If you’re a fan of spooky holidays and enjoy entertaining, hosting a grown-up Halloween party for your friends is a no-brainer. Whether you decide to go all out and book a venue or simply have everyone over at your house, a successful party means people are mingling, dancing, snacking on good food, refilling their glasses, and (bonus points) telling one another how cool the design elements are. Here’s your guide to a bewitching bash that’s easy to pull off and sure to cast a spell.
Even for casual celebrations, invitations are key. They set the tone — and the costume code, if you have one — for your festivities and serve as a reminder about important party details. “Using a digital service that can track the status of attendees and RSVPs is always best,” says Chloé Day, account executive at Splacer, an online platform for booking event spaces. Facebook event invites work in a pinch, but also check out the enchanting designs at Paperless Post, Punchbowl, and the new and improved Evite.
In terms of décor, the only rule is to be creative! “Everyone loves the unexpected, especially on Halloween,” says Day. “Infinite possibilities can be found with the proper draping and creepy LED lighting. I like to see plenty of reds, soft oranges, and purples to give a dark ambience to the room — and, of course, when in doubt, add cobwebs.”
Jessica Dalka, founder and CEO of Chicago Planner Magazine, says her go-tos for Halloween parties are strobe lights and a fog machine, which you can usually find on sale at Michaels. Another fun addition, adds Dalka, is a Halloween-themed photo backdrop, like this one from Amazon, and props.
For DIY inspiration, consider this: Day’s team once flanked a DJ booth with brown bags spray-painted black, finished with cut-outs of scary faces and creatures. “When you string lights through small holes cut into the base of the bags, it gives a haunting effect of flickering images,” she says.
The food you serve should also be a part of your décor. “I love to see clever takes on the food and drink presentation,” says Day. “For example, a severed hand floating in the punch bowls or Styrofoam eyeballs adorning the charcuterie.”
The edibles themselves should be bite size and not too heavy. Day recommends “mummy dogs” or mini sausages wrapped in strips of crescent roll dough, as well as trays of dark fruits, such as blackberries, plums, and figs. Dalka’s party favorites include a taco or nacho bar, mac and cheese (think ramekin size), and a classic cheese plate.
And don’t forget about the candy! Display a variety of treats on the buffet table or arrange them in metal cauldrons or glass vases of different shapes and sizes. Chocolates are always well received. Or you can offer up whatever best complements your theme. For example, “Reese’s Pieces are delicious and come ready-made for Halloween,” says Day.
Signature drinks add a special touch to any party. “For an elegant cocktail, try a Crème de cassis drink garnished with a brandied cherry, says Day. Serve the deep purple concoction in a coupe glass. For something simpler, she adds, you can’t go wrong with a dark cherry cola take on a Cuba Libre (aka Rum and Coke) or decadent flutes of champagne or tequila Jello shots.
Another option is making a batched drink or punch, suggests Dalka. “Throw some dry ice in for effect.” Dalka also recommends having on hand the essentials for a standard bar: vodka, whiskey, tequila, rum, and gin. Supplement with lots of ice and classic mixers (cola, soda water, tonic, ginger ale, cranberry, orange juice) and garnishes like lemons, limes, orange slices, and maraschino cherries.
Have a costume contest (remember to mention it on your invite!) and give out prizes midway through the party for the goriest, silliest, and/or cleverest ensembles. You can also encourage group costumes, says Day, like the always popular cast of Stranger Things.
To break the ice, consider games like horror movie trivia, charades, and adult card games, such as Pick Your Poison with “Would you rather…” scenarios. And if you have a crafty bunch of friends, set up a corner for mini pumpkin decorating, with iridescent paints, glitter, and seasonal trimmings they can glue on. You’ll want to provide small paper bags, so guests can take home their creations at the end of the night.