Follow the basic game plan outlined in How to Host a My Favorite Things Party (Part 1), for a wonderful afternoon or evening with friends and family. In this second post, I share six additional suggestions to take your party from fun to extraordinary.
Starting with my very first gathering, I sorta put the basic concept on steroids! So far, I’ve held four parties over six years. Many of the party ideas and suggestions can easily be applied to a birthday celebration, shower, fundraiser, or other gathering.
I love party planning, entertaining and making stuff! The event is a creative and artistic outlet for me. But, don’t worry, you needn’t be artistic or even crafty to bee an extraordinary party hostess.
There’s Pinterest, the Internet and magazines as sources for ideas, recipes, party supplies, services and vendors. In fact, I’ve found some of my own creative inspiration in all those places. And, I’ve shared lots of posts and pictures on my theme parties to borrow from.
Each gathering has been a labor of love. They are a thank you gift to friends and family for putting up with my idiosyncrasies, foibles, quirks and periodic neuroses. For being there through thick and thin. For being part of my history. Mostly, my parties are a celebration of affection and friendship.
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From Party to Event
Flamingo decorated bags held favorite things for the Wonderland theme gift exchange.
Hosting an extraordinary party does require more planning, time, effort and expense. However, being party hostess doesn’t have to break the bank.
It all really depends on how large and elaborate you want the gathering to be. And, how much of the party you take on yourself, versus purchasing items or hiring the services of others. That might include the invitations, decorations, food and party favors. With the exception of some menu items and favors, I make almost everything myself, often with a little help from family and friends.
Pick and choose those party elements that make sense for you.
Start with the Basics
Begin by making a guest list to determine the scale of the gathering. Next, decide whether the party will include a sit down meal, or more a mingling of guests. Does the party have start and end times, like a shower or tea? Or, is it an open house where guest come and go?
Depending on the nature of the party and number of expected guests, you might need to hold the party at a restaurant or other event space.
I’ve determined that 18 is the maximum I can comfortably accommodate in my home for a sit down meal, served buffet style.
For those planning their first Favorite Things Party, I suggest going back and reading Part 1. There, I cover the five basics:
- Decide # of items to exchange
- Pick $ amount for each item
- Determine who’s making/bringing the food
- Include gift exchange details with invites
- Set up system for the favorite things exchange
Once you’ve got an understanding of the fundamentals, it’s time to consider other ways to amp up the party.
Debbee’s Favorite Things Party Playbook
- Pick a party theme
- Have guests wrap & tag their favorite things
- Play some games
- Award prizes & give favors
- Add wildcard element to the gift exchange
- Give shopping bags to guests
1. Pick a party theme
In my humble opinion, having a theme is the single most important factor in making your Favorite Things Party exceptional.
First, a disclaimer — I rarely do any entertaining without a theme. It can be as simple as choosing the menu for a dinner (say Italian or Greek), or tying the tablesetting and decorations to a holiday or occasion on the calendar (like July 4th or the Kentucky Derby).
Table settings and centerpieces are a great place to carry through a party theme.
A theme makes a party feel more special, unique, fun and dare I say memorable?
Having a theme actually helps me to streamline party planning, by narrowing the focus and field of options. For instance, if you’re having a dinner party, choosing an Evening in Paris theme narrows the menu choices to French food.
Another way to extend a party theme is through decorations.
How far to carry the theme depends on what floats your boat, lol! As the nicknamed Queen of Theme, I apply it to nearly everything at a party! It starts with the invite, and goes from there. That may include; decorations (inside and out), food, gift packages, games, prizes, favors, and sometimes even the music.
Start with the Invites
Once you’ve settled on a theme, communicate it to guests via the invitation (printed or email). It’ll set the tone for your party.
Easy to make invitations reveal the theme, like this Pretty Peacock Invitation.
Who doesn’t enjoy the thrill of opening their mailbox or inbox and discovering a party invitation? I’ve created mailed invitations for countless gatherings over the years. Even when it’s my turn to host a monthly couples dinner or ladies book club — tying the theme to either the menu or book title.
Packaged invitations, like those from Hallmark, are fine to use. But, if hostessing a Favorite Things Party, you’ll need to insert a little sheet detailing the gift exchange. Be sure to include the cost limit and number of items each guest is to bring.
Most eVite templates also allow you to customize the text, or to provide additional party information.
Dress the Part Option
Having a party theme doesn’t mean guests have to dress up. Unless you want it to be a costume affair, such as for Halloween or a Great Gatsby theme.
I do confess to choosing my attire and fashion accessories to fit the theme of all four Favorite Things Parties.
For the Bee Theme Party, I dressed in items already in my wardrobe (I am Debbee after all!). Part of my ensemble included these bee-embroidered pants, jewelry, and tucking little chenille bees in my pulled back hair.
And, my Sweet Scottie Dog buzzed about in a bumblebee costume!
For the Peacock Party, I simply wore teal with feathers in my hair.
Guests were asked to dress in their favorite little black dress or pant suit for the Tiffany’s Brunch. Something everyone seemed to really embrace and enjoy.
Guests in little black dress and pant suits enjoying a Breakfast at Tiffany’s Theme Brunch on the porch.
However, I went all Holly Golightly. After all, how often does one get the chance to wear a tiara?!
Guests selected one of three styles of fascinators from the Mad Hatter’s trunk, at the Wonderland Party.
Beyond that, I’ve never asked the ladies to come in costume.
Carry Theme Through From Start to Finish
Once you’ve settled on a theme, carry it through the invitations, decorations, buffet or table settings, food and other elements of the party.
Bee Theme Party Food Features Honey, Lemon included Oreo’s, a honey bear cake, and stacked donut hives.
2. Have Guests Wrap & Tag Gifts
Who doesn’t love to receive a beautifully wrapped gift? An area overflowing with packages creates intrigue and excitement.
Pile of enticing packages for the favorite things gift exchange during the Wonderland theme party.
And, gifts don’t have to be wrapped, bags and tissue paper are just fine! Also ask guests to package their items identically, while including tags with their name.
During and after the gift exchange, tags help to identify who got who’s favorite thing.
My favorite things carried a tag that used a vintage image as a visual to play off of my name, Debbee.
The idea is for guests to wrap gifts in something that represents a favorite of theirs. It can be a color, print, motif or thing. Maybe a friend is into animal prints or someone else loves Mickey Mouse — that’s how they should package their gift. Or, they may want to play off of what’s inside the packaging, as a little tease
Pretty, Fun & Clever Packages
The first Favorite Things Party, most guests brought nicely bagged gifts. But after seeing my bee theme wrap,they really upped their game! Everyone wanted the packaging to entice others to choose their gifts.
My talented friend M, wrapped her brown paper packages with handmade paper flowers.
Often, guests have come up with unique and clever packaging. One friend wrapped a set of three berry keepers in tissue paper to resemble a giant strawberry. So cute!
Sistah B, who loves the beach, packaged shark tooth necklaces in beach bucket pails from a dollar store. She tucked colorful tissue in each, and used the attached shovel as her gift tag. Clever girl!
One of my cousins created her own wrap using a computer and printer. It including a poem she wrote describing the peacock purse hanger inside. It sure enticed me! During the exchange, I grabbed one as soon as it was my turn.
I always reward their efforts by awarding a prize for Favorite Package — a roll of party theme gift wrap of course! Every year it gets harder to choose a winner.
#3 Plan Fun & Games
A frequently asked question is, “What games did you play?”
I always plan a mix of about three games and activities for each My Favorite Thing party. Each directly coincides with the theme. Some were found on Pinterest and modified. Others I made up from scratch! Many would easily work for a baby or bridal shower too.
“What’s the Buzz” is a bee theme party game based on “Truth or Dare.” Find details at Bee Party Games.
Since many of my guests only knew one or two others at the first party, I decided I needed one or two ice breakers. And even though many of the ladies have now become acquainted, it can be a year since they last saw other.
Games and activities help everyone get reacquainted and have fun together.
Counting team’s cards standing during a round of Build a House of Cards during Wonderland theme party.
Some of the games require the ladies to work in teams. And you know what? They love ’em!
Carefully chosen games are a fun form of entertainment — even if all your guests have known each other for years.
- Helps guests to get better acquainted
- Encourages interaction between people who don’t know each other, or get to see often
- Offers a fun challenge & friendly competition
- Provides an opportunity to give prizes
Here I am showing the proper form for playing Flamingo Croquet. We played a modified, shorter version of classic croquet on two courses, with a “mad” setup of wickets.
Considerations in Choosing Party Games
- Number of guests
- Length of time to play the game
- Room or setting
- Ease of play; quickly understand the nature & rules of the game
To the left is the Pearl Game from the Breakfast at Tiffany’s theme Favorite Things Party.
As guests arrived, I draped a long strand of pearls over their head and explained the interactive game.
There were five words to avoid during conversation. If caught in a slip, they had to relinquish pearls to the other guest. At the end of the party, the person with the most strands of pearls won the prize.
Plan an Activity or Two
For entertainment, it’s also fun to add a non-competitive activity. At both the Breakfast at Tiffany and Wonderland theme parties, I had a photo “booth.”
Props for Brunch at Debbee’s included accessories like Holly Golightly worn in the movie.
Rather than an actual booth, ladies posed in front of a blue backdrop for the Tiffany theme party. During the Wonderland party, guests showed off their fascinators by posing with a frame in the Mad Hatter’s Shop.
And, we always gather for group photos at the end of the party.
#4 Award Prizes & Give Favors
If you’re going to have games, you need to have prizes! They don’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Sometimes silly or campy is just the thing.
I give out prizes for all the games and group activities as we gather together for the signature event — the favorite things exchange. Afterwards, I also give out “favorite” category prizes that include; best gift wrapped, most clever gift, best bang for the buck, and overall guest favorite. The ladies love getting prizes!
Blue bakeware was the top prizes for favorite things at the Breakfast at Tiffany’s Theme Brunch.
I have so much fun shopping for theme-related items as prizes and favors for the Favorite Things Parties! Because I plan months (and up to a year) in advance, there’s plenty of time to find items that fit both the theme and my budget.
Gardening gloves were the parting favor for guests at the Wonderland theme party.
Being a maker at heart, I craft many of the favors I give to party guests. Many of the favors do double duty, carrying the party theme to decorations and table settings.
Items from dollar stores stocked the Tiffany theme shop with party favors.
Check out the Party section of Debbee’s Buzz for guest favor ideas and DIY tutorials to make your own.
Way back when, my book club’s annual December gathering was a wrapped book exchange. As each person took their turn, they could either choose an unopened “mystery” book from the pile, or “steal” the book another gal had already opened. If your book was stolen, you got to pick another unopened package. It was a lot of fun, and extended the exchange part of the evening.
The ability to steal, was also an element of several Christmas tree ornament exchanges I’ve attended.
Those experiences inspired me to add a similar spin to the Favorite Things gift exchange. Before I explain how it works, a few caveats.
First, limit the exchange to three rounds, or three gifts per guests. Otherwise, the process is likely to be too time-consuming. Secondly, adding this layer of complexity to the exchange would be very difficult to manage in large groups. I recommend adding “wildcards” to groups of no more than 16-20. Lastly, gifts need to be wrapped.
First, wildcards are separate from the lottery numbers, which determine a guest’s turn in each round. Refer to How to Host Part 1 to learn how numbers work.
I add three wildcard elements to the exchange: grab, steal and defend. You can choose to include one, two or all three. Each guest, however, receives only one wildcard to play a single time during three gift exchange rounds.
That physical wildcard can take a variety of forms. I used a different format for each of the four Favorite Things parties. And, each coincided with the party theme.
For the bee party, the numbers were contained in cute little honeycomb boxes topped with bees. Wildcards were placed in the envelopes seen above.
For the peacock party, grab, steal and defend were represented by a different color paper feather. One was tucked inside the peacock shaped box, along with three color-coded lottery numbers.
But, for the Tiffany theme party, the foil wrapper color of a Hershey Kiss determined what wildcard element you had. The candy was either wrapped in gold, silver or pink foil. Each kiss was tucked with the lottery numbers in a Tiffany-like gift box. I renamed grab, “bargain”, and defend, “exchange.”
Finally, for the Wonderland theme party, butterfly topped paper boxes held lottery numbers, while the color key attached to the vintage teacup favors determined which wildcard a guest had.
Rules of the Game
Before the gift exchange begins, be sure to go over the rules with guests.
- Each guest receives only 1 wildcard for a single use.
- Wildcards are kept secret between guests.
- If a wildcard was used to steal or grab a gift, another guest can’t use a card to steal it again.
- All the packaging — gift bag, tags, embellishments, and wrapping — travels with the gift to the new owner.
- If a guest uses a grab or steal wildcard, they relinquish their lottery number for that round. In other words, using a wildcard replaces the guest’s turn in that round.
- Wildcards must be played before a guest uses their last lottery number.
- All guests receive the same number of gifts.
Let’s start with the steal. It’s pretty straight-forward. If it’s your turn (based on the lottery number), you can elect to choose an unopened gift from the pile, or steal an already opened/revealed gift from another guest. That guest is now short a gift. To even things out, she gets to pick a new gift from the pile.
A steal card is usually played when all of a particularly coveted gift has been selected. None remain in the pile. Once a gift has been stolen, it is “frozen,” and can’t be stolen again.
My favorite thing for Brunch at Debbee’s were these Tiffany-inspired sunglasses. They were the hottest gift in the exchange and were gone by the end of the first round.
By the time you get to the gift exchange, guests are usually quite comfortable with each other. Stealing a gift amps up the fun and intrigue to the exchange. Besides, if you really must have an item, you can go out and purchase one!
Another card type is defend, which blocks a steal. Say someone plays their steal card for your candle. If you don’t want to give it up — and hold a defend card — you can play it to block the steal. But, if you don’t mind losing the candle, you don’t have to play the defend card.
A person who plays an unsuccessful steal card just takes their regular turn; choosing a still wrapped gift from the pile. Their steal card is relinquished and cannot be used again.
Lastly is the grab card. Basically, the grab card allows a guest to jump their place in one exchange round.
Say there are 12 ladies and you have drawn the number 10 for the second exchange round. Two of three boxes of chocolates have already been taken, and you really want that item. Anytime after the round begins, you jump up and say, “grab!” That allows you to grab the remaining wrapped box of chocolates from the pile.
Once a guest uses a grab card, they relinquish their number (turn) for that round. Since the grab card was used to acquire a particular gift, no one can then use a steal card to take.
The Favorite Things exchange ends after there are no longer any wrapped gifts left in the pile. All guests, whether they played a wildcard or not, ends up with the same number of gifts — equivalent to the number of rounds.
And, if you’re looking for a few gift ideas for the exchange, check out 16 Favorite Beauty Basics.
# 6 Give Shopping Bags
Beginning with the first Favorite Things Party, I gave each guest a theme-related shopping bag to carry home all their loot — prizes, favors and gifts from the exchange.
It’s became a tradition that all the ladies look forward to receiving after we finish the gift exchange. I usually hang them on a heavy iron wreath stand, displaying the bags next to the pile of exchange gifts.
Each bag has cost about a dollar. To tie in with the party theme, I have found bags at Home Goods, Michaels, TJ Maxx, Tuesday Morning and Marshall’s.
For several parties, I had to purchase two different styles of bags in order to have enough for 16-20 guests.
The pandemic may have put a pause on many parties and celebrations this year. But, a My Favorite Things Party format also works well for smaller groups of just six to eight. Depending on the situation in your local area, it might be nice to gather together friends?
Planning and prepping for a party next year could be a good distraction and productive way to pass the time while at home.
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