Know Your Audience, Buy Toilet Paper: Super Bowl Party Advice from a Veteran Planner
Lindsay Weiss (@studiolindsay) is Director of studioMKG, a New York-based boutique design and production firm that specializes in creating events for brands including New Balance, Dove Men+Care, A&E, and L’Oreal. We figured: If she can help organize a good event for them, she can help you get your Super Bowl party right. Since no two Big Game™ parties are the same, we had her organize her guidance by budget.
Money isn’t everything. If you have a TV—which, in this case, is everything—get your friends over for a solid BYO party. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that because people are bringing the goods, the party will take care of itself. As the host, you need to know your audience and what they'll want at a party, and then coordinate with your guests so everything is covered. You volunteered your house. Time to step up and see the process through. It's not a time to feel awkward about asking people to bring certain items.
A good BYO host will have a vision of what is needed in order for people to have options. Odds are, guests will bring a sufficient amount of general-interest food. The worst is when people don’t feel comfortable asking if a party will have the items they enjoy, or things they can eat due to dietary restrictions, so encourage partygoers to bring the items THEY want. Don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, I know you need gluten-free stuff. If you take care of that, we’ll handle the rest.”
Beyond that, don't stress about activities and programming at the party. Unless you know that your group of friends will expect things to do beyond watching the game, you can rest assured that BYO implies a casual, free-form kind of night. What you should focus on, however, is doing the little things that will make your guests feel welcome. Clean up your place, shower, have enough comfortable seating, make sure you've got ample TP ... you get the idea.
If that still feels like too much of a hassle, you could always roll solo to your local sports bar and hope that sympathetic patrons will buy you drinks.
Let's get this out of the way early: If you're attending a party that someone's hosting at their home, you should bring something. That's 101-level etiquette—and as a host, you'd hope that people know the drill, especially if you're planning a party on a small budget. When you're not doing BYO, it can be uncomfortable to indicate to people that it would still be nice if they brought stuff. One easy approach is to take stock of your prep time and budget and put together a menu that you send to your guests. Effectively, you’ll be saying, “I’ll be providing this.” If you want, you can add something like, “Be great if people can bring veggies and dip," but either way the message is clear: Anyone who wants something not on the menu should bring it themselves.
As for what goes on the menu, that comes back to the idea of knowing your audience. Have discerning beer drinkers among the group? Then don't skimp there. Need quantity over quality? Buy smart. Inviting ladies? Remember that they might not want beer. There are countless deals on food, especially pizza and wings. Think about who's coming, price out your items, and order prudently. If spending a little extra on liquor will go a long way in the eyes of your guests, do so.
Worth noting: A Super Bowl party is a great opportunity to invite new acquaintances or co-workers over for the first time, as there are built-in topics of conversation between them and your other guests. Just make it casual: “Hey, if you want to stop by at halftime, it would be great to see you.” And don’t ask someone you don’t know well, or are inviting over for the first time, to bring something. You can tell them, “Don’t worry about it, it’s all taken care of. We're just happy to have you join us.”
Of course, as good guests, they should bring something anyway.
Now we’re talking. If you have the extra scratch, make a day of it. Got a big TV? Get a bigger one! Create a sports bar gameday environment with team colors, customized glasses, and beer buckets. One option is to plan the day in two parts: A pre-game tailgate, and then the main party. Start by easing into the day with a late brunch featuring pitchers of Bloody Marys and Mimosas. If you have a backyard or sizable living room, break out the cornhole or Kan Jam. As the pregame shows begin, drink anytime someone says "franchise quarterback" or "Richard Sherman" or "Omaha." By that point everyone should be going strong, and you can settle in to watch the game and eat the massive spread of food you were able to order with all your disposable cash.
Something else to consider: Inevitably you’re going to have some people at the party—e.g. boyfriends, girlfriends, co-workers—who aren’t as interested in the game as everyone else. Rather than worrying about having other activities for them, the best thing you can do is give them an area to escape to, where they can go to chat with other people without annoying the viewers. Multiple feeding areas can spread out the party and encourage spontaneous meetings and conversation. If you have multiple TVs—especially one that can be changed to another channel—that’s even better. But you’re having a party for one specific reason, so don’t feel too obligated. Just know that if you can create a space for people to get away, it’s a nice gesture.
On the other end of the spectrum are those people can't go five minutes without Tweeting or Instagramming. At certain times, that can be a little much. The Super Bowl, however, is not the time to be bashful or unplug from the Twitterverse. The Super Bowl is a shared global experience. In one night it sets trends, moves product, sparks memes, and launches new personalities into the social stratosphere. Go with the flow and make sure your WiFi works.
You're the MVP Super Bowl party host, and I want to be your friend. Make a statement by creating a trademark-worthy big game experience in your own presumably expansive home. Start by turning your living room into the sweetest luxury box around: Swap out the sofas for individual leather recliners on stadium-seating tiers, all draped with a personalized jersey for each guest.
When it comes to eats, don't think of it in terms of the food you want to order. Think about food preparers you want to order. Hire celebrity chefs who know a thing or two about stadium snacking—maybe Jose Garces and Danny Meyer. They can create gourmet finger foods and modern takes on the classics, including a specialty snack inspired by (and named after) the host.
Finally, find out where your favorite band or singer is playing that night and stream a live 20-30 minute private concert. If they've fallen on hard times—or you allocate enough of your budget, or both—maybe you can even sway them to perform in person.
The one thing not to over-do: Decorations. It’s a Super Bowl party, so décor isn’t everything. Have fun with desserts and food displays, but this isn’t the event to go crazy with streamers. If you have a huge collection of signed jerseys, sure, put those out. But with all your snacks and serving-ware there’s already going to be a lot of stuff around, so decorations may just make it feel cluttered.
Whatever you decide, keep things relevant. This is a party for a football game. Everything should have a reason for being there. You want to hire cheerleaders to add some energy to the event? Go for it. That makes sense. Hiring a handler to bring live tigers to the party, on the other hand, does not. (Unless the Bengals make the Super Bowl, but: Ha.) If you do go wild with the decorations—and you can find plenty examples on Pinterest of people doing so—just remember that you don't want the theme to interfere with the purpose of the party. Your friends are coming over to watch the Super Bowl. Comfort should come first, not a gross display of wealth. Leave that to athletes playing in the game.