating with vendors, and coordinating logistics. If the future bride and groom are NOT hosting their own engagement party, but a close friend or a member of the family is (say the parents of the bride), remember that you answer to your client. You can ask for insight, but don’t let your budget get derailed! If there’s room in the budget, considering hiring a photographer for the evening. Friends and family will treasure beautiful pictures of the time they spend together before the happy couple officially say ‘I do.’
Select your vendors and venue
Of course, this depends on the amount of guests your clients have invited. A more traditional engagement party will be hosted in a home. But if the host wants to take the party elsewhere, look into other popular venues such as restaurants, pubs, or bistros, or a more offbeat location, like an art gallery.
Time of day will also set the tone for the event. If your clients are inviting a mix of friends and family, a brunch may be most appropriate. A vineyard or museum is a terrific venue for an event that is leaning more towards the formal side. A beach is also versatile option. Dress it down for a relaxed clambake, or dress it up for an evening of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
Décor and menu
Some clients choose a venue, and then select a decorating scheme. Others want the engagement party to reflect the wedding theme. Some couples even see the engagement party as an entirely separate event, as well as an opportunity to showcase a different atmosphere.
If your clients are looking for a teaser to the wedding, you’ll have to think of ways you can incorporate theme without drawing attention away from the upcoming nuptials. Instead, focus on bringing the wedding theme through subtle touches, such as color scheme and accessories.
The menu is another way to play with theme. A backyard BBQ is informal and fun. If your clients are planning a destination wedding, bring out some bright and colorful tropical drinks. Engagement parties rarely feature sit-down dinners! Feel free to discuss favorite appetizers with your clients and feature some creative catering.
Fun décor and menu ideas:
- Mini wedding cake: Hint at the upcoming wedding with a mini-tiered cake on the dessert table.
- Mini centerpieces: Work with a florist to create a smaller vision of the wedding flowers.
- Create-your-own-cocktail bar: If an open bar isn’t in the budget, or if you are working with a home venue, create a space where guests can choose from different drink ingredients. Recipes can be written on chalkboard. Just make sure the ‘build your drink’ station is sanitary!
- Bride and groom color scheme: For a nod to the engaged couple, stage the event with both of their favorite colors.
- Engagement story: Create a sort of storyline leading up to the engagement with pictures so that guests can get to know the couple’s story.
- Favorite things favors: Thank guests for coming with a small favor that represents what the bride and groom enjoy. Perhaps a votive candle with a favorite sweet.
And keep in mind…
You will have to think about how your clients will accept gifts. Some couples create a wedding registry before the engagement party. Others create a separate registry for the engagement party. Others don’t want guests to bring gifts at all! Make sure you have a plan for how your clients can graciously accept gifts from guests who bring one while placing it away from the party so other guests don’t feel uncomfortable. And remember: confirm all your vendors two weeks prior to the event!