Home & Garden

Secrets to a Successful Party

Three of the South’s best event designers share tips on coaxing party guests out of their shells

From perfect ham biscuits to refreshing bourbon slush punch, Southerners know how to set out a pretty (and delicious) party spread. But there’s more to a good-time gathering than food and drink. Hosts who make their guests feel welcome the minute they walk in the door often throw the most memorable get-togethers, because folks are relaxed from the get-go and conversation flows easily. We asked some of the South’s most prolific event designers to share secrets for coaxing even the shyest of introverts to mingle and mix. Cheers to using some of their tips at your next summer shindig!

Tara Donne

“At a relaxed outside gathering, yard games like cornhole and horseshoes are extremely helpful in allowing people to meet and get to know each other. And creating a bracket of different teams helps ensure that people play the games and meet others.” — Morgan Prejean, Nouveau RomanticsAustin, Texas

Tec Petaja

“Having an interactive drink bar helps get the conversation flowing. I hosted a dinner party and had the drinks set up on my island, in the middle of the kitchen, where it was the focal point for the beginning of the party. If you have a self-serve bourbon bar, for instance, people will talk about the different options and congregate around the bar.” — Jessica Sloane, Jessica Sloane Event Design & Styling; Nashville, Tennessee

Courtesy of Lauren Kinsly

“I love to leave little jobs for guests to finish so that they feel useful and it makes conversation more natural. Things like opening the wine or slicing limes for cocktail garnishes are easy tasks that can give guests a reason to interact with the people they may not know. I’ve often asked guests to choose the music as well and then have them talk about why they made that choice and then assign someone different for each course during dinner. This is a fun way to get people talking, laughing, and reminiscing, too.”

—Nicki Korman, Toast of the CoastAmelia Island, Florida

Sean Money + Elizabeth Fay Photographed by Tim Willoughby