Photo by Sophie Baker
In the spirit of all things engagement, we’re covering the ultimate, subject today – how to plan an engagement party! If you’re anything like (most!) of us, an engagement party will be one of your first forays into planning a big party and we know it’s completely overwhelming!
So along with our jam-packed guide, we’ve chatted to some of our favourite wedding pros. Floral designer Gathered Floral, venues Beachside Dojo and Moondog Craft Brewery, caterers Damm Fine Food (who also run The George Ballroom) along with Fred & Ginger Catering, wedding photographers Stone & Wool and Sophie Baker and finally wedding band Lily Road. Each of the vendors offering up their own expert tips and tricks to help you along the way.
Decide what’s most important
We often talk around these parts of a wedding mission statement, but this concept also works and is important for your engagement party. Think about what you both want out of the day and make a list of three top things you value the most and write it all down. Do you want every single family and friend you can think of there? Do you want amazing music? A drop dead delicious cake? Is it important that the venue is easy for your guests to get to? Or that you allow your family and friends to make a speech?
These three items, along with your mantra about how you want the day to unfold, how you want it to feel, form the basis of every decision you make about the celebration. Print it out and keep it handy, because when decision fatigue, overwhelm and stress settle in, this piece of paper will be able to clarify what you really, really want.
Decide on a style
Now you’ve figured out what’s most important to you, it’s time to figure out what kind of engagement party you want to have. Do you dream of a casual backyard celebration? A formal rooftop affair? This can also help you set a budget because things like floral arrangements can vary based on the style of what’s needed.
James Traill of Damm Fine Food (who manage amazing venues like The George Ballroom) advises “This is the starting point for the celebration of your future! Decide early if you want to have a through line leading up to the wedding or treat the celebrations completely differently. Your engagement party allows you to freely express yourselves with no set traditions or formalities, use this freedom to show your personal energy and style.”
Photo by Beachside Dojo.
Set a budget
Budget is always the icky part of any party, but we all know it has to be done. Sit down and crunch the numbers. How much can you afford to spend? How much buffer can you build in?
As a basic guide, your budget should include your venue, your food and drink, entertainment, decor (including flowers), cake and invitations.
As you go through your plans you’ll be able to decide, based on your earlier homework of “What’s important” on what areas to cut, what areas to get rid of. For instance, if the music is of little importance to you, for example, you might not choose live entertainment, and instead, choose to make your own playlist. Alternatively, if dancing and atmosphere are at the top of your list, you can allocate more of your budget to this.
If you’re getting help from parents or having the party hosted for you, you’ll also need to make sure you have the tricky discussion upfront so you’re able to make decisions.
Choose your venue
Looking for a casual cocktail party? Or a grand sit down dinner? There are so many options for an engagement party and so much fun to be had. Your venue should suit the style of the party you want to throw, just like a wedding, these days anything goes! Backyard celebrations are always the most popular, they’re fun, low-key and easy to plan. But there are also plenty of other options – look into your favourite bar or restaurant, and check out more traditional event venue options too (just be aware they may book quickly due to wedding bookings). ”
Renee of Moondog Craft Brewery advises “When booking a space you should look for something that will allow your personality as a couple to shine through, a bit of a blank canvas – you and your guests will remember the little touches that are uniquely you, not the cookie cutter stuff.”
This task can fit before or after your guest list, depending on what is more important to you (inviting your thirty best friends for high school might demand a larger capacity venue for instance).
Set the guest list
Engagement parties can tend to be a little more relaxed when it comes to a guest list and often more intimate (your dad’s childhood friend you’d invite to the wedding might not make it to this list, for example).
While etiquette says that these guests should also be invited to the wedding, we know time and space can change a lot of things so you are completely allowed to keep the guest list to a more intimate circle of your favourite people.
Plan the decor & flowers.
So now you have your venue and you know the kind of party you want to have, it’s time for the fun part- the decor! Now, of course, we have to note this part is completely optional, but it sure does go a long way to making your party “your own”. For a sit-down celebration for instance, you might consider your centrepieces, choosing a floral designer to create beautiful arrangements. Or for a cocktail party, you might want to decorate the bar tables. Think too of elements like lighting, signage and special treats (like doughnut walls and photo booths).
Planning flowers for your celebration is always a great way to work with your wedding florist ahead of time and experiment a little. Catherine Sharrem of Gathered Floral advises “Choose flower colours that you would like to use for your wedding. This is to see whether you really like the colour scheme when made up. It’s also nice to have continuity with the engagement and wedding photos.”
Photo from Fred & Ginger Catering
Plan the food
There is nothing worse than a group of guests starving by the end of the night. Engagement parties have plenty of room for fun with catering, so there’s no reason for anyone to go hungry! Think amazing grazing tables, decadent afternoon teas (with jam and scones of course!) delicious stations of your favourite foods. Sarah of Fred & Ginger Catering advises “Decide what style of party you are wanting, make sure your caterer is a part of these conversations so they can tailor your menu to suit. If your caterer starts creating a ‘custom’ menu for your event you know you have found the right one! ”
Georgia of Sydney venue Beachside Dojo advises, make sure there is plenty of it! “Couples need to consider the menu and ensure they have ample food available for their guests; adding something like our cheese & antipasto grazing station or delicious roaming canapes will keep your guests fed and the party going.”
You’ll also need to consider guests who have dietary restrictions, like Coeliac disease, or pregnancy, or vegetarians and vegans, tells Sarah. “Check your guests with dietary requirements are catered for as well as all the other guests. Even though they will have a slightly different menu, they should be getting the same number of items and just as much variety.”
Larger guest lists or certain styles of cuisines (like roving canapes for example) will need waiters and waitresses to make sure every guest has food, so make sure to add this into your list.
We’re always a fan of hiring the pros (less stress anyone?) but if you do plan to cater yourself, make sure you work out how much food per person you need, when you need to start preparing it, and who is in charge of it all on the day to make sure it runs smoothly.
Organise the beverages
Once you have the food sorted, it’s time to think about the drink situation. Consider your guests and what they like to drink. Do you have plenty of beer drinkers? Are they into wine? Are cocktails their thing? Plan your beverage list around this (just make sure there is plenty of bubbles if you want a toast!) Don’t forget non-alcoholic options too.
Engagement parties are time to have fun with this so you could consider a signature cocktail or something that can be made in large batches that can be served up in gorgeous glassware with fun details like paper straws of fun garnishes. If you want to make it fancy, considering hiring a dedicated bartender who can mix up a storm.
Plan the event schedule
Along with deciding the time of the event, you’ll also need to decide how long the event will run for. You’ll also want to create an event schedule or timeline – especially if you’re planning on serving up different courses, having speeches, a toast or live entertainment, it’s always a good idea to create a loose event rundown. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but just figure out a timeline of when things occur to make sure you have time for everything. From the time you get access to the venue to the time you need to be out. You’ll want to include when guests arrive when you’d like to have the toast when you’d like to cut the cake. Anything you’d like to “happen” during the occasion. We’re big fans of event planners for making taking the stress away and making sure the schedule runs smoothly, but you can also arm a trustworthy friend with this, asking them to alert you when its time for speeches, or toast, or checking in with your entertainment if the dance floor hasn’t started on time for instance.
You’ll also need to take into account catering when it comes to the duration of the event, because the longer the event, the most food and drink you’ll need to provide. “Take into consideration the time or day and the duration of the party” tells Sarah of Fred & Ginger Catering. So often we hear “there wasn’t enough food” …feed your people, don’t skimp on the food…please!! ”
Consider a photographer
I am always adamant about hiring photographers for events such as engagement parties. You can hand over all responsibility of making sure the moments, guests and details are captured without having to worry about picking up a camera yourself.
“If your budget allows for a photographer, go for it with arms wide open!” advises Matthew of wedding photography studio Stone & Wool. “Think of it as a preliminary try out for the big day. When on the hunt for a photographer consider the type of party you’re throwing, someone who is well suited to a backyard family style engagement party won’t necessarily be the best go to for a wild in the city shindig with stacks of dancing and partying. Different horses for different courses.”
It’s also a no-no, if you re planning to turn your engagement party into a surprise wedding, to also surprise your photographer, especially if you’re trying to save money! Queensland wedding photographer Sophie Baker noting “The biggest thing I find when people inquire with me about engagement party photography is that I now need to check whether or not they’re planning a surprise wedding. This is a pretty popular trend now, and I think there’s been a bit of scaremongering in the media about a “wedding tax” in the industry, so people feel they need to hide the fact that they’re planning a surprise wedding in order not to be charged a higher fee – when in reality, your photographer really needs to know if you’re going to be surprising everyone so they can be ready to capture that moment and all the reactions, and get the most out of such a fun story!
Just stay open and honest with your photographer so they can do the best job for you. Personally, in my business structure, there is no ‘wedding tax’ – whether it’s your engagement party or a surprise wedding, it’s the same, I just want to tell your story as best I can, whichever it may be!”
Photo by Sophie Baker
Select your entertainment
Music adds so much atmosphere to an event, so next on your list should be to try and decide on the entertainment you want. As we mentioned earlier, if dancing is your thing, choosing a live band who can react to the crowd is probably a must-have, For a formal dinner engagement, you might choose a talented vocalist or talented jazz musician, or you could even make your own playlist at a pre-party night in with a glass of wine. Whatever you do, it’s a great idea to see the performers in action.
“It can be confusing when asked what size band you’re after for your party because it’s probably not something you’ve ever had to think of before” tells Greg Byrne of wedding band Lily Road. “A basic band will include drums, bass guitar, lead guitar and vocals. This line-up will definitely get the party started. Adding additional members from this basic line-up is completely up to you and your personal preference. If you’re after something different, you might want to consider adding a keyboard, a female singer, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and more percussion.”
Let there be cake & toasts!
Want to celebrate with dessert? Serving up an engagement party can not only be delicious (blackberry cake with burnt toffee buttercream, I am looking at you), but it also acts as a great moment to toast the happy couple. While completely optional. a toast is a nice way to also pause for a moment and thank your guests for coming. If you’re a fan, it’s also a good time to have friends or family give a (short!) speech about the happy couple.
Plan your attire
A couple of honour gets, of course, to have the most fun with this. Gorgeous sundresses and boater hats for garden parties, evening gowns and tuxedos for formal black tie affairs. Choose something in line with your dress code (which most commonly is cocktail attire or smart casual) Sparkle and glitter encouraged! You could even be inspired by some of our real engagement parties, like the one of Erin & Tom who coordinated their looks in monochromatic black and white.
Send the invitations & plan the gift situation
Time to invite your favourite people! Your engagement party invitations should be sent a month to three weeks before the event (a little earlier for interstate guests). As with everything engagement party, you can have plenty of fun with your engagement party invitations. It’s completely appropriate, for instance, to choose a fun e-vite for a casual celebration, or have fun and choose something completely different from your wedding invitations, for a more formal situation.
Don’t forget to include your names, the date, time, location, any dietary considerations and dress code and even think about ordering your thank you cards at the same time so they’re ready to go!
You’ll also want to consider the gift situation at this stage because people love you and want to buy you things! Whether you set up a gift registry, or even just designate a spot on the night for the gifts. You’ll want to consider how this is handled and note anything you want your guests to know on the invitation.
Confirm the details & delegate
You’ve checked so much off your list, so as the event creeps up on your calendar, its time to confirm the details with your vendors and make sure you delegate anything you don’t need to do on the day (brother Tom would probably be very handy lugging the beer into the venue for instance!).
“Plan your day carefully, try to have friends and family drop things off and set things up so you can relax and get ready rather than find yourself stuck in traffic stressing out!!” advises Renee of Moondog Craft Brewery,
As we mentioned before, we’re also big fans of event planners for shindigs like this, or at the very least a trustworthy friend who can ensure everything is set up, who can keep the event to schedule, facilitate games, act as the contact point for vendors and even do things like collecting gifts at the end of the night. Brook agrees, advising “Have a designated ‘Person of Contact’, a trusted friend or family member who the venue and vendors can communicate with through the night about any issues, the bar tab, the food etc – to ensure you don’t have to worry and can enjoy every minute!”
Photo by Stone & Wool
Phew! Now that all is said and done, ti’s time to celebrate (consider us your virtual guests, we do love a good party!). Soak up the buzz, soak up the moments and make the most of it together!