Episode 48: The Art of Hosting with Connie

Episode 48: The Art of Hosting with Connie

Hello and welcome to The Thoughtful Realtor podcast. This is a podcast where we sit down for insights, stories, and conversations about all things real estate, running a real estate company here in California, and how we find our way as leaders and business partners.

I'm Connie Chung, one of the founders and partners of Willowmar Real Estate, and today's episode is a fun one. It's a one-on-one, just between you and me. We are talking about one of my favorite things: hosting and hosting celebrations. I love celebrations–any reason to get together and celebrate, whether it be a birthday, the holidays, or just an excuse to gather with friends and family, loved ones, and enjoy my favorite thing to do: eat.

I love hosting and truth be told, I'm quite shy when meeting new people or even being in large gatherings, and so I, actually, love hosting because I feel more comfortable in my own home and welcoming folks in. And I think it's a natural nurturing tendency of mine in some ways because there's a task at hand, and my task is to make people feel welcome, comfortable, well-fed, and just in an environment where I would want to be in.

A beautiful thing about celebrations is that they can come in all shapes and sizes. It's equally valid and important to celebrate big life events like buying a home as it is to celebrate smaller ones like Sunday supper. I'm sure you can tell when you've just experienced an event or gathering that was well-done, well-facilitated, or just special. So, today is all about the very important role of being a host.

This past holiday season has been an amalgamation of various kinds of hosting. I've been planning my daughter's school's largest fundraiser, which is a big gala of sorts where parents dress up, go to some cool fancy venue, and raise money for their public school. In one of our recent planning committee meetings, I asked every member and volunteer what to them made an event memorable, and the answers varied from starting in a timely manner to having a venue that makes people excited to attend. 

This past year, it was at the Natural History Museum, and so, guests were surrounded by dinosaurs which was really neat. And there were some common themes too: for example, quality alcohol being the one that came up the most.

My response–and this goes for hosting big and small events–is truly just making guests feel welcome. And I apply this mentality to even having someone over at my house. I notice it when I go to people's homes too, restaurants, you name it, as it's incredible what a smile and a warm welcome does to someone and how they experience an experience. 

Ever enter a restaurant and there's no eye contact from the host, or they could care less that you even entered, or perhaps the host is absent? I find that it immediately sets the tone, and not in the best way. Typically, I love hosting, and now with kids, I love, also, when my friends offer to host! 

As most hosts know, there's a lot of work that goes into it: before the event, after the event, during the event. One of my favorite hosts is my friend Miles, and lately, he's been hosting all sorts of events. And whenever he offers to host, I'm for it–from baby showers, to Halloween parties, to most recently, our holiday white elephant party. 

There's always something that I know: it's just gonna be fun, and the one thing is, there's always a really good beverage served. And when I say beverage, I know there will be really delicious cocktails or some wine because he and his partner go out of their way to dress up the event.

And for example, most recently at their holiday party, there was this delicious cranberry punch with some bubbly in it, and I believe I remember possibly slices of oranges and cranberries. And it was just–it was so tasty! 

One, because, I mean, you couldn't really tell there was alcohol in it, so it was very very dangerous in that way. But it was just fun! It was served in a pitcher, and it just made the event festive–right when you enter and just being able to be served up a cocktail–to know that we're at an event to have fun. 

And, I will say he doesn't make a ton of things but the few things that he and his partner Kenny make, they serve, and they do it just really well. For example, it was a potluck event, so everyone brought a side dish or a dessert to share and the main thing was a big ham that he roasted and just dressed up with a bunch of sides. There was mustard, pickles, my favorite Hawaiian rolls, so everyone could just make their own sandwich. There was so much beauty in that simplicity, and it was delicious.

I don't even eat ham that much, but I loved it, especially with the pickles, the red onions, mustard, really good mustard. There were a few different kinds of mustards too. So, I always appreciate when something is done simple, but just done in an elevated way. Like, his cocktails–I can't stop talking about them!

But, I now dress up my cocktails with a slice of dried citrus. You can get them from the fancy markets because they just make it fun. Or, cranberries–I actually copied his cranberry punch cocktail for my own family's Christmas party this year, and it was the highlight of my, for me, at the party. And also my sister agreed, too. 

Anyhow, learning and experiencing a well-done event, especially from friends or family or just anywhere you go, there's so much inspiration to take, and I certainly do as a host and someone who loves to host. Plus, one thing about Miles lastly is that he will always have chips and salsa, and you can never go wrong with chips and salsa! 

This most recent party, there was chips and guacamole–even better! And, if you never know what to serve, you can always default to that, and it will be a hit. But having plenty of drinks and things to nibble on is key at any party, and especially if you're like me and sometimes exhausted or overwhelmed with chatting it up, you will find me by the beverage cooler or by the chips and dip. It's my safe place at any party. Mateo, my youngest son, is usually there with me now because we are just happy to be eating and drinking our way through any event. 

We recently hosted my mom's side of the family for Christmas and there were about 20 of us or so, a lot of kids running around, a lot of chatter. It was a lot of noise, which I have come to love and embrace because it just means a good time. 

And we had plenty of good food and drinks. And what we did last year that was another successful hit this year was having games, which I tasked my husband Brian with, and he took it very seriously, even leaving the house at the last minute to buy additional prizes for the winners. 

The year before this, when we did a viral TikTok game–I'm not on TikTok so I don't know–but my husband found inspiration from this, where you are blindfolded and you hold a spatula and you are placed at a table full of cash and you have to use your spatula to scoop up as much cash as you can. And it's actually really tricky, and there's a trick to it which we later learned from someone.

I won't share it in the event that someone plans to partake in that this year or do the same. But I was skeptical at the sound of it. I was like, this sounds ridiculous, but everyone was laughing their heads off and it was so fun. And this time, Brian found another TikTok game inspiration, where we got together or paired people in teams of two to line up and it was a two versus two. 

We lined up six cups for each team and put one of the big fat marshmallows on top of each cup, and it was sort of a relay. So, the first person of each team had a straw, and they had to blow off each marshmallow off the cup one by one, and once they finished that, they had to stack up their six cups. And then, the next person on their team then had to use chopsticks to line up the six marshmallows into two towers.

And it sounds ridiculous, it really was, but it was so much fun, and it was doable. People were able to stack the marshmallows. The funny thing is, as we kept using the marshmallows, they would sort of get dented or mushed, so they were actually really challenging to stack up, but it was just so fun to see everyone gather around, cheer people on.

Certain people, you know, definitely got more cheers or just watched, and I love it because the key to having an activity is it encourages all people who come to really partake. And with my family, we've got some shy folks. We've got, you know, my mom, my dad, who sometimes wouldn't necessarily join in. My mom played, my aunts played, my sister Ashley who's really shy played, and it's a way to just feel part of something together. And there's something really special in that.

It also gives everyone equal footing, I think, and helps them feel like they belong, which is really important. I don't think my mom or my yiyi, my aunt, would want to play because, you know, they are on the shyer end, but they enjoyed it. And after the event, my mom said it was her favorite thing of the party. And funny enough, it didn't take that much nudging to get her to play. The cherry on top was hearing that it was the games that were my mom's favorite. 

There have certainly been times where I felt like I could have been a better host. And in thinking about that, the one big regret I have, and this has actually come up multiple times in afterthought, is wishing that I gave a toast to acknowledge everyone for coming, or even just to have, you know, a few words of wisdom.

I don't know if it’s really that, but more just so to get everyone together, kind of be in the moment and share some wishes. And I think, this is a lot of times due to being in the moment and trying to be present, that I forget. And it's usually after the party where I'm like, “Oh, I wish I said something!”

And as a host, you're just so caught up in all the little things like, filling up people's drinks, or chatting, or making people feel welcome, or eating, and whatnot, helping them find the bathroom, that giving a toast definitely is the last thing on someone's mind. And, in our most recent client holiday party, Cliff, Kenny, and I actually chatted after the event about how great it was, and that the one thing that we were like, “Oh!”

We forgot to give a toast, especially because it was at a winery and everyone had a glass of wine or bubbly or something festive to drink, and we're like, “Darn!” Because that was the ideal venue to do so. But we were just so caught up in the moment, catching up with so many clients that we hadn't seen in so long that we–

I mean, I think there's something really special about being in the moment, too, with people. But my goal for future events is really to think about this ahead of time. You know, even if it's just giving it a few minutes before the event actually starts to think about one or two sentences I can share. Just: “OK, at X time, I'm going to aim to just gather everyone around and and thank them all for coming and just to wish them a happy Thanksgiving or holiday or new year, whatever the occasion may be.” 

You know, whenever I have a dinner party, it's easier to give a toast because everyone's around the table, and it's usually the thing you do before you eat, but keeping it short and sweet. I think something as simple as “Thank you, your presence really matters” is plenty. And so, that's something I'm going to remember for future events and, I'm sure the more I do it, the easier and more natural it will be. 

One thing is there are some expectations and responsibilities of a host that most people may not know. And maybe people do and maybe that's why a lot of people actually don't host! Because I will say the biggest one is that it's a lot of work. It costs money and also it costs a lot of time. There's a lot of prep that goes in advance and often cleaning, you know, the physical labor of cleaning before and after, getting all the materials needed, the dishes, the cooking, the making of drinks, putting up decor, all of the things! And also just the vulnerability of opening up your home to a bunch of people is a lot mentally, and physically too. 

And while it's not expected, I actually love when people bring a gift for the host. It's something I also aim and try to do because it's a little something to acknowledge the effort and thought that goes into hosting and it's a thank-you to the host as well.

I will say what I loved most about our client holiday party and having it at VJB winery in Kenwood this year, it was a first for us was that the team at VJB took care of much of everything: from serving the wine to producing their fire oven roasted pizzas that were delicious to the decor. 

It was a beautiful venue, and aside from a few decor items that we brought just to set up, and we had wreaths to give out to our clients, there was very little for us to do the day of–which is my favorite! 

Well, most of the legwork was done in advance and there certainly was a lot that went into planning this event with just even looking into various venues, mapping out what our program would look like for the event, sending out the invitations, thinking through the guest list, planning out all the logistics of every little thing.

It is a dream as a host to a party to show up to the venue and there's minimal work to do but enjoy the party–and I will say it's one big perk of having an event, a celebration, outside of your own home. And I definitely don't do it often enough, but I embrace it. 

We actually had our daughter's sixth birthday party at the park this year. And granted, there was a good amount to set up, from lugging in food–we picked up a bunch of breakfast burritos–it was a morning breakfast party in some ways. We had some donuts, breakfast burritos. We even had a coffee bar. And the nice thing about when you are hosting outside of a venue is the cleanup was rather minimal, and then you get to go back to your home. Hopefully it's clean and just enjoy and peace out in that way. All great things! 

I was first bummed that we couldn't host at our home just because the amount of people we invited wouldn't accommodate. But there is something really nice about having an event outside of your own home. Also, outdoor parks are great when there's a lot of little kids running around. 

If I had to boil it all down, I've got my top five actionable tips for people who want to host an event or a gathering, and the first is: greet your guests. This one is simple and sometimes it's not easy to do, as you might be putting the turkey in the oven or chatting with someone else or showing someone where the bathroom is.

But taking time to make eye contact and give your guest a hug–it goes a long way. Most people get anxious about attending large gatherings. I know I do, especially if I know I'm not going to know a lot of people there. So anytime you show up, and you're greeted by the host and they say, “I'm so glad you came,” it really helps them to be at ease and just feel like they matter–which sometimes, when you're one of a sea of other folks, it's questionable.

So, being greeted by your host really is special. 

Two, offer a drink or something to nibble on. It's always nice to have something to offer to your guests upon arrival. I have been to parties where there's no food out, but at least there's some beverage of sorts. And at least, you've got that to kind of give yourself an activity to do.

But I will say, it's what makes a party a party. A cocktail, a bottle of wine, some non-alcoholic bubbly, water–any drink will do. And for things to munch on, you can never go wrong with a cheese and charcuterie board. Nuts, you know, I don't usually eat olives or buy them, but whenever I go to a party, I get really excited when I see olives because it just screams “party” to me.

Three: have as much prepared in advance as possible. And I say this knowing it's not always easy to do, but I find that when I'm often scrambling to prep all the things at the last minute, and by the time the party starts, I'm exhausted. I barely want to eat or chat with anyone because I'm just pooped from getting the party ready.

But now that I have kids, I've actually simplified and outsourced a lot. Instead of making something homemade, maybe it's semi-homemade or it's store-bought and that's OK. I try to just make a few key things that I know I can prep the day before or earlier in the day, if possible.

But I just know that when I feel refreshed for the party, I am much more engaged and much more present. It also means I have time to try out a cocktail before the first guest arrives, which my husband Brian, he is always good about pouring himself a drink before the party starts, and  I've started to adopt that. And it really does set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Number four: plan an activity. Or better yet, delegate it out. Usually, the eating and mingling is the activity, but if there's something that can bring everyone together, that's ideal. It's especially great for an icebreaker, or especially for those who may not know each other or are on the shyer end. Even something as simple as everyone going around introducing themselves and answering a silly question is a good one. 

I know it sounds like a work event, but, you know, it's just about really connecting folks and bringing people together to be part of the larger group. I think this is one where you can bring in a friend or family member to get involved to lead the charge in the activity or whatever it may be, because you know what? People actually love having a sense of responsibility at an event because they too are also shy and it gives them something to do, and I found this to be so true. 

Number five, don't sweat the small stuff. And, for me, I like to do this, or how it's applied is, I actually keep the decor very simple. I love and appreciate when people go all out on decorations, and I love a good themed party.

But it's something I almost never do because, truthfully, I sometimes find it very wasteful for myself. But Instead, what I'll do is just aim to have some flowers that I will have bought, you know, just to enjoy in my house. And I like to serve my food in nice ceramic platters, which I already have.

I just find keeping it simple and remembering to not sweat the small stuff goes a long way. As long as people feel welcome, have really good food and a beverage to drink, and you know, see some familiar faces or maybe they're being introduced to new ones. I think that's really what makes hosting so great and just attending an event so special.

And OK, this is a bonus one. Number six: at events where everyone may not know each other, as the host, you are often the common denominator. So help people connect with each other. “Terrence, hey, have you met Quinn? Quinn's an awesome tennis player.” You know, anything where you can just help jumpstart a conversation between people, two complete strangers, and then you can mosey your way out and chat with someone else.

It goes a long way. While I mentioned earlier I am on the shyer side, so I sometimes get intimidated to introduce myself to a stranger. I love it when the host is trying to connect me with someone else, and it's just an extra added touch. It sometimes feels so innate or natural, but it's not always for people. So, as a host, if you can go out of your way, connect good people with other good people, it helps to break the ice in it. It's incredible what the connections that come out of it can do. 

So, that brings us to the end of this one on one episode with me. It's now time to get out there and celebrating. It's the beginning of 2024, plan your events, plan to your heart's content of all the different celebrations you hope to do or redo. You know, say you had a terrible Christmas or Hanukkah or New Year celebration, you can plan all that out now for 2024. 

Anyhow, if you've hosted an event and have a reflection on what made it memorable, please do share. You can find us at willowmar.com or Instagram @thethoughtfulrealtor and reach out to us directly. I love hearing all sorts of questions about what to serve, what kind of theme should it be or whatnot, you know, feel free to reach out. 

And, if you haven't already, please hit that subscribe button and leave us a review. I read each and every one of your reviews and always appreciate when you share the love. So thank you for listening in and until next time, bye!

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