11 Steps to Planning Your Engagement Party
Step 1. Figure out who will host.
Want to throw your own engagement party? Go for it! Traditionally the bride's parents host, but these days it's entirely appropriate for anyone close to the couple to take on this role, or for several people (say, both sets of parents) to host jointly. You can also have more than one engagement party hosted by different people. So there's no need to stress if your parents want to throw a formal event just for family, while you might like to host something more casual for your friends. Two parties might also make sense if you live in a different city from your families. Hosting duties usually include sending the invites, making a toast and paying for the party, so whoever decides to take on the task should keep that in mind.
Step 2. Take some time to breathe—and then set a date.
Depending on the length of your engagement, you might throw a party anywhere from a few weeks after the proposal to six months into wedding planning. While an intimate and impromptu family gathering the weekend after the proposal is the perfect opportunity to break out the bubbly, don't schedule an all-out opulent affair the first month. Give yourself some time to revel in your newly engaged status and absorb the fact you're getting married before you jump into planning your first party. Waiting also gives you time to envision the guest list size, style and location of your wedding, which will help when deciding on the type of event you want to throw for the engagement party.
Step 3. Determine the budget.
Detailed budgets aren't just for the wedding, and this will give you a chance to practice crunching those numbers. Even if you're having a very low-key event, a budget is still a good idea, because you (or whoever's hosting) will want to have a sense of what's realistic to spend. Knowing your budget will also help you narrow down venue ideas and decide on the number of guests you can invite.
Step 4. Pick a place that matches the formality.
A restaurant or home is a classic choice for an engagement party, but there's no reason you have to limit yourself to those two options, and any spot—from an art gallery to a beach—is fair game. Just like the wedding venue, the place you pick should speak to the formality of the party you want to throw, so if you're thinking casual, your backyard or a local park could be a great option. For something more formal, you might look into a country club or hotel rooftop. As you decide on the venue and formality, keep in mind: You never want to upstage the actual wedding, so try to create a different mood for the engagement party—maybe you balance a destination wedding with a home-cooked dinner party or set apart a black-tie ballroom affair with a sit-on-the-floor, buffet-style engagement bash.
Step 5. Get the guest list together.
When it comes to planning your engagement party, there are no rules, except this important one: Any guest invited to your engagement party should also be invited to your wedding. That means you should think about the size of your wedding before you set your guest list for the engagement party—you wouldn't want to have a 100-person engagement party if you're planning an intimate 50-person wedding. If you don't have a sense for your guest list yet (and that's okay !) just keep it small with only your closest friends and family to make sure you avoid any hurt feelings later on.
Step 6. Send out invites with plenty of lead time.
Just like with the venue, your invites should match the formality of the event you're planning. E-vites with a summertime theme are totally appropriate for a backyard cookout, but for a sit-down dinner at a chic restaurant, you should consider a paper invite, even if it's a simple printable invite you make yourselves. If you've chosen your wedding invitation designer already, see if they'll give you a special rate. And don't worry if you haven't settled on a color palette yet—your engagement party invites don't need to match the rest of your stationery. Send out the invites at least a month in advance (six weeks ahead if a lot of guests are coming from out of town). There's no need for a formal save-the-date, but once you've pinned down the day, it's a good idea to let guests know by word of mouth before you send out the formal invites.
Step 7. Decide on a menu.
You certainly don't have to serve a five-course sit-down dinner with an open bar (unless you want to), but there should definitely be something to munch and sip on at your party. Anything from passed appetizers or tasting menu stations to an eat-when-you-want cookout will work. If you're not serving a full course, you should pick a time in between typical meals and make it clear on the invitation so your guests know what to expect. For example: “Join us in celebrating Sarah and Tim's engagement with desserts and champagne." We love the idea of an afternoon affair with a chip-and-dip bar and margaritas or a brunch-time omelet station and mimosas. Another idea: Add some personalization to the food and drink by featuring cuisine from a special date or vacation, such as sushi rolls and sake-tinis for a Japanese-inspired menu.
Step 8. Think about décor.
Give the décor some thought, but don't overthink it. You don't have to match the style or colors of your wedding perfectly, or even at all, for your engagement party. When in doubt keep it simple—a bunch of fresh or paper flowers will instantly perk up any space. You can work with a florist to have them make a few small arrangements, but this is also a great time to try your hand at some DIY projects too. Want to look beyond flowers? Dress up the tables with colorful fabric, an assortment of votive candles or a few accents that hint at your wedding theme, like seashells for beach nuptials.
Step 9. Come up with a gift strategy.
Unlike the bridal shower and the eventual wedding, gifts aren't necessarily given for the engagement party. That said there's always a chance you'll get some anyway. If you're hoping to receive gifts for your engagement party, then this would be a great time to start building your registry, so you can add a link to your wedding website on your invite. If you prefer guests not bring gifts or want to suggest a favorite charity they can donate to in lieu of presents, a polite note on the invitation will make it clear. On the day of, if guests do end up bringing gifts to the party, find a discreet and secure place to put them, so guests who come empty-handed don't feel uncomfortable.
Step 10. Assign day-of duties.
These days, it's not unheard of to hire a photographer or even a videographer or coordinator for a more elaborate engagement soiree. You definitely don't have to do that, but you may need to enlist a few friends and family to help out with tasks like setting up, collecting gifts and taking photos. Figure out ahead of time who would be good at what and ask if people wouldn't mind lending a hand so you can focus on mingling with guests.
Step 11. Prepare to dress the part.
Your first party as a to-be-wed couple deserves special outfits! As you shop for something new (or raid your closet), keep the party setting and venue in mind. For the bride-to-be, aside from the obvious (don't wear a long, beaded evening gown to a casual backyard bash), select something that won't outdo your wedding look but is special enough that you'll still stand out from your guests. A sundress will work for an outdoor affair, or for a fancier fete, a cocktail dress is a safe bet. And for the groom-to-be, while you don't have to don a suit and tie (and certainly not a tux)—unless the venue calls for it—you should match your partner's level of formality.