In our recent focus on entertaining we've talked about what to wear, how to look good in photos and what gifts to bring.  But perhaps the biggest challenge as a guest is having fun at a party where you don't know anyone but the host.  Recently I asked Alanna Kalb, author of a chic and clever little book called Stuff Every Woman Should Know to wrap up our Spring series on presents and parties by sharing with us her tips for turning a room packed with strangers into a space filled with potential friends.

If life is for living, reason dictates that parties are for partying. And what better way to get in the party spirit than by making new friends? Try to get comfortable talking to anyone, anywhere. It’s a good skill for lots of reasons.  If you don’t know anyone at the party except for your popular host, better to be chatting up a friendly stranger than lurking alone in the kitchen, pretending the ice trays need filling. And who knows who you’ll meet, or what you’ll learn? I’ve made some amazing friends by having the guts to ask some girls to lunch (office party), got an intro course on backpacking through Patagonia by sitting next to my host’s little brother (backyard BBQ), and made a valuable business contact through a friend’s mother (dinner party). Keep an open mind, and do smile at strangers! Below, a three-step guide to making a new friend or, at the very least, staying entertained while you wait in line for the bathroom.
  1. Put away your phone, make eye contact and smile.
  2. No one is expecting you to charm them with wit and intelligence (although they probably won’t mind if you do). So often we’re too afraid of sounding or acting “wrong” that we don’t do anything at all. Start small- ask how he/she knows the host. Ask where that delicious-looking tofu kebab came from. Ask where she found those beautiful clip-on earrings. You can’t go wrong by asking questions: people love talking about themselves, and they’ll love you for giving them the opportunity.
  3. If you just don’t feel comfortable with the in-person cold call, rope your host into making a few introductions. Follow the host around and when you float into a group that seems your type, stay and chat for a while. Repeat as necessary.

(Note: When we’re nervous, we often like to be holding something—and at a party, it’s bound to be a drink. Make sure you don’t gulp down more than you meant to. If you think a few drinks will loosen you up and make you charming, you’re taking the wrong page out of Charlie Sheen’s book.)

You don’t know when the next time is that you’ll be wearing your highest heels, so kick them up! If there’s food and it looks delicious, pile a plate high. Take a whack at the piñata; make a (brief, sincere) toast; catch up with the aunt you haven’t seen in years. Enjoy that party to the fullest and by all means, strike up a chat with the person sitting next to you.

Alanna Kalb is a writer based in New York City. An enthusiast of brunch, parties, and pithy quotations, she is thrilled that Stuff Every Woman Should Know (Quirk Books) gave her a reason to be a modest know-it-all.

Top photo via Megan Gilger on Pinterest. 

"Use the good china for breakfast."