Whether you’re planning an engagement party or recently engaged yourself, we’re guessing you have a few questions about this pre-wedding bash. An engagement party is exactly what it sounds like: a party to celebrate the engaged couple and their upcoming wedding. Think of it as the official kick-off to your wedding festivities—the first of many chances to raise a glass to the soonly weds and mingle with close loved ones. Read on for the essential ins and outs of planning an engagement party.
An engagement party is a great way to show your support and happiness for a newly engaged couple — whether it’s a child, sibling, friend, etc. If you plan to throw your favourite couple an engagement party, there are several things you need to keep in mind. Here are a few tips to make sure that everything runs smoothly and that the engagement party will be something that the couple will never forget.
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First, What Happens at an Engagement Party?
An engagement party is a gathering to celebrate your engagement news. It’s a chance to let the future in-laws meet and get to know each other better; to catch-up with friends and family; and to show off your ring!
What happens at an engagement party depends on what you choose to do. It can just be dropping in for drinks or an engagement brunch, but if you want an activity, consider something like a treasure hunt, boat ride or throwing a movie night with an outdoor projector.
The Etiquette of Engagement Parties
As with many modern matrimonial events, your engagement party can be as formal or relaxed as you’d like. Engagement party etiquette isn’t as hard and fast as it once was. When it comes time to plan yours, consider the mood you’d like to set. White tablecloths and candlelit dinners are classic for a reason, but if you and your partner are more of the draft beer and karaoke types, there’s no need to stick to formal traditions. That said, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with engagement party etiquette before attending your own. Here are just a few traditions to consider:
When Do You Have an Engagement Party?
The engagement party typically falls within a few months of the proposal—kind of the sweet spot between carefree, just-engaged life and the start of serious wedding planning. You’ll want to give guests about one month’s notice (six weeks if you’re inviting long-distance friends), so send party invitations out a few months after your engagement.
Who Throws the Engagement Party?
Traditionally, the bride’s parents are expected to host the first official celebration, then the groom’s parents can throw their party (yes, you can have more than one engagement party). But this way of doing things is by no means the rule. Both sets of parents can come together to co-host an engagement party, and the couple can throw one themselves or friends of the couple can do the honours. Just keep in mind that if the couple does the inviting, it’s their responsibility to foot the bill too. And your friends might volunteer to host before you even ask—but if you’re thinking of asking them to host, be conscious of the financial implications of hosting before doing so.
Do You Need to Send Invitations?
You (or whoever’s hosting) should send official engagement party invitations, but don’t confuse the word “official” with “formal.” Your invites can be more formal if you like, but feel free to choose simple, playful or informal paper invitations—or even opt for digital invites. Make sure you put more effort into it than a haphazard text or email. If you’ve chosen your invitation designer already, ask if they offer a special rate on invites. And don’t worry if you haven’t settled on a wedding colour palette or even a wedding date—your engagement party invitations don’t have to match the rest of your stationery.
Beyond the party date, time, location and RSVP info, don’t forget to include a link to your wedding website on the invites. This also means you’ll want to have most of your website finished before sending out invitations. Your website is the easiest way to spread the word about your wedding registry, in case guests want to send or bring you an engagement party gift. You don’t have to have the whole site complete—a link to your registry, a few photos and the story of your proposal should do the trick for now (you can always update it later).
Not sure how you want your wedding stationery to look? Check out our list of 28 Wedding Invitation Ideas to help you choose.
Who Should Be Invited to the Engagement Party
Old-school etiquette states that everyone invited to the engagement party must be invited to the wedding too—case closed. But these days, with the formality of this event evolving and more couples living and/or getting married far from their families and friends, engagement party guest list expectations have changed. At least in some cases, engagement parties can include people who aren’t invited to the wedding. For example, if your friends want to plan an informal party at a neighbourhood bar and email invites a few weeks before, it’s totally fine to include people you aren’t sure will end up making the wedding guest list (coworkers, newer friends, friends of friends and so on). Or if your parents’ good friends want to host a cocktail party at their home in your honour, let your parents invite mutual friends and business associates you might not have room for at your wedding.
However, if you two or your parents are hosting, the old rule sticks: When the wedding hosts send the engagement party invitation, it’s considered part of the official wedding festivities, and guests assume they’re invited to the wedding too. To avoid hurt feelings and an awkward situation later, start working on your wedding guest list now, then trim the engagement party-list down to your wedding party, immediate families and close friends.
Where Should It Take Place?
The location of your engagement party depends on who’s throwing it. If the hosts are local, you’ll likely be celebrating in your city, but if they live out of state, you may want to have it in their city. It comes down to discussing it with the hosts and figuring out the logistics to make it easier on everyone involved. Say you live in New York, but most of your family and friends live in Chicago, where you grew up: You may decide to have your party in your old hometown (and enlist someone local to help you plan), host it in your current city or even throw two parties. Just beware of tiring out your guests and wedding party with too many invitations before the wedding day is even close. Also, when picking the party location, consider where you plan to have your wedding—you may not want to ask guests to travel twice. Many couples celebrate with multiple engagement parties because their friends and family are spread all over the place.
As for a venue, depending on how many people you want to invite, you can make an engagement party work almost anywhere—it’s really up to the hosts. When choosing the venue, think about the vibe you want to create. If you like the idea of a more elegant affair, consider renting out an actual event space like a private room at a restaurant, urban loft, garden, country club or wine bar. For something more casual, someone’s home, backyard or a favourite local bar are all great choices.
How Formal Should the Engagement Party Be?
Traditionally, engagement parties were cocktail hours hosted by the family of the bride. Nowadays, the affair can be as big or small, formal or informal as you’d like! Part of the fun of an engagement party is tailoring it to your precise vision. Some parties are incredibly formal and are hosted at country clubs and in ballrooms. Others are more relaxed, with backyard barbecues and tubs of beer on ice. Whatever your vision, be sure to communicate your hopes to the person hosting the party. They’ll play the biggest role in determining how formal your actual engagement party is.
What to Do at an Engagement Party
Unlike bridal showers, engagement parties aren’t typically as gift-centric (despite the fact that some guests will likely want to send or bring a gift). That means you probably won’t devote any time to opening gifts in front of the group. Instead, this party’s mostly about eating and drinking, catching up with old friends and introducing your families and different friend groups to one another. It’s not uncommon for the host or one of the couple’s parents to say a few informal words of congratulations, but a toast isn’t required. You could also play a few fun engagement party games like Wedding Bingo or a just-engaged version of The Newlywed Game if the party’s outside, set up lawn games or a fun DIY station to keep everyone entertained.
Check out our post on What is the purpose of wedding engagement?
What to Wear to an Engagement Party
As with any event, your wardrobe will depend on the setting of the party. Aside from the obvious (don’t wear an evening gown or tux to a backyard barbecue), keep it simple enough that you don’t outdo your wedding look, but special enough that you feel special. We’ll put it this way: You’ll like be taking tons of pictures, so wear something you love and won’t mind being photographed in over and over again. If you have a specific dress code for guests (think: “cocktail attire” or “jeans are fine!”), go ahead and note it on the invitations. (Read on for more engagement party style ideas.)
What to Serve Guests
There’s no need to plan a five-course meal with a four-hour open bar. Anything from passed apps or tasting menu stations to a family-style buffet or casual cookout will work. Or get creative and serve up dishes that mean something you. Are you two known for hosting friends for a home-cooked Italian dinner every Sunday? Sounds like a great place to start. As for dessert, serve it if you’d like, but it doesn’t have to be an expensive tiered cake. Consider gourmet ice cream sandwiches, assorted baked goods or seasonal sweets like candy apples or cotton candy.
Should You Expect Gifts?
Gifts aren’t traditionally part of the engagement party experience. Still, some guests will inevitably show up bearing presents. It’s a natural inclination to want to celebrate your good news! Given that gifts are somewhat inevitable, you and your partner may want to start putting together a wedding registry even earlier than anticipated. Don’t feel like you need to have your full registry finished before the party. Simply add a few things you know you could use – just in case someone wants to surprise you with a gift at the engagement party.
How Do I Plan an Engagement Party?
Set a Budget
Should you splurge or save? It all depends on the bottom line. Are you paying for this party but parents are paying for the wedding? Perhaps you’re saving on splitting the wedding bill or paying for it all yourselves, in which case you want to determine what matters most so you can identify where and when to spend the money you have. One bonus of an engagement party is it can be as simple or elaborate as you like. Cake and champagne in your own home or a backyard BBQ at a relative’s house is a wonderful way to start the year of celebration ahead. Or you can host an event almost as formal as the wedding intends to be. Just keep in mind your engagement party shouldn’t take one up your wedding day. Save the best for last!
Make Your Guest List
After you have a budget and host or hosts identified, make your guest list. This will allow you to shop for a venue. Is your parents’ home large enough or do you want a public venue like a winery, brewery or restaurant? For smaller events, private rooms in a restaurant are often ideal.
Send Out Invites
Once the venue is set, send invitations the digital or snail mail way. There are no rules on how you invite loved ones to this event. While the invitation should reflect the formality of the party, remember that paper invitations cans be costly. Consider where you want to spend your budget and decide accordingly. And no matter what you spend, if you’re planning on using a social media hashtag for your wedding, you may want to include it here.
Register for Your Wedding Gifts
Don’t forget to register for your wedding gifts before the invitations go out, especially if someone other than yourselves hosts this party. Guests will want to bring a gift to your engagement party so the questions will start coming. Your hosts can help get the word out for you. Shop early and be prepared for the presents to arrive.
Your Dream Design
With the venue and date locked in, your style can start to come to life. Will you theme your celebration or design décor around a certain holiday, colour palette, location or something personal? Holidays are a great time of year to celebrate when lots of public spaces are already dressed up and don’t need a lot of décors. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with candles. Dozens or even hundreds of candles can cut the need for fresh florals and set a very romantic mood in any setting. Just be sure to check fire and flame regulations in your venue to ensure a safe celebration and opt for flameless candles when in doubt.
Make It Shareable
Then, make it Instagrammable! This is one of the first opportunities you have to get guests using your wedding hashtag. Design a day or night that is not only festive face-to-face but continues the party online with visual stations, backdrops or small vignettes and details that welcome and encourage social sharing. Don’t forget to include signage, custom cocktail napkins, or other details that remind guests to post with your hashtag if social sharing is encouraged.
Personalize, Personalize, Personalize
And make it personal. This may be the first time your friends or extended family meet your soon-to-be-spouse. Share personal details about each other, your relationship and your engagement story through photos (a slideshow, albums or framed photos), and souvenirs. You might even opt for a personalized game or two, depending on how big the gathering is. Bonding the families together can certainly start here.
Design Your Menu
When planning the meal, be thoughtful with your menu. Dinner doesn’t have to be a formal feast, but it should be quality whatever you serve. If you’re hosting a cocktail party with appetizers, make them hearty and filling, so guests don’t leave early out of hunger. Consider a few stations for items such as cheese and charcuterie. For dessert parties, give your audience choices and abundance. If the bar options are limited to signature cocktails or just beer and wine, choose premium brands and be thoughtful or creative in how you display those brands. Perhaps a champagne tower is for a formal party or buckets of beer at a barn or backyard event.
Theming your menu is a fun way to keep it casual (and keep costs down too). Consider a taco cart or mobile pizza oven, a doughnut bar or even the In-N-Out food truck to serve your guests fan-favourites without breaking the bank.
Set the Mood
When it comes to entertainment, consider the setting. In a home, an acoustic guitarist might be a nice option or a DJ if the party is larger. Creating your playlist through your speaker system is an option too. If in a hotel or larger setting, splurging for a band might be on the list. Just remember not to exceed the wedding expectations with any one element.
No matter where you celebrate, always say thanks. If a friend or family member has hosted this event for you, bring small gifts for them and a personal note to express your gratitude. While a party favour isn’t expected at a cocktail party, if you’ve opted for a seated dinner, leaving a gift at each place setting is a nice touch (and dresses up your tables too).
Most couples simply desire your presence at an engagement party, not your presents. However, a thoughtful gift is always appreciated, especially when it’s sentimental or tailored to the personalities of the couple. Whether they are the type to appreciate something elegant or something whimsical, personalized engagement party gifts are sure to make the new couple feel celebrated and loved.