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Planning an Engagement Party: Tips from Celebrity Event Planner Debi Lilly

Event Styling & Floral: A Perfect Event | Venue: DL Loft | Photographer: Roots of Life Photography

by Pamela Rothbard, Editor

December is by far the most popular month to get engaged — boasting twice as many happy couples as February, which plays host to all the romance of Valentine’s Day. That makes January the perfect month for planning for all of the exciting events to come: the wedding, bachelor and bachelorette parties, wedding showers, and so on. But first… the engagement party. You’ve probably flashed your sparkling smile and new diamond on social media, but don’t miss the opportunity to gather your friends and family to celebrate your impending nuptials. Your event can be as casual or as glam as you are. We spoke with celebrity party planner and author, Debi Lilly, to gather tips for planning the perfect engagement soirée to celebrate your epic proposal.

How long after the “ask” should you hold a party?

Often engagement parties are held fairly quickly. Lilly says, “Many parties fall just weeks after the actual engagement — when the energy and buzz are at an all-time high.” But, consider having your gathering one to three months post-engagement. Lilly says this gives guests more time to make travel plans so that they can join the celebration.

Who should host the engagement party?

The most frequent party hosts are the couple’s parents, best friends, future maid of honor or best man, according to Lilly. She adds, “Often a group of best friends makes a great team to gather the tribe together and kick off the festivities.”

How many people should you invite?

“We’ve done engagement parties that matched wedding receptions in size, with 200 guests, a sit-down dinner, and a band. But most often, there are 50 to 75 guests, who represent a mix of the couple’s friends and family.” She emphasizes one thing though: make sure if you invite guests to the engagement party, you plan to invite them to the wedding as well!

What are the pros and cons of hosting a party at home versus a restaurant or other venue?

“A home is always the most personal, intimate setting for any celebration. There’s a magical warm, cozy vibe that cannot be replicated in a venue,” says Lilly. She does note, however, that there are drawbacks to hosting at home that can make it tricky — namely lack of space for a larger group, the layout of the space, and, of course, it’s a lot more work for the homeowner.

How far in advance should the engagement party invitations be sent out?

“We recommend a minimum of 3 to 4 weeks in advance, so guests have plenty of time to mark their calendars,” says Lilly.

What are your tips for menu planning and décor?

Lilly loves to personalize “anything and everything possible.” You could use your favorite colors or offer a sneak peek of the upcoming wedding palette — but don’t pressure yourself to determine your wedding palette at this point if you don’t know it yet; just pick a color combination you enjoy.

For cocktails, Lilly suggests offering a pair of specialty drinks, each reflecting the personal history, style, or personality of the couple. She says, “Many times ‘hers’ is bubbly, or champagne-based, and ‘his’ is whiskey, like an Old Fashioned.”

“The same goes for the menu,” Lilly says. “Choose a few of your favorite foods or destinations for travel, or if a destination wedding is looming, a taste of the region they plan to marry in.”

Who should speak at an engagement party?

“Budget about 30 minutes to an hour for cocktails and guest arrival,” Lilly suggests. Often that is followed by a toast to the happy couple from the host. Lilly adds that the best man, maid of honor, and/or the couple’s parents may opt to say a few words, as well, followed by the bride and groom thanking everyone for joining in the celebration.

Should you offer guest favors?

Lilly and her team at Chicago-based A Perfect Event love to fill mini glass jars with petite sweets for a beautiful, delicious favor that everyone will love. Think pastel macarons in your wedding colors. Everyone loves to take a little sweetness home with them.

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