Relax: This party is going to be fun. But in case of emergency, break out these magic words.

By Catherine Newman
Updated: June 24, 2019
Babeth Lafon

Throwing a bash—once one figures out how to plan a party, of course—should be a fun experience for any host. Putting rarely used serving platters to work, graciously accepting hostess gifts, enjoying friends and loved ones under one roof … there’s a lot to love about hosting. But if the guests aren’t comfortable or enjoying themselves, the party will struggle to take off.

With a quick refresher on proper etiquette and how to start a conversation, any host can get the conversation rolling. With that in mind, Real Simple’s “Modern Manners” columnist Catherine Newman shares easy-to-remember phrases that will make the party more enjoyable for all involved. (Have a pressing etiquette question of your own? Ask it here.)

“Just bring yourselves”

This is always a nice thing to say, followed by “I’m keeping it super simple.” Impromptu means smoothing out the road between here and getting to see your people: no time to fret or fuss or cancel—and no requirement that your guests procure prosciutto or make an orzo salad. Should anyone press (“I’m bringing something anyway, so tell me what would be helpful”), then feel free to suggest a specific contribution: a quart of vanilla ice cream to go with the pie, a bottle of prosecco for those cucumber cocktails. Otherwise folks will likely bring wine or flowers, which you can really never have too much of.

“I’m so glad you’re here”

This functions as the perfect all-purpose hosting mantra. Even though the sentiment should be clear in everything you do, it’s also a wonderful thing to say out loud. It’s especially soothing to someone who’s shown up early, late, or uninvited (your friend’s out-of-town cousin, say) or to anyone who’s fretting about arriving empty-handed. It might also reassure you, if you’ve lost sight of the point of the gathering because your chicken breasts got a little too charbroiled.

“Please help yourself”

There’s wine on the patio, a pitcher of margaritas in the fridge, nibbles in every room. If you do just the tiniest bit of prep—get out the glasses, open a bottle or two, put out some corn nuts and crudités—then everyone can happily bartend for themselves while you baste the chickens or hide the takeout boxes. As long as there’s boozy drinks, boozeless drinks, and plenty to munch on, dinner can basically take forever or never get served at all and everyone will still have a great time.

“Come help me for a minute”

This graciously rescues awkward or introverted folks from conversations they don’t want to be having (or aren’t having anyway), and it can keep someone who maybe shouldn’t pour another glass of wine from pouring another glass of wine. Plus, you get the help you might actually need. “Would you mind…dressing this salad? Spooning this rice into a serving bowl? Counting out 20 forks?” Asking for help from whoever arrives first is also a gracious face-saver: “I’m so glad you’re here! I could really use a hand with the watermelon. Let me get you an apron.”

“Tell us about your…”

Worst summer job. Best-ever meal. Most persistently recurring anxiety dream. A mini arsenal of conversation sparkers is a great resource for dealing with shy folks, political heat, or ice that needs breaking. “What would you be doing during the zombie apocalypse?” is especially engaging for younger guests. (So much better than “How’s school?” Trust me.)

“There’s plenty”

Another terrifically versatile hosting sentiment. If a guest forgets to bring the baguettes or remembers to bring their ravenous teenager or grimaces guiltily over the incriminating heap of shrimp tails on their plate, you can reassure them. (“We figured we’d order pizza if the food ran out” is another comforting sentence.) Improv hosts—really, all hosts—want to communicate abundance. “I’m relaxed,” is what you’re saying, “so you can go ahead and relax too.”

“I always hated that…”

Glass, plate, couch, carpet, cactus. A houseful of festive folks means that stuff might suffer. Spilling, dropping, breaking, and trampling are all party possibilities, and your guests are likely to be much more upset than you are about a ruined object. So put them at ease by communicating that you value people over things and by making them laugh in their moment of embarrassment. (“Finally! An excuse to get rid of that awful rug. Thank you.”) And don’t follow up with too much fussy scrubbing or sweeping, or you’ll undermine the credibility of your chillness.

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