An engagement party can be informal event

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Today's couples typically plan most aspects of the wedding together and prefer to share the celebratory events leading up to the big day.

An engagement party provides a great opportunity for the couple to break from the hectic pace of planning. It also allows the couple's friends to meet each other, and to bestow good wishes on the soon-to-be bride and groom.

Hosting the party needn't be difficult. For in-home parties, it's best to limit the guest list to a comfortable number. Invitations should be mailed six to eight weeks in advance. If the party has a theme, that information should be included in the invitation.

For instance, a cocktail party can be centered around a wine-and-cheese theme. The hosts can buy a wine rack for the couple and guests can be asked to bring a bottle of wine or liqueur, bar tools or any other item associated with a cocktail party.

Decorated index cards on which guests are asked to record favorite drink or hors d'oeuvre recipes can be included and presented to the couple at the party.

Consider offering a limited bar. Remember, hosts have an ethical and legal responsibility to make sure guests who have had too much to drink don't drive. Be sure to provide non-alcoholic beverages, as well.

In planning the menu, choose food that needs minimal assembly on party night. It's easiest if all items can be eaten without a fork.

Such nibbles as cheese and crackers, fruit, and baked garlic and olive tapenade can be placed on the dining room table along with artfully arranged salmon salad wraps, broccoli-feta puffs and mushroom-pastry appetizers.

After the gifts are opened, serve coffee, tea and a tray of biscotti and cookies in the living room, where guests can relax and talk about the upcoming nuptials.