A Magical Beginning

Fun and excitement rule at engagement parties.

When it comes to saying “I do,” couples often spend many months planning the perfect ceremony and reception. But what about the excitement surrounding the “Yes”? Finding the love of your life and deciding to spend the rest of your lives together is exhilarating and cause for celebration. It’s time for an engagement party!

An increasing number of couples are opting for this smaller celebration on their way to the big day—usually an intimate affair with friends and family hosted by the bride’s family soon after the engagement, while the news is still fresh. But party planners and etiquette guides agree, when it comes to engagement parties, the rules are few. Make it formal or informal, in the backyard at home or in a restaurant or at great outdoor venue. 

Because it’s smaller, it’s a great opportunity for doing sky-is-the-limit kinds of things you might not be able to do on a larger scale for the reception, points out Libby Lewis, a Richmond-based event planner who has been orchestrating parties for brides and grooms for nine years. “The engagement party doesn’t have to be a coat and tie event,” says Lewis. She suggests outdoor tented parties with mixed elements that can include both rustic and elegant touches. A cloth tent with wooden poles can turn a backyard into a magical place, and bistro lights draped from the ceiling and candlelight on tables dressed in fine linens and china can create a chic vibe, says Lewis, who likes a round tent for the smaller parties. “It’s different than what most people would expect,” she explains. A unique and relaxed setting is key to a memorable celebration of a newly engaged couple, but it’s not the most important detail.

 “There is no need to make an engagement party anything but fun and exciting. Food and beverages are always the standout in guests’ minds,” she says. “Add some live acoustic music to guarantee a memorable evening.”

For the food, passed tray service ensures that your guests get plenty to eat. Here are a few menu ideas, sourced from Design Cuisine in Arlington and Everyday Gourmet in Charlottesville, to incorporate for a fun and memorable engagement cocktail party.

Passed Pairings

Sangria & firecracker steak — tasting glasses of red wine sangria with fresh fruit and grilled steak with chipotle shallot relish

Margaritas & duck confit tacos — mini margaritas and duck confit tacos with Asian pear salsa

Passed Savory Bites

Spicy crab salad with cherry tomatoes

Sesame tuna tartare cornet with red onion crème fraîche and chives

Stuffed mini vegetables (tomatoes, petit squash, and peppadew peppers) with green olive tapenade, hummus, baba ganoush and sweet pea puree

French toast with foie gras and fresh pear

Reuben bites with corned beef, sauerkraut, Emmenthaler, and Thousand Island dressing on rye bread

Sweet Endings

White Russian krispies — Kahlúa-infused rice krispies with vodka milk

Lemon-filled mini cupcakes — angel food cupcakes filled with lemon curd and topped with buttercream

Flourless Mexican chocolate bites — dark chocolate, cinnamon, almond, and RumChata cream

A Bountiful Buffet
Prefer the more casual vibe of a buffet? These selections make an impact:

Seared scallops with edamame mousse and shiitake and beech mushrooms

Smoked beef tenderloin and baby lamb chops with wild rice, butternut squash, and cranberry salad

Hot smoked salmon, pepper vodka house-cured salmon, and poached salmon mousse with horseradish rye toast, bagel chips, pickled red onion, cucumber sauce, capers, and boiled egg

Wild mushroom and Gruyère macaroni and cheese with shiitake, cremini, or royal trumpet mushrooms

Tomato, avocado, and grilled corn salad or cucumber, arugula and shaved ricotta salad with toasted pumpkin seeds and sherry-lime vinaigrette


This article originally appeared in our Weddings 2019 issue.

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