I’m going to tell you something that you are unlikely to hear from your average party planner: parties hardly ever go according to The Plan. I have been to several hundred parties and I can count on one hand the number that went exactly as had been expected by the host. Now, other people will tell you that “prior planning prevents poor performance”, or that all you need to avert party disaster is a back up plan to cover every eventuality. But these are rose-tinted lies. If you accept, here and now, that your party will be dogged by disaster, that your carefully laid plans will have to change, and that you, as the host, are unlikely to have a good time at your party, then you will be able to find your inner calm and will have a much less stressful couple of hours.
And if your party plans do go awry, console yourself with the knowledge that you are not alone. Here are some of the things that went wrong at some of the parties I have been to:
- a D&V epidemic decimated the number of guests;
- a large pot of curry landed on the floor when a table leg collapsed;
- two thirds of the guests arrived 20 minutes late because they couldn’t get parking (there was a funeral taking place in the church attached to the hall);
- there was no electricity in the hall;
- the film terrified most of the children into tears;
- the entertainer cancelled at the last minute;
- an elderly guest had a suspected heart attack;
- the party entertainer told the guests that they were the worst behaved children he had ever seen.
Apologies to any of the hosts that read this and recognise their own party – all I can say is that you dealt with these unfortunate occurrences with style and aplomb, and I salute you! (For anyone interested, the elderly guest had to go to hospital but was fine in the end, and the grumpy magician got zero bookings from that particular party). The above party disasters are but the tip of the iceberg because we all, even those of us who make our living out of party entertainment, have their own story of how their party went off-piste.
My own (most memorable) party mishap occurred when my children were turning 5 and 7. I had planned a fairly elaborate Harry Potter theme for their joint party. Forty children were expected. It was going to be awesome! Decor, themed games, teenagers drafted in to help run the activities. A-W-E-S-O-M-E. And it was planned to the last detail. Or so I thought…
I arrived at the venue 90 minutes early to set up, only to find that the parish priest was saying Mass in the church. In most church halls, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but this church and the its hall were divided by a plate glass screen, so the party was going to have a whole new audience! And that audience was probably going to be less than appreciative of the party’s theme. I decided that we’d just have to make it work. And then we discovered that the kitchen was already full of the food that was going to be eaten in the hall after Mass. And that as fast as we were trying to set up tables, people from the other event were rearranging them, and we had to explain that we had booked the hall months ago! It was then that I accepted defeat. Right was on my side (I had booked the hall, they hadn’t), but the fact was that the other event was in full swing and there was not a thing I could do about it. Fortunately it was a lovely day so we took the party back home and had it in the garden.
The lesson I learned that day was that when you are planning a party, you have to expect the unexpected and your mantra has to be ‘Make it work!’ Sometimes that requires drastic measures – if your child has been up vomiting the night before the party, then your only option is to cancel. Nobody will thank you for exposing their child to a vomiting bug. Reschedule the party and move on.
Sometimes, the party disaster will be completely obvious to everyone else at the party. But in my experience, if people can turn to and give you a hand, they will. And if there’s nothing anyone can do to fix the problem, then you will get tons of sympathy and nobody will forget your party! Don’t underestimate the comfort that this knowledge will (eventually) bring you – parties come and parties go, but there’s a grim kudos to hosting the one that every guest will remember for ever.
But most of the time, your guests will not even notice that Captain Cockup has arrived and is standing on the table next to the birthday cake. And this is where you have to either let it go, or make it work. Take some deep breaths to slow your heart rate, and keep some perspective. And if you can get through the party without the guests noticing that there was a problem, then pat yourself on the back. You’re a true party maven!