It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a hostess who opens her home for guests will inevitably have to greet one guest who shows up awkwardly early.
What is a party host to do, while still feeling confident and organized?
This is the post that will make my friends and family eternally skeptical of any party I throw in the future. (Sorry that I politely duped you, family and friends…) So, dear reader, you can confidently know this works because I am inviting much good-natured mockery into my personal life to share this with you.
So what’s the secret? Read on for my go-to technique, which I originally learned about and modified from Clinton Kelly’s book Freakin’ Fabulous. (Guys, Clinton Kelly is so delightful. That’s not an affiliate link, I just love him.) Let’s dive in.
My Go-To Technique When One Guest Shows Up Early
[Guest name]! Hi! Oh, I’m so glad you’re here, I am running so behind. Would you mind terribly helping me out with [easy kitchen or serving task]?
People love feeling helpful. Hosting is much easier when you have help. Straightforward tasks that anyone can do won’t throw off your planning at all. Working on a final prep task together is a very natural method to start a conversation and get the party underway.
That’s the framework. Thanks, Clinton! It works so well. Now let’s get into the scheming that I do ahead of time that’s more party-specific.
Radar Screen #1
How much will you want to chat with your early guests?
Know Thy Guest List! If the only people coming are close friends, a task that entails you both hanging out in your kitchen will be fine, even delightful. If it’s a larger guest list, or if there are people you don’t know well (or don’t particularly love), perhaps pick a task that will occur in another room, or will be noisy enough that maintaining a conversation will be difficult.
This can work out beautifully from time to time. When I’ve had people over who I know and love, this “calm before the storm” quiet prep time in the kitchen can allow for some of the most delightful one-on-one conversations in the entire party.
Radar Screen #2
Which kitchen and serving tasks will you have ready for guest assistance?
I literally prepare and set aside at least one half-done last-minute task in the hour before the party. Here are some example tasks which I’ve actually used for this:
- Opening wine: Corkscrew, wine glasses and wine stopper set out next to wine bottle
- Slicing cheese: Cheese plate, cutting knife, serving knife on a cleared counter space
- Plating appetizers: Appetizers ready, serving plate ready, guest can plate and arrange
- Assembling a drink in a pitcher: Ingredients for punch pre-measured, set out next to pitcher with stirring spoon at the ready, so all the guest needs to do is pour and stir
- Lighting candles: Candles set out in final places, lighter or matches set out
The trick is to have an easy task planned out that has plausible deniability. For example with the appetizers, it looks like you just “hadn’t gotten around” to actually plating the appetizers. So, how fortunate that your guest arrived early so you could get some help!
(Again, sorry to my family and friends who I have politely duped into party prep work before.)
Radar Screen #3
Can you have a co-host on your team to help you divide and conquer guest arrivals?
You can, of course, use this technique when hosting a party solo!
If there’s more than one host for your event (or even just a “go-to” super-friendly guest whom you can draft onto your team on purpose), one of the many benefits is that there is much less running back and forth between the door and the kitchen. I recommend designating one person to head up kitchen work and final prep details, who will actually give task directions, and one person for manning the front door and doing the primary greeting work.
Bonus: If it’s an introvert / extrovert scenario with the co-hosts, having the introvert in the kitchen and the extrovert posted at the door is an excellent way to divide and conquer.
Radar Screen #4
What can you do to be kind to yourself in the hour before your party starts?
Know thyself! What do you need to do to be kind to yourself so you’re (relatively) calm and collected so that you have some energy reserves when one of your guests foists this awkwardness upon you?
I always, always, always recommend taking somewhere between 15-60 minutes before your official party start time to just hang out. That way you can just chill and have a drink or enjoy your playlist or read a quick chapter of your book or finish putting on makeup or whatever you find relaxing.
This buffer time serves a double function. One, it gives you some wiggle room in case something goes wrong (and something always goes wrong when hosting, just emotionally brace yourself for that now). Two, it gives you some breathing room to feel more relaxed when welcoming your guests. A stressed-out host can totally undermine the vibe of an otherwise lovely event.
Keep in mind that the guest who shows up early will probably find themselves feeling a bit awkward as well. Most people want to avoid being the outlier in guest arrival times, neither too early nor too late, neither the first nor the last. If you’re feeling good after some self-care, you’re more likely to be naturally welcoming and everyone involved will enjoy the party even more.
Hope that helps! I have even more proven pro tips in the “Know Thy Guest List” and “Know Thyself” sections in the Three Keys to Sane Party Planning free email course.
What are your thoughts? How do you deal when one guest shows up early?
Until next time!