Welcome to engagement season! It’s time to kick off the wedding celebrations with a bang. An engagement party is a great way to share the exciting news and get family and friends together to celebrate the forthcoming union.
If this is your first time throwing an engagement party, etiquette questions are probably swirling around your brain. We consulted with party planner Heather Lowenthal to share her insider tips and answer key questions about the guest list, invitations, gifts, and everything in between.
First and foremost, congratulations! We’re so happy for you and your partner. Now that the proposal’s out of the way, it’s time to start thinking about something else that’s important—we’re talking about planning your engagement party. While you don’t want to take anything away from the actual wedding, your engagement party is a great opportunity to practice or develop some useful event planning skills. Similar to the big event, you’ll want to locate a venue, choose a date, create a guest list, send invitations, decide on a menu, and stick to a budget.
Not sure where to start or exactly what to do? No problem—we’ve got all the answers on how (and when) to plan an engagement party. Just follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to celebrating the big news with your nearest and dearest.
Table of Contents
- 1 Who Throws the Engagement Party?
- 2 When Do You Throw an Engagement Party?
- 3 Who Do You Invite to an Engagement Party?
- 4 Do I Need to Send Formal Invitations?
- 5 Should I Include Registry Information with the Invitation?
- 6 Can I Have More Than One Engagement Party?
- 7 Can I Combine the Engagement Party with a Holiday or Birthday?
- 8 When Should the Parents Meet for the First Time?
- 9 Here are helpful tips on planning your engagement party
- 9.1 Figure out who’ll host
- 9.2 Decide on a location
- 9.3 Pick a theme
- 9.4 Make your engagement party guest list
- 9.5 Compile guests’ contact info
- 9.6 Style your engagement party invitations
- 9.7 Be timely
- 9.8 Formal or Informal?
- 9.9 Plan your menu
- 9.10 Have cocktails and mocktails on hand
- 9.11 Craft a killer playlist
- 9.12 Toasts & Gifts
Who Throws the Engagement Party?
Traditionally, engagement parties are hosted by the bride’s parents, but nowadays really anyone can throw the engagement party. Some couples even choose to throw their celebration!
When Do You Throw an Engagement Party?
“Throw your engagement party soon after you get engaged,” Lowenthal says. “There are going to be many other festivities in your honour along the way, so it’s great to spread them out.” If you’re having a longer engagement or don’t have time to travel home right away, a slight delay is no problem.
Who Do You Invite to an Engagement Party?
As with all of your pre-wedding parties, anyone who makes the guestlist for your engagement party must also be invited to the wedding. This is particularly the case if the engagement party will be hosted by the two of you or by your parents.
Do I Need to Send Formal Invitations?
Deciding whether or not to send formal invitations to your engagement party depends on the type of event you’ll be having. If you have a little time and are hosting a seated dinner, paper invitations are an elegant option. Going more casual? Opt for an e-vite with a playful theme. The great thing about e-vites is that the design options are endless so that you can choose a formal design for a fancier engagement party.
Should I Include Registry Information with the Invitation?
While it’s A-OK to complete a registry for guests that want to bring a gift to your engagement party, it’s not appropriate to include registry information in your engagement party invitation. Instead, include registry links on your wedding website or rely on word of mouth. Just remember that giving gifts, while certainly customary, is not mandatory for engagement parties.
Can I Have More Than One Engagement Party?
Having more than one engagement party is quite common, especially if the bride and groom are from different places (or live far from home) and want to have a party with non-locals, too. If your friends or a coworker want to plan something informal, like after-work drinks, you can invite a larger group without worrying about an etiquette faux-pas.
Can I Combine the Engagement Party with a Holiday or Birthday?
Whether you got engaged over the holidays or any other time of year, you have the option of combining your engagement party with another celebration. Just try to avoid holidays for which people will have other plans and will be focused on family traditions, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, or a date like Valentine’s Day when people will want to make plans with their special someone.
When Should the Parents Meet for the First Time?
At an engagement party, the atmosphere isn’t going to be right. Your parents’ first meeting should give them a chance to really talk and get to know each other in an intimate setting.
Here are helpful tips on planning your engagement party
Figure out who’ll host
Want to throw your engagement party? Go for it! Traditionally, the bride’s parents host, but these days it’s entirely appropriate for anyone close to the couple to take on this role, or for several people (say, both sets of parents) to host jointly. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to how to plan an engagement party. You can also have more than one engagement party hosted by different people. So there’s no need to stress if your parents want to throw a formal event just for family, while you might like to host something more casual for your friends. Two parties might also make sense if you live in a different city from your families. Hosting duties usually include sending the invites, making a toast and paying for the party, so whoever decides to take on the task should keep that in mind.
Decide on a location
Location is key. If nobody is willing to host the engagement party at their home, start checking out local restaurants, bars and party venues. You’ll want something comfortable for all your guests to locate and has enough room for everyone invited. If you’re going to skip a few steps in the planning process, finding somewhere that offers catering and beverage services is a plus.
Engagement parties can be as big or small and as formal or informal as you’d like, giving you lots of flexibility when it comes to the venue. A party at your parents’ home or in your aunt’s backyard is a lovely low-key option, while the private dining room at your favourite restaurant is a great choice for something a little more intimate and formal.
Pick a theme
Though the event already has a solid theme – congratulating the couple on their impending nuptials – you may want to throw on an extra festive layer. No, this doesn’t mean you should be making the bash pirate or masquerade-themed, but it should have a distinct vibe. When all else fails, look to the seasons for help. If your engagement party is in the dead of winter, you’ll want something cozy. Consider serving hot toddies and throwing your bash at a chalet or homely restaurant. If it’s summer, take advantage of the warm weather (we only get a few months of it, after all). Opt for a bonfire bash complete with smores stations and craft brews.
As with every other engagement party consideration, theming can be as intricate or simple as you like. The whole point is to celebrate, so decorate in a way that feels like a celebration to you. Whether you want an all-white theme, modern elegance or rustic flowers, the choice is yours, so pick a theme you love and enjoy it.
Make your engagement party guest list
Before you start compiling the guest list of your dreams, sit down for a chat with the couple (it is their party, after all). Check if they want a small and intimate soiree or a large-scale event that includes everyone from coworkers to college friends. Don’t forget to consider your engagement party budget and the size of the venue you plan on booking when crafting the list. Tip: if they aren’t invited to the wedding, don’t invite them to the engagement party or things might get awkward when the big day approaches.
It’s a good thing that you love your family and friends, because once you realize that your wedding guest list has blown out past the 200 marks, at least you can take comfort in the fact that you’ll be sleeping on their couch while you pay off the big day. So unlike your wedding day (which tends to come with a slightly more exclusive guest list), your engagement party is the perfect opportunity to invite extended family and friends to be involved in the celebrations which might miss out on the big day itself
Compile guests’ contact info
Once you’ve cobbled together a list of guests, you’ll need to find the best way to reach them. Send out an email, Facebook message or text to each person requesting their mailing info (you can keep all of this organized with our handy dandy wedding guest list tool). This will not only prepare you for sending out engagement party invites but also for help the couple with saving the dates later down the line.
Style your engagement party invitations
Engagement party invites don’t need to be as formal as save the date cards, so feel free to have a little fun with them. Play with colours, fonts, designs, patterns and graphics to come up with something that fits the newly engaged couple to a T. If you’re not great with DIY projects, Etsy has plenty of options that’ll help spark your creativity. Seems too formal for your group? There’s no shame in opting for an e-vite. Remember to include a note on your invite reminding guests that this is a party, not a bridal shower, so gifts are not necessary (you may even want to state “no gifts explicitly please”).
Party invitations are getting more difficult with the rise of social media, and getting committed; RSVP’s is often impossible. To make sure you reach everyone, consider a social media event page and traditionally sent to the mailbox invites. Social media is the easiest way to reach younger generations; however, attendees tend to be flakey. The hard copy invites will appeal to your older family members and will be a second reminder to the younger crowd.
You don’t want tons of no-shows at your party! Send off your invites at least three to six weeks before the date of the party. That way, people can book time off work or sort out other obligations in advance.
It’s traditional to throw your engagement party no later than three months after the initial announcement, that way you can pick a date while the news is still fresh in everyone’s minds – and before the real business of wedding planning starts to set in. Or better yet, why not announce the news at the party? There’s nothing quite as romantic as a surprise engagement to keep your guests talking long past your big day.
Formal or Informal?
While cocktail and canapé events may be increasingly common, they are by no means the only option. Why not break with tradition and try an elegant brunch, long and lazy lunch or an elegant candlelit dinner? Just make sure to keep the lines of communication open with your guests so that they can prepare or dress appropriately. If for example, you are planning a more casual celebration, then why not set the tone ahead of time by creating a fun and interactive Facebook event or website that guests can respond to? Or if your event is more of a formal affair then ensure that your guests are informed well in advance, that way you can avoid any embarrassing wardrobe faux-pas.
Choose attire that’s appropriate for the party’s setting. You don’t have to go all-white if you don’t want to (we love a white-based floral pattern or a soft pastel!), and, of course, you can wear another colour if you’d prefer. Your partner’s attire should complement yours as well as fit the type of celebration.
Engagement parties are meant for mixing and mingling, so you’ll want to keep the meal light. A buffet or cocktail style snacks would fit the bill perfectly (and won’t break the bank, which is always a plus). If you’re going for something a bit more formal, opt for a light plated meal. You’ll want to check if any of your guests have food sensitivities and to include vegetarian/vegan options before setting the menu in stone.
If you’re serving booze in any form, you’ll want some food available also. For an evening of cocktails, opt for passed appetizers or a display of cheeses, meats, and crudités. Gathering in the backyard? Your favourite cookout fare is a must. If the evening will be more formal, a plated meal is a nice touch but doesn’t have to be a drawn-out five-course meal with wine pairings.
Have cocktails and mocktails on hand
No celebration is complete without cocktails and mocktails, so remember to stock the bar. Make sure you have a healthy supply of wine, liquor and a little bubbly for toasts. You also may want to consider having your bartender craft a signature cocktail for the event with a fun name (inspired by the couple, of course) and a mix of the duo’s favourite flavours.
Craft a killer playlist
You don’t want a completely silent event, do you? Now’s not the time to go all-out and hire a band, but you can play a killer engagement party playlist to amp up your bash. Compile a list of the couple’s favourite songs and go from there. Try to skip anything that has a ton of expletives or X-rated undertones, grandparents and children might be listening.
Toasts & Gifts
There’s sometimes confusion about what happens at an engagement party. Toasts are not as expected at an engagement party as they are at a shower or rehearsal dinner. However, if you want to give a toast, that’s great! Guests should look to the host to kick off the toasts as their cue to give one as well.
Guests shouldn’t feel obligated to bring an engagement party gift for the couple. But some people might feel awkward showing up empty-handed. They might bring a token gift for their engaged friends, or a host/hostess gift for you. As the one in charge of the party, thank them graciously and put the gift on a table. Even if there are many gifts, don’t make time to open them the way you would at a shower. Have the couple simply take whatever was given to them at the end of the night.
To be the host or hostess with the mostest, you’ll want to prepare a little speech to honour the newly engaged twosome. It doesn’t have to be long or beautifully written, but it’s nice to have a shout out prepared for the lovebirds.
An engagement party happens when a couple finally decides to make their relationship into a lifetime commitment. The party is their way of sharing the good news with their friends and families, and it is also the time to let the future in-laws meet. This usually happens six months before the wedding.
Traditionally, it is the future bride’s parents who host the party, and it is usually held at their home. Today, can it be anyone? Friends, siblings, other relatives, and even the future groom. It can be celebrated at home, in a restaurant, a hotel’s function room, or the couple’s favourite place.
Planning an engagement party doesn’t need to be stressful. If you enjoy planning parties, take charge and make it a blast! If you’re not so excited at the prospect, take up someone else’s offer to host this signature pre-wedding event.