Q&A: Handling a Huge Guest List

Q: My bride wants to invite 20 people to her bachelorette party! What are my options for throwing a big party on a reasonable budget?

A: Accommodating a huge guest list is definitely a challenge, especially when you want to keep the cost low for both yourself and your guests. Here are a few party ideas that work well for large groups and won’t cause you to have a breakdown.

  • Host a girl’s night in at your house: The ultimate in easy party planning, throwing the party in your home or apartment will definitely lower your stress level. You can keep it simple with delivery or take on a home-cooked meal. The only downfall to hosting the party at your house is that you’re more likely to spend a lot of money yourself on food and drinks. Make the party a potluck and assign each guest a category: appetizers, side dishes, alcohol, mixers, desserts, or paper products. Then take on the main dish yourself.¬†Turn it into an old-fashioned sleepover party complete with sleeping bags, truth or dare and kareoke.
  • Rent a house at a beach, mountain or lake: Everyone loves a getaway, and with this many people you’ll be grateful for the space of an entire house. If you add $5-$10 to the cost of the weekend per person, you can stock the kitchen with cereal, yogurt, and sandwich fixings to keep breakfasts and lunches easy. Sites like vrbo.com and Homeaway.com are great sources for vacation rental homes all over the country. A few words of advice: Finding a house that sleeps 20 people is going to be very difficult, so be sure guests know they may have to sleep on blow-up mattresses or couches. You’ll probably have to quote a lower number of guests to the property owner since many don’t want parties larger than the house actually sleeps. Be sure you’re going with a group of people you trust to leave the house in one piece—the last thing you want is an angry owner with your name on the agreement. As long as you know your group will clean up after themselves, go for it!
  • For the sporty bride: How about a kickball game and picnic at your local park? Some parks have rules against alcohol, but many are lenient if you don’t bring glass bottles or get too rowdy. Personalize “Team Bride” shirts with the guest’s names on the back (Old Navy has a tee that you could personalize yourself or this site will personalize them for you).
  • Bar crawl: Skip fancy dinners; bars are much simpler and better for big groups! Start with appetizers at a local brewery, then progress to cocktail lounges, dance clubs, kareoke bars, strip clubs—whatever best suits the group. Make sure you choose bars that are within walking distance of one another, or arrange for transportation in the form of designated drivers, taxis or a limo.

One of the hardest things to do with a big group, in my opinion, is have dinner at a restaurant. Here’s why:

  • The trouble with dinners at a restaurant: There are so many difficulties with this. First of all, you may be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that’s willing to accommodate your party size. You’re almost certainly going to get hit with a large group fee and, of course, there’s the question of how to handle the check. Charging 20 credit cards is going to drive the restaurant insane and you’re going to spend 30 minutes figuring out the bill. Someone is going to forget to factor in tip and the host almost always ends up paying more than their fair share. It’s a recipe for hurt feelings and frustration. If you absolutely must go out to dinner as a group, try one of these tips.
  1. Don’t sit at one large table. Ask the restaurant to seat you at 4-tops in the same section. Each table will be able to handle their own bill much easier and the kitchen won’t have to try to coordinate 20 entrees at the same time. The bride can circulate throughout the night and spend some time at each table.
  2. If you must be at one table, book a private room and ask for a set menu with a set price. Now everyone pays the same thing and the only trouble is figuring out alcohol. Order bottles of wine for the table to simplify that as well. Tell guests the cost of the dinner up front and remind them to bring cash or, if they will be paying for a hotel or other events at a bachelorette weekend, factor the price of dinner into the weekend total. Setting up a PayPal account can help simplify payments as well.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Groups of this size are difficult to manage, so recruit fellow bridesmaids to help with the details.

Have questions? Email ultimatebridesmaid@gmail.com for advice, unlicensed therapy and/or commiseration.

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