The 12 Secrets of Being a Great Guest (and Host)
If you want to throw a great party in New York City, you probably want to call Bronson van Wyck, who has been in the business of entertaining crowds for almost 20 years (an endeavor he undertakes with his mother, who might even have better taste than him, at Van Wyck & Van Wyck). Since he’s put on events—both intimate and lavish—and designed flowers and rooms for all of them, we asked him for all the qualities of a great guest. Meanwhile, stay tuned for more from Bronson: He and his team designed our dinner last week to celebrate the opening of goop mrkt and our Valentino x goop collaboration.
How to Throw a Great Party
Mom and I started our entertaining business in 1999, but we’d already been doing it for years—all my life, in fact—together and singly, for ourselves and for our friends. Part of this was a simple matter of geography: growing up on a farm in a remote area of Arkansas, everyone who visited us had made an extra effort to get there. This was especially true because Dad came from New York, and many of our guests were his friends from back East visiting Arkansas for the first time. We felt obliged to make the trip worthwhile by making the welcome extra-special.
The other part was a deep appreciation and enjoyment of just how wonderful graciousness, generosity, and warmth can make other people feel.
The best parties happen when a host really takes the time to think about who his guests are and what situation he can create that will make them feel good about themselves. For some this might be greeting them with a warm smile or introducing them to someone who shares their interests. For others, it might be a stiff drink.
I know more than anyone that fabulous parties aren’t going to save the world, but they can make the world a better place.
Here are a few essential ingredients:
Oscar Wilde always said he liked men with a future and women with a past. This is a very good place to start. And because most people are either talkers or listeners (only the rarest individual is both, and they get invited everywhere), it’s good to think about that ratio as well.
A crowded room.
One of my first projects was for a gentleman who was a legend in his own mind, but not in anyone else’s. He wasn’t as popular as he thought he was. On the day of the party, I found out that only a 100 people were coming for a room that had been chosen to hold four times that. I went to a nursery and loaded a flatbed truck with dozens of trees—palms, bamboo, birds of paradise, and orange trees—and used them to fill a ballroom in Beverly Hills. Good plants can’t entirely replace good guests, but no one has fun in an empty room.
Plenty of alcohol.
No great story begins with a cup of tea.
Aside from the functional aspects, guests who you like will use it to escape from conversations that they don’t.
A surprise or two along the way.
We had lots of animals on the farm, from peacocks to miniature goats to a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Jacqueline Root Onassis van Asch van Wyck. Mom trained a cat named Benedict to sit perfectly still inside a basket that she sometimes put in the middle of the table. No one at the table would realize that Benedict was there, until at some point during the meal, he would always stand up to stretch. He would then settle back down in his basket, but after that the guests never would.
A token of thanks.
The greatest gift you can give a host is to arrive 15 minutes late (but never more than 30 minutes). Earlier than this, and you’re not giving your host any margin for error, and trust me, even the best host finds that grace period beyond priceless.
Don’t show up empty-handed either.
Avoid gifts like flowers which require the host to stop what she is doing and fuss with finding a vase. I like to think about the future and the dreaded hangover that is sure to arrive the next day and give my Hellfire Bloody Mary Mix. This time of year, the only way to survive is to keep the party going.
The plus-one conundrum.
Always find out if the party is seated before you invite a guest to join you. The search for another dining chair at the eleventh hour is a challenge no host should have to face (not to mention that it makes the plus-one uncomfortable).
With respect to your host and her guests, mentally and physically silence, store, and ignore your phone. Parties are meant to be an escape so resist the urge to check it.
There are always a few guests who don’t know the rest of group as well as the others do. A good host (and guest!) will take time to ensure that these people meet the other guests. Take it upon yourself to assume some of this responsibility. In the process, you may meet someone outside your own circle, and you may even make a new friend.
Designate an outgoing guest as the house photographer and walk around to everyone.
Make them pose and get close. It is also a great way to introduce guests to each other. After the party, share the photos with the host so they have a keepsake from the big night. Save the sharing on social media for the next day. Remember you have to be present.
A happy host.
The most important element of a good party is a host who’s enjoying himself. Your friends are there to see you having fun. If you’re not, it shows. If you are, everything else can be forgiven.