11 Things to Know About Planning and Hosting an Engagement Party

It's the first of many special wedding events to come.
Samantha Iacia - The Knot wedding style expert
by
Samantha Iacia
  • Samantha writes articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a speciality in wedding decor, trends, and fashion
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Samantha was a features and weddings contributor for The Baltimore Sun
  • She is based in Washington, D.C. and holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism
Updated Nov 23, 2023

​​Now that the proposal's out of the way, it's time to think about something else important—we're talking about the engagement party. Whether you're newly engaged and starting to plan your own party or you're throwing the celebration in honor of a beloved couple, engagement parties are always a fun way to gather loved ones and introduce family. And because there's less pressure compared to some other prewedding events, the engagement party is a great opportunity to practice your event planning skills. Not sure where to start or exactly what to do? No problem—we've got the scoop on the most important engagement party details, from choosing a venue to creating the guest list and shopping for decorations.

Figure out who's hosting.

Want to throw your own engagement party? Go for it! In the past, it was tradition for the bride's family to host the event, but these days, it's entirely appropriate for anyone close to the happy couple to take on this role, or for several people (say, both sets of parents) to host together. You can also have multiple engagement parties hosted by different people, so there's no need to stress if your parents want to throw a formal event just for family but you want 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, giving the engagement party speech and paying for a majority of the party, so keep that in mind if you decide to take on the responsibility.

Set a party date.

Next up: it's time to decide when the engagement party will take place. There's no right or wrong answer—a surprise engagement party might happen immediately following the proposal, or you can plan the event for a month or two after the engagement, but you don't want too long either. "It would be ideal for your engagement party to take place as soon as possible (within a few months) while the excitement is still fresh," says Michalea Smith, owner and event manager of Elegant Events by Michalea, a wedding coordination and event management company in South Florida. "Also, you don't want the stress that can come from planning the wedding to interfere. If you're having a longer engagement or have to travel for the party, then it's fine to delay the celebrations a bit."

Consider your schedule and the availability of important guests, particularly anyone who might need to travel from out of town. It's also important to pick a date that doesn't conflict with other major events or busy times of the year. "Remember to try and not choose a date that falls on a holiday where people have plans to be with family, i.e., Christmas, Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day," says Smith. If you're hosting your own engagement celebration party, take a moment to revel in your newly engaged status and absorb the fact you're getting married before you jump into planning. Waiting a few weeks also gives you time to envision the guest list size, style and location of your wedding, which could influence the decisions surrounding the engagement party.

Determine the budget.

If you're hosting as the newly engaged couple, be careful not to blow your entire wedding budget on this one prewedding event. If someone else is hosting, there may be a little more flexibility financially, but be careful to respect their generosity and discuss solid numbers up front. Detailed budgets aren't just for the wedding, and creating one for your engagement party will give you a chance to practice crunching those numbers. Even if you're having a very low-key event, going into it with a budget is still a good idea. Knowing your budget will also help you narrow down potential venues, catering options, the number of guests you can invite, and what other details (if any) are a priority.

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Pick a venue.

When it comes to planning an engagement party, one of the most important decisions is where to host it. Restaurants and homes are always great options, but there's no reason you have to limit yourself to those two locations. Almost any spot—from an art gallery to a beach—is fair game. Most importantly, the venue should speak to the formality of the party you want to throw. Leaning toward something more relaxed? "Instead of having a formal dinner, have a picnic or BBQ in the backyard," says Smith. "If you want a semi-formal or formal celebration, why not celebrate with a nice brunch in a private room at a restaurant or on the beach? You can also have a cocktail party, book a yacht, or a beautiful ballroom and deck it out." As you decide on the venue and formality, keep in mind: You never want to upstage the actual wedding day, so try to create a different mood for the engagement party.

Finalize the guest list.

If you're wondering who to invite, just know that there are no rules, except this important etiquette tip: Any guest invited to the engagement party should also be invited to the wedding. That means you should think about the size of the wedding and who's definitely invited before you create the engagement party guest list. You wouldn't want to have a 100-person engagement party if the wedding is going to be much smaller and more exclusive. If the wedding guest list isn't solidified yet, it's best to keep the engagement party on the smaller side with closest friends and family. And if you're hosting the engagement party on behalf of the couple, be sure to run the final list past them first before sending invitations.

The guest list will also depend on the amount of space at the venue and your budget. For example, if your parents are planning the bash and covering the cost, it's appropriate to let them weigh in on the guest list (and invite a few friends of theirs). If you already have a space picked out for the party, such as a local restaurant, a friend's house or your backyard, space limitations may help you cull your list. Finally, consider who lives in town or within driving distance of the venue.

Send the party invitations.

For the best RSVP rate, let your guests know the date of the party as soon as possible. Just like with the venue, your invites should match the formality of the event. Casual digital invitations are totally appropriate for a summertime backyard engagement party, but for a sit-down dinner at a chic restaurant, you should consider a more traditional paper invite design. And don't worry if the wedding color palette hasn't been finalized yet—the engagement party invites don't need to match the rest of the wedding stationery.

Send out the invites at least a month in advance (six weeks ahead if a lot of guests will need to travel from out of town). There's no need for an engagement party 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 distributing the formal invites. Your stationery can also double as engagement announcement cards.

Choose the food and drink options.

As the saying goes, a party without cake is just a meeting—so the menu is another important detail to keep in mind when you're thinking about how to plan an engagement party. You don't need to serve a multi-course seated meal with an open bar (unless you want to), but there should definitely be small bites and something to sip on at your party. Passed hors d'oeuvres, a grazing table or self-serve stations work just fine, along with a basic selection of wine, bubbly and non-alcoholic drinks. Conclude with a small engagement cake, cupcakes, cookies or other sweet treats. If you're not serving a full course, we recommend making it clear with the wording on the invitations so your guests know what to expect. For example: 'Join us in celebrating Alex and John's engagement with desserts and champagne.' Add some personalization to the menu by featuring cuisine from a memorable date or vacation, such as margs and chips inspired by your go-to neighborhood spot.

Coordinate the decorations.

Give the engagement party decor some thought, but don't overthink it. You don't have to match the style or colors of the wedding perfectly (or at all). When in doubt, keep it simple—a few vases of fresh flowers and candles will instantly perk up any space. If it's in your budget, you can work with a professional florist to have them design a few small arrangements, but this is also a great time to try your hand at some DIY projects. Choosing an engagement party theme can help steer the direction of the decor too. Checkered tablecloths and wildflowers are cute for a backyard BBQ vibe, while mercury glass votives and black table linens will create a glitzier effect.

Designate a place for gifts.

Unlike the bridal shower and the wedding, gifts aren't a must for the engagement party. That said, there's always a chance that some guests will bring gifts or cards, so find a discreet and secure place to put them on the day of. As an engaged couple, it's a good idea to start building your wedding registry ahead of the engagement party in case any eager-to-shop guests ask you for details. You don't need to have the registry totally built out yet, but it's fine to start with a few items and link to the registry from your wedding website. If you prefer guests not to 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.

Assign day-of duties as needed.

These days, it's not unheard of to hire a photographer or event planner to help out with the engagement celebration party. "Professional wedding planners have insight on many venues [and] connections with other vendors to ensure reliable service," says Smith. "They will know how to connect you to the best vendor for financial comfort zone (budget) and vision. Professionals are very organized, good at problem solving and help alleviate any stressors."

And while the pros will definitely help take your engagement party to the next level, you might not have the budget for a full-blown vendor team. Consider hiring one vendor that aligns with your biggest priority (planning, food, flowers, decor, etc.) and enlist a few friends and family to help out elsewhere as needed. Figure out who in your circle would be good at miscellaneous tasks like setting up or collecting gifts and ask them ahead of time if they're available to lend a hand. "Something that I also say is that a bride should never be holding a clipboard, only her bouquet," says Smith.

Prepare to dress the part.

The first party as an engaged couple warrents special outfits. As you shop for something new (or raid your closet), keep the party setting and venue in mind. Select outfits that won't outdo your wedding looks but are special enough that you'll stand out from your guests. Sundresses, cocktail dresses, sport coats and button-down shirts with dress pants are all great starting points. Also keep in mind the other prewedding celebrations you'll have down the road (including the wedding shower, bach party and rehearsal dinner), so that you can budget accordingly if you're buying anything new.

If you're hosting the engagement party, wear something nice but comfortable—and don't outshine the couple. Choose practical shoes that you can comfortably stand in for a few hours at a time, especially if you're on setup and cleanup duty.

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