Alie Ward and Georgia Hardstark, a.k.a. Alie & Georgia, host Cooking Channel food-travel series Tripping Out with Alie & Georgia. Visit PEOPLE.com every Thursday for their playful spins on celebrity recipes, cocktails, entertaining ideas—and, of course, lots of laughs!
The proof’s in the photo above: Parties can be mega-awkward. And even when you’re entertaining as an adult, it doesn’t always get easier.
The scene: You’re wearing an adorable apron over your party dress. Your crudites are expertly laid out and you have a roast braising. Your tablescape is impeccably rustic. Meanwhile, a dozen guests stare silently into their punch. All of your fastidious prep didn’t cover a bunch of people playing Candy Crush on their phones and not making eye contact! Never fear: we have icebreaker tips for you.
With these four easy tactics, the only ice at your party will be in the punchbowl:
Have guests make name tags with everyone’s farthest destination. If you’re hosting a party with folks who’ve never met, give them a conversation starter as soon as they walk in the door. Set up a station with some Sharpies and nametag stickers, and a sign instructing guests to jot down the farthest place they’ve ever traveled, instead of their name. Everyone will immediately have an interesting question to ask others (instead of “So, what do you do?”). As the host, make sure to jot yours down, too, and wear it proudly. Bonus: You’ll probably hear friends’ stories you otherwise might never know about. Bob got arrested in Taipei?! Go on!
Set unique place settings to set a chatty mood. Before the party, ask each friend to tell you an interesting or goofy (shareable) fact about themselves. For example: Alie got her hand stuck in an escalator once, and Georgia’s grandmother is 102 years old. Then write those facts instead of guests’ names at their place setting, so when friends arrive, they have to find their seating by reading facts about people they may not know so well. As a guest, they’ll have a curiosity about who exactly at the table is champion yodeler, and who is afraid of lobsters. And why. Trust us, no one will be talking about the weather.
Give a gift. Anything. People love prizes. Even stupid ones. Wrap a little gift in a box or a bag before the party, and have guests jot down a guess of what’s in the box. Read the guesses over dinner to get people talking. The person who’s closest gets to open the gift and take it home! Also, make sure the prize is not like, a dirty sock or your credit card bill.
Love the player, love the game. Remember when you were a kid and a friend would ask you to come over and “play?” That’s essentially what “hanging out” is now, but without the guarantee of games. Which sucks. Which is why we are big fans of shamelessly forcing guests to play games at dinner parties. (They like it.) Some of our favorites? Pre-dinner Jenga gets everyone loosened up. The etymology word game Orijinz comes in a deck and can even be passed around mid-meal. Having everyone share two truths and one lie, and making other guests guess which is the lie, is a great way to get people interested in each other.
We also like the game: “Who Can Wash the Most Dishes?” after the party. Your friends may not be so into it.
Courtesy Alie & Georgia