It’s always surprising how much work can go into organising something as simple as a book club evening or a dinner party. Thankfully the latest smart home technology and apps can not only make planning your evening a doddle, but enhance it as well.
So whether it’s a black tie dinner or just a regular meeting to discuss the latest John Grisham over tea and cake, we’ll show you how technology can help take the hassle out of entertaining.
The key to any successful gathering is in the strength of its planning and technology can help you every step of the way from sending invites to helping give them directions on where to go.
Sending out the invites
Traditionally the easiest way to send out an invite was to pick up the phone and ask, but with people’s lives now busier than ever technology can provide you with a quick and easy alternative.
If you organise regular gatherings, why not create a Facebook event? They’re incredibly easy to create and can be duplicated or kept open for recurring events.
Alternatively, if you want something that makes more of a statement, head to Paperless Post and create your own custom email invitation. They look great and come with a range of animations.
Give them the where and when
For some this might be their first time coming to your house, if that’s the case avoid the frantic pre-dinner directions over the phone and give them clear directions on where to go.
Create a custom Google Map and then either attach the link to your email invite or post an image of the map within your Facebook group.
If you’ve got something big planned and you need to share more than just directions, Google docs can come to the rescue. Using a Google account, create a Google Doc with all the extra information and then press the large blue ‘SHARE’ button in the top right-hand corner to email it to your guests. You can update it with extra information and they’ll get an email notification.
Create a feast
Not everyone can create a Michelin-starred masterpiece for 20 but thanks to these gadgets and apps you can create something that’s truly delicious and doesn't take half the day.
First things first, make sure you’ve got everyone’s dietary requirements (pop this in the invite above to save the hassle) and then start looking for ideas. If you’re struggling for ideas, sites like BBC Good Food or Jamie Oliver’s YouTube channel have some fantastic ideas on catering for large groups.
Once you know what you want to make it’s time to pull it all together. Using a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google Home you can create your own shopping lists using just your voice. Once added you can then access them through the Alexa or Google Home app on your phone.
For an extra layer of convenience, you can even pair up your Amazon Echo speaker to Morrisons or Ocado by installing the Ocado Skill or Morrisons Skill. Simply say: “Alexa, tell Ocado/Morrisons to add onions to my trolley” and then when the list is complete tell Alexa to place the order and it’ll arrive in a few days.
Save time by keeping track of what needs to be ready and by when. Use the Echo or Home to set multiple timers: simply name each one after the food you’re cooking and you’ll have restored order in no time.
Get the party started
The music you choose can make or break your gathering, so instead of picking a pre-created playlist why not embrace aural democracy and let everyone have their say.
Music services like Spotify can let you create collaborative playlists, giving anyone who has been invited the ability to add (or remove) music at will.
Of course the greatest playlist ever made won’t mean anything if no-one can hear it. Smart speakers like Samsung’s SmartThings VL5 and VL3 can be placed around the house and then synced via your smartphone, allowing you to fill the entire house with music.
For live music curation, Sonos’ speaker family comes with an accompanying app that anyone can download and use as long as they’re on your wi-fi network. Once connected you can create live queues of music where anyone can add, remove or change the song.
Whether you’re turning your living room into a disco or just creating a haven for wine and cheese, smart lighting can elevate any social function to a new level.
Connecting to an app on your phone via wi-fi, smart lights like Philips Hue and LIFX can show a huge range of colours and in the case of Hue can even be tailored to create specific scenes or react to the music that’s being played.
Become the perfect host
If you've got a lot of guests round, you’ll probably lose count of how many times you end up reading the wi-fi password out for them.
There is an easier way. The Amazon Echo smart speaker has a feature called Alexa Blueprints that lets you create your own questions and answers. Choose the ‘Houseguest’ Blueprint and save custom answers including the wi-fi password, where the toilet is and where people can put their coats.
There’s only one of you, which can make hosting quite difficult when the doorbell goes as you juggle making drinks or cooking at the same time.
Smart doorbells contain tiny cameras which can send a live video feed direct to your smartphone or to a smart display like the Amazon Echo Show or Google Home Hub. See who it is, tell them you’ll be right there or ask someone to answer the door for you.
Carriages at 1 and sharing the memory
If you’re partying into the wee hours of the morning the last thing you want to be worrying about is how to get back home.
Now if you’re feeling spectacularly generous, you could organise cabs for everyone using the Uber Events feature. This lets you create ride passes for your guests which they can then redeem to get themselves home using the Uber app.
Once your guests have left the last thing you want to be doing is tidying up, and yet that is inevitably the fate of all great hosts.
Save yourself some hassle by investing in a robot vacuum cleaner like the iRobot Roomba 676 or e5. Both are wi-fi-connected and once installed will just quietly and diligently vacuum your home while you’re asleep. Bliss.
Finally let everyone share their pictures of the night by creating a shared photo album using BT Cloud, Google Photos or iCloud Shared Photo Albums, depending on whether you have an Android or Apple phone.
If you’re on Android go to Photos, tap on the three dots menu and on ‘Shared Album’ and follow the on-screen instructions. On iOS head to Photos, tap on Albums and then the plus symbol in the top left-hand corner of the screen upon which you just select ‘New Shared Album’ and you’re all set.
Image: Kelsey Chance on Unsplash