Three great questions. The sooner you get organized the sooner you can celebrate. And what a wonderful event to celebrate with friends and family!
How soon? One rule: the news should be fresh enough to still be exciting, so plan for no later than 3 months after the engagement. Traditionally, it is the bride’s parents who host but there aren't hard and fast rules anymore. Alternatively, the bride and groom can host it themselves, or a friend or other family member can undertake the hosting duties. If you plan to host it yourself, know this: although it’s not generally considered “polite” to be the guest of honor at your own party, if you keep it low key, casual and fun with no gift registry (it is not a shower!) then it is completely acceptable to throw your own bash!
How extravagant? The style and size of the party depends on your budget and what you prefer. It can be a formal affair with printed invitations and reply cards, a casual backyard barbecue, or anything in between. Typically, engagement parties are a cocktail event or casual in nature since you want to be able to mix and mingle throughout the evening with family and/or friends.
Who to invite? When it comes to making the guest list, keep in mind that everyone invited to the engagement party (or any other party pertaining to the wedding) should ultimately be invited to the wedding as well. Not sure what you want the wedding to be like yet? Then keep your engagement party relatively small to avoid any hurt feelings in the future.
What else to think about? Other things to consider are:
Toasts aren't just for rehearsal dinners—they’re traditionally included at engagement parties as well. The father of the bride-to-be is generally the first to toast, followed by the groom, and then whoever else wants to say a few words. You can formally ask your family to give toasts, or keep it informal and let anyone speak—remember that it is voluntary, however, so no coaxing people to speak. Start your toasts about two-thirds of the way through the event.
And, while the bride-to-be has her new engagement ring to flash around, it may be a nice gesture on her part to present her husband-to-be with a long-lasting gift as a memento of this occasion. It is not a rule of engagement party etiquette, however. A popular gift of choice is a watch engraved with the date, his initials or a special message. He will love it!
Lastly, the engagement party should be relatively hassle free and is a time for you to share the wonderful news. Enjoy it and have fun, you have a lot of work ahead of you so don’t party it up too much. I hope I get an invite.