How to throw a good party
In this short guide, I’ll be exploring the elements of proper party planning through the close examination of a recent (and stellar) example I was lucky enough to attend -- the Amazee Cape Town Christmas party.
So, you’ve decided to throw an end of year party? Good! A great end of year party should be a moment of relaxation, an expression of camaraderie, and, above all, a celebration of what you have achieved and all the good that’s yet to come.
But beware, planning the perfect party is not as simple as throwing beer and crisps into a room full of people. Indeed, depending on the velocity of said snacks and beverages, this may not even count as a party, but rather, as assault!
Anyone who knows anything about party planning knows that Amazee parties are the gold standard, and so, just as you wouldn’t compare a child’s crayon scrawlings on the back of a supermarket receipt to the Sistine Chapel, you should not compare your own muddling attempts at party planning to the Amazee Christmas party. That way leads to madness. Rather, you should adopt the attitude of artists studying the masters.
With that out of the way, let’s begin.
It’s a truth generally acknowledged that the foundation of any good party is the guest list. This point cannot be underestimated, get the mix wrong and your party will be dead in the water.
The Amazee Christmas party handled this aspect masterfully, although given what we’re working with, it was easy.
Through what I can only imagine was some act of blood sacrifice and dark sorcery (or, I guess, focus on good hiring process) Amazee is comprised of a group of genuinely warm, wonderful people. Not only are they a smart, talented, and ridiculously good-looking lot (present company included) but they’re also impressively diverse - another crucial factor to consider when drawing up your invite list.
We had Zimbabweans from Cape Town, South Africans from New Zealand, Spaniards from England, and Tunisians from … well, Tunisia. Interests were as varied as nationalities, and in those few glorious party hours I had deep discussions on, among other things, global politics, the history of jazz, the novels of Gustave Flaubert, and, most importantly, “My Little Pony: friendship is magic”. A diversity of people means diversity of conversation.
Once you’ve built your party around a solid guest list, it’s time to think about activities. Part of your work as a host is to bring the party together and have the invitees mix in ways they might ordinarily not. Mixing up the partygoers into teams to play a game is a perfect choice.
At the Amazee Christmas party, we were randomly grouped into teams of four or five players to compete in a quiz. The quiz itself comprised several rounds, each covering a different topic including film, sport, science, literature, and, in a shockingly meta twist, Amazee itself. A real highlight of the evening. Of course, I can reflect back on the quiz with pride and satisfaction, as it was my team -- hilariously named “The Next Team” -- which took first prize. For our efforts, we each took home a handsome wind up a plastic animal. Mine is a grey camel. I’ve named him Leo, and he makes me as proud as a parent. My wife said Leo can’t sleep on my pillow at night. I told her exactly what I thought about that.
Leo and I live in the spare room now.
Sure, you can warm up a few hot dogs in the microwave oven and serve them up on white bread rolls soggy with the kind of b-grade tomato sauce that stains your fingers for days after eating and count your job as done. But before you do that consider that the food at a party can serve to elevate the party, to make it something extra special.
Eating can be its own activity as engaging as a quiz, and can even be more competitive (despite my colleagues’ admonitions that “it’s not a competition, that much cake will put you in hospital. Please stop Blaize, you’re going to die”). Again, Amazee’s Christmas party provides a perfect example of how one can use food to enhance the evening. Every item on the menu was a dish from each of the nationalities represented within our team. Definitely something special.
This is, further, one of the unexpected advantages of a diverse team. If we were all bland middle class South African techies, basing a party’s menu on our backgrounds would mean having to face an evening of charred boerewors, pap, and (given that the small town of Alberton would be represented by my presence) Willards crinkle-cut salt and vinegar crisps smashed between two pieces of stale white bread, thick with margarine.
Vive la difference.
A good party, like a good story, has a theme. And, just like a writer, the host has a choice to make. They can choose to knock you over the head with their theme -- splash the theme on banners and invitations -- or they can, like the most confident of writers, choose to be a little more subtle and let the theme emerge in the course of events. A good theme gives shape and meaning to the party as a whole.
If this year’s Amazee Cape Town Christmas party had a theme, it was, simply, us. The people of Amazee ourselves. We were everywhere. Reflected in the menu with dishes from each of our countries. Reflected in the quiz as a question category. Reflected in the music, with the playlist carefully curated to include songs special to each guest. We were, literally, reflected in the guest list (okay, maybe this one was a little too on-the-nose).
There are lessons here, I’m sure. Lessons beyond what it means to be a good host or how to throw a great party. Lessons about having faith that when good people come together in the right environment, something great can happen. And while I’m not sure I know just what those lessons are, or what all the moments I shared with my colleagues at our party add up to just yet, I can be sure that the bright redness of the tomato sauce of my memories will never fade from the tips of the fingers of my mind, no matter how much they’re scrubbed with the brush of time.
And while I’m not sure that metaphor makes any sense, I can be sure that it was one hell of a party.