Being engaged is intense. If organising a wedding wasn’t enough already, you also have to organise an engagement party and a bridal shower. Sure, 12 months of constant partying is a fun time. But when you have to organise all of the parties (with help, of course), it can get pretty overwhelming.
So here I am, to give you some tips for a simple engagement party that works for intimate parties of 40 and large parties of 150; the park party.
This is a long one so feel free to skip over to the section you are most interested in. I talk about location, food and decor, in that order. So find what you are looking for and enjoy!
Also, all images in this blog are from my own engagement party, taken by my amazing friend Will.
When you are choosing a location, the primary consideration you have to make is the number of people who will be attending. Engagement parties can be difficult for this.
The bride and groom will often use the engagement party to invite everyone they would like to celebrate with but whom they may not be able to invite to the wedding, for financial or other reasons. If you have a large family or a lot of friends (or both, like us) then the guest list can explode very quickly.
We had a huge list of extended family and friends whom we couldn’t invite to the wedding and on top of that, their partners who would rightfully be present as plus ones. Before we knew it, we had invited 180 people, which was about double our initial limit.
But in terms of location, this wasn’t an issue because we were at a park. If 180 people showed up, there would be enough room for everyone to spread out and feel comfortable. If 20 people showed up, the party would transform into an intimate garden party style, without having to make any adjustments. This is why I love park parties.
Considerations for the park location:
- If you select a large park, make sure there aren’t any large events being held at the park on the same day of your party. Just a couple of days before our party, we found out that there was going to be a pride parade at our park, meaning limited parking and limited park space. This meant we had to do a last minute venue change. Don’t do it to yourself; do your research.
- Look up park restrictions. Some major parks have restrictions on the types of things you can use and where you can use them. I had originally planned on setting up a marquee to provide shade over my food table but after doing some research, I found out that marquees were off limits unless you paid for access to a specific zone of the park. Smaller things such as beach umbrellas were also prohibited so make sure you double check just to be safe.
- Think about the terrain. Shade and flat ground is an ideal party situation. Make sure you choose a park with lots of trees, particularly if your party is in a warmer month. Flat ground isn’t so vital but you’ll need to consider it if you plan on bringing your own food or gift tables to set up.
- Parking. This one is pretty obvious. But sometimes big parks just have bad parking because they are inner city or just more busy than other parks. If you are desperate to hold your party at a park with limited parking, consider providing your guests with suggestions for alternative transport such as busses, ferries or Uber.
There are a few things that you need to consider here: number of guests, time of day and ease of preparation/transportation.
Obviously, the more people you invite, the more food you will need. If you host the party at the time of a main meal such as lunch or dinner, you will need to provide more food than if you were to host a party at morning tea or afternoon tea time. Also, whatever food you choose to provide, you will need to transport safely to the park and then set it up so make sure you don’t go overboard here.
We decided to have our party in the afternoon, at 3pm. This way, guests had already eaten their lunch so there was less food for us to worry about. We opted for a grazing table, which is very trendy for parties at the moment. Grazing tables are great because they allow you to have a bit more control over how much people eat. Have you ever noticed that people eat less when there is a grazing table as opposed to a full meal table? I have.
It is because you have to spend more time selecting what you want. People will take their time at the table, fill their plate maybe once or twice with a little selection of interesting food and leave it at that. Give them a buffet style party and they’ll grab two large spoonfulls of rice, 2 sausages, a jacket potato and some salad, before returning for a cupcake, some fudge and a brownie. Trust me, people eat less with a grazing table so if you have a party with a larger guest list, you may want to consider this. Our grazing table easily fed 100 people and we had plenty of leftovers that never made it to the table.
Considerations for food:
- Dietary requirements. These days you are bound to have someone with a dietary requirement at your party. I’m not meaning those who elect to follow a certain diet but those who have a genuine allergy. Make sure you provide for everyone. If you are doing a grazing table, make sure you keep nuts seperate from everything else if you know someone with a nut allergy and keep glutenous things seperate if you know anyone who is gluten intolerant or a coeliac. My whole family is gluten intolerant so everything on our table was gluten and nut free. Unfortunately, we forgot to mention this to our guests so there may have been some people who still missed out because they didn’t realise. Remember to inform your guests of what they can eat and what they can’t.
- Weather. If it is a hot day, make sure you have some way to keep meats, cheeses and chocolates cool so that you don’t give your guests food poisoning and sticky fingers.
- Suppliers. Do you want to supply all the food yourself or do you want everyone to bring a plate to share? Do you want your bridesmaids and family to contribute and leave it at that? Do you want home made or store bought? Getting everyone to bring a plate to share reduces preparation stress and expense for you but it also means that you have no control over what kind of food is supplied or the aesthetic contribution it will make to the food table. If you are someone who wants everything to be a certain way, you may want to do everything yourself. For my party, I supplied the nibbles such as dips, cheeses, crackers, meats and fruits and I got my family and bridesmaids to do all the baking. That way I knew what was being brought but I didn’t have the stress of doing everything on my own.
Entertainment is important at a party. Sure, lots of people are happy to sit and talk but sometimes it’s nice to talk over a game of cards or croquet. Since you are at a park, you can’t exactly blast the sweet beats and throw a rave (although I probably could have if I kept my party at the original venue and joined in on the pride parade).
You have two options for entertainment: controlled or free. At many engagement parties there will be games, often about getting to know the bride and groom. This is a controlled entertainment where people have to stop the conversations they were having to contribute to the game. I’m not a fan of this. Sometimes this can also be difficult in a park environment because people spread out and can’t hear what is going on.
You then have free entertainment. This is where you supply some form of entertainment that people can choose to engage in, in their own time. For our party, we had croquet and Kubb set up off to the side so that people could play whenever they wanted, without interruption to their conversations. We also had music playing in the background to maintain the happy mood.
Considerations for Entertainment
- Your playlist. This might not be such a big deal for some people but for me, it was. Your playlist sets the mood for the engagement party so think about what kind of atmosphere you want. Lots of people these days stick to the pre-made engagement party playlists on Spotify, heavily featuring Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran. These kinds of playlists are pure pop, very cute, girly and romance focused. That’s not really what I wanted for my engagement party. I wanted a solid range of music that everyone could enjoy, across all years and genres. I kept it catchy but still easy and not too ‘dance party’ vibe. If you would like some playlist inspiration, here is mine! I had everything from Earth Wind and Fire to Gorillaz, with some Stevie Wonder, Ed Sheeran and reggae beats tossed in for good measure.
- Time. If you are wanting to play organised games, think about how long they will take in terms of the overall length of your party, also considering that speeches may be taking up some of this time too. If you are having a shorter party of about 2 hours and you want to maintain a relaxed feel, you may want to skip the organised games or do only one relatively short game. If your party is going all afternoon and could span 4 hours or more, you may want some organised games just to break it up a bit and make sure people stay awake, especially if you’re at a park and can’t blast some loud beats to the same effect.
I like park parties because you don’t have to do a lot of decorating but the option is there if that’s what you are after.
For our engagement party, I wanted the grazing table to be the primary focus. We used a wooden trestle table to maintain the simple rustic feel and then loaded it up with bright foods to bring some life. To fill space on the table, we used leaves and we used cutting boards and foods of various heights to give the table some depth. We also supplied some brightly coloured rugs for people to sit on as our other primary piece of decor. Finally, I set up a ‘present pile’ which was a wooden crate with some material draped over the edges for a splash of colour. People stacked their gifts in and around the crate which added to the simple, easy feel of the party.
But if you want a more structured or heavily decorated look, you could consider setting up a marquee over the food table and decorating inside the marquee with fairy lights, balloons or whatever else suits your decorating style. You may also want to hang things from trees, set up a more decorated gift and cake table or supply additional soft furnishings such as beanbags or teepees.
Considerations for decorations
- Don’t underestimate the power of colour. I’m not huge on bright colours or rainbow themes, so don’t think that’s what I’m going for here. My general theme for my party was white, yellow and green. Adding little splashes of these colours here and there helped tie everything together, without having to add too much decoration. Something as simple as draping a cute yellow, green and white tea towel over my wooden crate in my present pile made the whole thing look more interesting, put together and thought out. It took it from a crate that was left on the ground to something that was meant to be there. It also tied the crate in with the food table where my yellow, green and white cake featured proudly. Remember, small things can make a huge difference so look at the details and you won’t have to overwhelm yourself with a lot of decorations.
- Remember park restrictions. I said it earlier but in case you missed it: some parks have restrictions on what you can use and set up. If you want things like marquees or even beach umbrellas, you may have to check on the restrictions in your chosen park. Even if you’re not bringing in anything major, it is always good to check.
- What you set up must be packed down. Potentially in the dark. This is one that took me a bit by surprise. Because we had our party at 3pm, it was 5:30 by the time we were packing up and the sun set a lot faster than we were expecting, leaving us fumbling in the dark with phone torches. Many parks don’t have great light at night time. So if you are planning a party in the later afternoon and you have a lot of decor that needs to be packed away, start a bit earlier and get some help. Because trust me, packing up in the dark is a struggle.
So those were my three major considerations for hosting an engagement party at a park.
To anyone who made it right to the end, well done. I hope I could give you some helpful tips along the way.
If there are any other questions or thoughts you have in relation to hosting an engagement party, let me know and I am more than happy to answer them and dedicate another blog to engagement party preparations.
I love parties and I love hosting. I could talk about this stuff for days. Humour me, chuck me your questions.
Most of all, good luck with your party!