Rachel says the art of mingling is dying out - that’s why she charges up to £2,500 to do it for you
- Rachel Fay became the UK's first professional introducer in 2010
- For £250-£2,500 she mingles with guests and makes introductions at events
- She shared her essential tips for perfecting your role as hostess at any occasion
Dressed in a fuchsia Moschino dress and heels, the diminutive Rachel Fay is immaculately turned out and impeccably polite, but she has some pretty brutal things to say about modern parties: she thinks they’re dull, tedious and making us miserable rather than happy.
‘I haven’t been a guest at a really good party in 15 years,’ she says, bluntly. ‘But I’ve been to plenty of bad ones — people looking at their mobiles, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot, and stuck talking to the same person they were an hour ago. We’re simply not mingling any more.’
Horrified, she set herself up as the UK’s first, and as yet only, professional introducer. For a fee — from £250 to £2,500 depending on requirements — she promises to make your party go with a bang.
You might wonder who would pay for someone to talk to their guests, but since starting the business in 2010, Rachel has played hostess at more than 100 parties and has never been so busy. She’s organised art gallery views, stellar private parties, introduced for Prince Charles and has the backing of the royals’ party planner, Lady Elizabeth Anson.
Rachel Fay launched the UK's first professional introducer service in 2010, offering opportunities for guests to be introduced to each other at parties and corporate events
Such glitzy events don’t sound like the mulled-wine-and-mince-pie gatherings we mere mortals throw, but she insists the principles are exactly the same.
Where we’re going wrong, she says, is that we no longer introduce our guests to each other.
‘It’s the hostess’s job to allow people to sparkle. They can’t shine if they feel anxious about not knowing people and are left in a corner,’ says Rachel, 58, who lives in London. ‘It’s like that first day at school where you worry: “Who’s going to play with me?” ’
She thinks we fret about all the wrong things — the food, drink and decoration. ‘Food and drink are peripheral — you can have a great time without them,’ she explains. ‘I’ve eaten canapes that look like works of art, but they’re gone in an instant.
‘To be given an opportunity to meet someone I might form a friendship with or who might lead to my next job — that’s a lasting joy you take home.’
One of the worst celebrations she went to should have been one of the best. ‘It was a New Year’s Eve party on the theme of film-star glamour, and the organisers had gone to town with it. But people had arrived in groups and didn’t mix.
‘No one started introductions, so no one knew if it was all right to say hello to anyone else. It was almost impossible to penetrate any groups and my friend and I left miserable.’
Rachel puts the crisis in hostessing down to the fact that more women work, so they understandably don’t have time to plan ambitious get-togethers. ‘When I was bringing up my son Matthew, who’s now 21, hostessing was seen as part of the role of wife and mother.’
Her idea was seen as a gap in the market by the Queen’s cousin and party planner, Lady Anson
She dates the decline to the mid-2000s, towards the end of her 15-year marriage to the partner of a City law firm.
‘After my divorce in 2007, I was obviously interested in meeting new people, but I found it really difficult. I’d come away from parties knowing there were interesting people in the room, but I was too shy to introduce myself, and had no one to help me.
‘I was so frustrated to be given a glass of wine then left to get on with it. That’s when I had my “aha” moment.
‘At first, people didn’t understand what I was trying to do. Because no one had done anything like this before, I had to try quite hard to persuade them that they needed me.
When I was bringing up my son Matthew, who’s now 21, hostessing was seen as part of the role of wife and mother
‘I’d give potential clients a free demo of my skills: offering to turn up at their next party and show them what I could do. Some were still sceptical — until they got feedback from guests that they’d enjoyed themselves far more than at previous parties and met some terrifically interesting people.’
Rachel had an early break after being invited to tea by the Queen’s cousin and party planner, Lady Anson. ‘She loved my idea. Like lots of party-organisers, she admits she dislikes having to go round and talk to people at the event, so she could see the gap for my service and gave me her full encouragement.’
Rachel’s first party as a paid introducer was at a London art gallery for 150 corporate guests, mainly lawyers and accountants.
‘I was nervous beforehand, but once I got into the room the adrenaline took over. The organisers had never seen such a buzz before and were thrilled with how much the guests talked to each other.
‘To this day, I love those moments where you see two people you’ve introduced really hitting it off.’
Here, Rachel shares her tips on making the party a success . ..
HOW TO BE THE PERFECT HOSTESS
A no-show rate of 30 per cent is standard, so invite enough people to fill the space you have: I’ve found people prefer to be slightly squashed than be in a space that’s too big.
Rachel recommends delegating duties such as greeting at the door to others to prevent the host from getting bogged down
If your invite says ‘party’ on it, that suggests at least 20 people, probably 30 or 40 depending on space. So if you’re in any doubt about numbers, put ‘please come for drinks’ on the invite.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
The day before, I look at the guest list and work out who I think should meet whom, based on shared interest or life stage. I write it down as a list with prompts, which I keep in the kitchen so I can refer to it. Sometimes it can be as simple as someone’s son applying to a university where you know a guest’s daughter recently went.
A hostess can get bogged down with opening the front door or getting the food out.
Ask someone to greet people at the door (teenage children are useful here) and guide them towards someone who can give them a drink (husbands often like this role). Let guests take a drink and look round. They may spot someone they know; if not, introduce them.
To be given an opportunity to meet someone I might form a friendship with or who might lead to my next job — that’s a lasting joy you take home
BE A SHARK!
Your party is like a shark — it has to keep moving, or it will die. Your aim is not to introduce everyone to everyone else — meeting 40 people is overload.
A guest probably only needs to meet four or five people. They will go home thinking your party was fabulous if they met just one person they hit it off with. The important thing is to keep the energy up: never let things stall.
Leave people who have just met to chat as long as they want, but be tougher with those who know each other well. Don’t be afraid to take others to meet them.
You need fine judgment — don’t constantly butt in and move people on as it may feel like speed-dating.
SAVE THE ‘STUCK’
I can always tell if people are desperate to get away from someone: shifting from foot to foot, looking around the room. You have to go boldly up to the ‘stuck’ person and say to the other: ‘Oh Pete, would you mind if I just took Bob away to meet Jess? I’ll come back in a minute, I promise.’ As long as you do go back and introduce Pete to someone else, it’s fine.
She says introducing people to others creates a snowball effect where they begin introducing themselves
Don’t get entrenched in your own conversations: these should last no longer than two minutes.
It isn’t easy as guests will gravitate towards you, but say something like: ‘I’d love to catch up properly, but as I’m the hostess, I’d like to introduce you to Jo and Karina.’
If they ask: ‘How are you or how was your holiday?’ reply: ‘I’m fine, thank you/It was great. Come and meet Jason, he’s just got back from Turkey’. People follow your lead. If you introduce them, they start introducing themselves to others, which creates a snowball effect.
. . . AND THE GUEST ON EVERY LIST
RSVP, RSVP, RSVP!
You would never have dreamed 20 years ago of not replying to an invite, not going if you said you’d attend, or waiting for a better invitation or until the day before to see what you felt like doing.
If it says dinner at 7.30pm for 8pm, you’ll eat at 8pm, so arrive at 7.35 to 7.40pm. If it’s drinks and says 7.30pm, anything between 7.30pm and 8pm is fine, though the accepted time has slipped recently to anything within the first hour.
She advises speaking to strangers rather than looking at your phone if the host doesn't introduce you to someone
DITCH YOUR PHONE
It’s tempting to use your phone as a crutch when you’ve no one to talk to, but it says, ‘I don’t want to meet anyone’. If it’s on, you may be tempted to sneak a look, so turn it off before you arrive.
If you're worried you might not have anything to say to people, prepare a few topics — films, books or recent holidays.
Downplay your job: it’s tedious when people just talk about work. You might say: ‘What do you do when you’re not at work?’
TALK TO STRANGERS
Your hostess should be introducing you to people, but you may have to take matters into your own hands.
Don’t hesitate to walk up to people and say: ‘May I say hello?’ Just introduce yourself and they will automatically do the same.
A good first question is: ‘How do you know the hostess?’ If you want to move on, ask the person you’re with: ‘Do you know many people here?’ They’ll say: ‘Oh, I know John over there,’ and you can ask them to introduce you.
BE THE HELP
Useful if you’re struggling a bit or have arrived early. Perhaps offer to hand out drinks or fill up glasses, so you can mingle.
IT’S OK TO ESCAPE
Making an excuse to go to the loo is a cop-out. Better to say: ‘It’s been great talking to you, but I’d like to meet some other people here.’
Better still, say: ‘It’s been great talking to you. Shall we go and say hello to Liz over there?’ You’re being a really good guest if you take them with you.
AND FINALLY . . .
Enjoy yourself, it’s contagious. If people see others having a good time, they’ll follow suit.
And always send a thank-you note within a few days: any form is acceptable — email, card or phone call — as long as you do it.
Think you’ve got what it takes to be a party introducer? Rachel would like to hear from women with introduction skills.
This article by Rachel Carlyle first appeared in the Daily Mail on 13 November 2017