Jess Levin Conroy began her career at Burch Creative Capital, where she helped manage investments and brand development for a portfolio that included C. Wonder and Tory Burch LLC. After earning her MBA at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Jess saw an opportunity in the wedding space to help empower the businesses at the top end of the market. She founded Carats & Cake in 2013 in New York City. To date, the company works with over 25,000 businesses across the U.S. and has become the go-to resource for couples looking for the best the wedding industry has to offer.
Getting engaged is something worth celebrating, and there is no shortage of opportunities to raise a glass—from dress shopping to the bachelorette to cake tasting, it’s all one big party leading up to the main event. What better way to start the entire process than with an engagement party commemorating your new status? Now, the thought of throwing another party on top of the wedding can be nothing short of overwhelming, but whether you’d like an intimate affair or a more extravagant gathering, engagement parties are the perfect opportunity to bring everyone together and set the tone for the main event. From the guest list to the décor to the entertainment, we reached out to some of the wedding industry’s best to get their inside tips on the dos and don’ts of engagement parties. So whether you decide on an over-the-top party or a more understated debut, read on for eight creative engagement party ideas.
Set the Tone With Your Invites
Whether you’re planning a casual housewarming or a more formal affair, your invites will set the tone and let your guests know what to expect. Having a color scheme, font, or image with the engagement party invites that matches the wedding invite is always a clever way to tie them together. Unlike a wedding invite that’s made up of multiple pieces, an engagement invite can consist of a single one-sheet detailing specifics of the event—but feel free to get as creative as you like.
Keep It Casual
Do your version of casual, whether that’s a backyard barbecue or a more formal affair. Aleah and Nick Valley, owners of Valley & Company Events, say, “nothing is more fun than an impromptu dinner party, so gather up your friends and family for a casual, yet elegant meal.” A couple simple appetizers, a main course, and dessert to follow is more than enough. To make the event even simpler, try setting up food and drink stations instead.
Give Guests a Cocktail for Toasting
Greet guests with your favorite beverage so they are more than ready to toast to your happily ever after. Jacin Fitzgerald, owner of Jacin Fitzgerald Events, advises, “what better time to break out the champagne than for your engagement? Consider a champagne bar with your favorite juices and accoutrements for guests to build their own sparkling cocktail, or a personal favorite, serve simple fruit or herbaceous popsicles in glasses of champagne for a refreshingly welcome libation. You can also consider small bottles of bubbly as a favor at the end of the evening.”
Candlelight is the perfect way to add a touch of romance to your celebration. Use single candles spaced throughout the table, or set them up in clusters, using a variety of sizes and shapes to add interest. Candles also make for a pretty centerpiece if you’re looking to skip the usual florals. Give guests smaller versions of the candles to take home with them as a thank you.
Host a Brunch
There’s one meal you just can’t argue with: brunch. It’s a people-pleaser, filled with diverse guest favorites from sweet tooth–satisfying waffles to savory avocado toast—not to mention it’s a great excuse to indulge in mimosas of every variety. Planner Christine Janda of Christine Janda Design & Events encourages a brunch theme, saying, “in lieu of a classic cocktail reception, invite your guests to join you for brunch. For an even more memorable experience, add a theme.”
Customize Little Details
Don’t be afraid to differentiate your party from other festive affairs with hints of wedding-inspired items, especially ones that are a nod to you and your S.O. “Create a few special items that help tell your love story, from how you met to how you got engaged,” event planner Kaitlyn Hostetler of EVOKE advises. “For example, we created JetBlue cookies for one of our couples who were in a long-distance relationship and would fly back and forth on JetBlue to see each other.”
Make It Seasonal
Typically, engagement parties are far less formal than the main event, so you have more options when it comes to the menu. Serve the things you love now, and save the raw bar for later. “Everyone loves a seasonal celebration, from the décor to the food,” says Neillie Butler, owner of Mariee Ami. “What better way to celebrate your engagement than local heirloom and garden-fresh fare?! Serve cocktails to complement the flavors of your meal.”
Don't Overshadow the Main Event
Your engagement party should be the event leading up to your wedding, not the one that overshadows it. Keep florals and décor understated so you have something left in your arsenal. Virginia Edelson, owner of Bluebird Productions, adds, “when setting a theme for an engagement party, choose a design concept completely different from your wedding so that you give your guests two unique experiences. If you’re bringing your guests to the mountains for your wedding, have a nautical affair by the sea. That way you get to design two unique events that touch on various components of your relationship and lives.”
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Up next, keep reading for expert intel on the biggest outdoor wedding trends of the summer.
This post was originally published November 28, 2014, and has been updated.