Southern entertaining expert Suzanne Pollak shares her top tips for pulling off a memorable party.
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Credit: Emily Blake

Whether you're the maid-of-honor, mother-of-the-bride, or the bride-to-be herself, taking on the role of hostess is often new to many people. As you prep for a summer engagement party, bridal shower, or wedding, you may be tasked with hosting several pre-wedding celebrations. To make sure you get it right, we caught up with etiquette expert Suzanne Pollak, the Dean of the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits and bridal ambassador for The Beach Club Hotel at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina, to find out everything you need to know. Here, Pollak, who hosts cooking, entertaining, and etiquette classes in Charleston, SC, shares some of her hosting wisdom.

First-timers shouldn't feel they must go it alone.

Never hosted a shower-or another type of large party-on your own? Now doesn't have to be the first time. "Get a co-host so that the work and cost are split," Pollak advises. If you're the maid-of-honor, call in support from a bridesmaid or mother of the bride. If you're the bride, ask your mom or best friend to help out. Odds are everyone will be more than happy to lend a hand.

Come up with your own style.

Simply put, "Don't be a copycat," the author of Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits: A Handbook of Etiquette with Recipes says. "Figure out your own personal style in décor-meaning flowers and/or tabletop-and ask the bride the bride her favorite foods so the menu makes itself." Sure, looking for inspiration is great, but make sure you choose a look you love. And, Pollak adds, "Remember that ambiance is all about making guests feel welcome, wanted, and loved."

Remember to introduce guests.

Attending a shower or engagement party where you only know the bride or just a few other guests can be torturous. A good hostess should know exactly who is coming, what they do, their hobbies, and so forth, so that they can make the proper introductions, Pollak says. "Everyone's favorite topic is themselves," the Southern entertaining expert advises, so make introductions based on shared interests. "Try saying something like, 'Jane, did you know Suzanne collected 300 sets of china, and Suzanne, did you know that Jane inherited her grandmother's silver service for 36?' They will be off and running on that topic."

Set an end time.

It seems so simple, but if you're hosting a shower in your own home, getting guests to leave when the party is over is often easier said than done. For that reason, Pollak suggests giving guests a firm start and end time. "I recommend including a start and end time on the invitation, like 10:30-12:30," she says. When all else fails? "Get a mother or husband to come in at the end, or even a bossy guest, who can help you shoo out any lingering attendees."

Know that the day doesn't have to be perfect.

First-time hosts often get caught up in wanting everything to be perfect, but that's often not a reality ("Guests love mistakes," Pollak says. "It makes everyone attending feel comfortable."). Remember that you don't need to serve a complicated meal or have ornate decorations in order to throw an incredible party. "It's about having the opportunity to connect with people."


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