Inside: Bring down your stress level when entertaining at home with this step-by-step guide for planning any kind of party. Includes a one-sheet free printable party checklist for you to use and save!
What makes a no-sweat, successful party? It’s not the perfect matching serving dishes, the expensive showplace, or the over-the-top decorations. While all these certainly add to a party, the true secret to a successful soirée is planning.
There are so many balls in the air when you’re the host. And unless you give parties all the time, who can keep all those important details in their head at once if they’re not written down? (Not me, I’m the queen of the to-do list).
It doesn’t matter what type of party—a casual potluck or a holiday dinner at the dining table, if you’re stressed and not having a good time, your guests probably can’t relax and have a good time either.
The answer that saves my sanity? A list that tells me exactly what I need to do!
Over years of giving parties at home as well as lots of party planning experience in school hospitality, afterward I always thought, “I should have done this or I should have had that“, And I made lots of notes to myself to remember for the next time. So I’ve finally put them all together in a checklist for me and for you!
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Four weeks before.
- Select a theme. Not always necessary, but themed parties sometimes make choosing the party decorations, a color scheme, and food easier. And more fun!
- Send or mail invitations. Email invitations with sites like Evite and Paperless Post are simple and mostly free. But for extra special events, make sure you’ve got your invitations in hand this far ahead of the party date.
- Plan the food. Make a list of the dishes you plan to serve and start a grocery list and timeline for making each one. If you can, find out if guests have any severe food allergies so you can be thoughtful and make sure there’s something for them to eat.
- Plan party activities. Plan out and procure photo backdrops, party games, karaoke, and any other party activities. Book things like a photo booth, party entertainers, or bouncy castles for a children’s birthday party.
- Place catering and cake orders. If you’re buying part or all of the food, you’ll want to get on the schedule for caterers and restaurants in time. Some popular bakers/bakeries can be booked up quite far in advance.
Don’t stress over having people over anymore! Welcome guests like a seasoned hostess with the ultimate guide that covers food, drinks, entertainment, and more in the post, “Entertaining 101: Basic How-To Guide for the Home Hostess“.
Two weeks before.
- Plan decorations then buy, borrow, or make.
- Initial food shopping. You’ll probably make several store trips, but get started knocking out items on your shopping list with nonperishables and ingredients for recipes you can make ahead.
- Buy the alcohol. Stock the bar for alcoholic beverages and buy mixers. Plan a signature cocktail to serve.
- Prep dishes that can be frozen. Anything you can make ahead takes the burden off of party day.
- Plan and try on your party outfit. You won’t have a lot of time on party day to get ready or think about what to wear, much less replace a button, or remove a stain.
- Make a music playlist. I always think of more great songs to add leading up to the party if I start this early!
- Buy party favors. If you plan a take home gift or goody bags, get this out of the way now.
- Prep plates, napkins, and utensils. Wash the dinnerware, glasses, and linens. Buy everything if using disposable.
The week of.
- Decorate. Do what you can ahead of time as long as it won’t be in the way.
- Confirm food and vendor orders. Make sure everything is in order to be ready at the right time for delivery or pickup.
- Grocery shop, buy ice. Finish up the food shopping on your grocery list. If you have a place to store it, buy the ice ahead of time.
- Make the dishes that will keep in the fridge. Check to see how long it’s safe to store each one and make a timetable from there.
- Check outstanding RSVPs. Reach out to people you haven’t heard back from to help narrow down the number of guests.
- Arrange the furniture for conversation and flow. Add some chairs if needed.
On the day of the party.
- Put out the serving dishes. Lay them in place and label what will go in them with a sticky note. This is especially important if you have extra help in setting up.
- Empty the trash and set out extra cans. You don’t want to take away time with the guests to take out the trash.
- Put insect repellant out on the patio tables. If you’re gathering goes outside for a summer party, this is a thoughtful touch so guests aren’t being eaten by mosquitoes.
- Stock toilet paper, guest hand towels in the bathrooms guests will use.
- Remove personal items from the bathroom and medicine cabinet that you don’t want guests to see.
- Choose a place for purses and coats.
- Tidy up, hide clutter, and fluff the sofa pillows. I’m in the camp of deep cleaning after a party and not before. Focus on the party areas. As long as your house is reasonably clean, no one will notice smudges and a little dust as long as it’s not messy. It will be a lot dirtier after a large gathering, so save your cleaning effort for then.
- Blow off the patio and front porch, and clean the outdoor seating and tables. Add a “come on in” sign to the front door if needed.
One to three hours before.
- Turn down the air conditioning, turn on fans, or light the fireplace. Having lots of people in your house tends to warm it up fast. For a large summer party, I turn the air conditioning way down to try and get ahead of all the body heat and constant opening of doors.
- Turn on party mood lighting. Dim some of the lights and turn on lamps. Turn on outdoor party string lights, and pool lights if you have them.
- Do a last minute check of the bathrooms for cleanliness. A dirty toilet is not what you want guests to remember.
- Light candles. If you’re going after scent, you can also start your diffuser. Also light mosquito torches outside if you’re using them.
- Start the music. Play the special playlist you’ve made or start a station that’s appropriate for who you’ve invited and the party theme. If you’re playing something on the TV start that now too.
- Empty the sink and dishwasher to get ahead of dirty dishes later.
- Set up the bar. Put out the alcohol, mixers, lemon and lime wedges, straws, cups, etc.
- Ice down the drinks. Chill wine, ice down canned drinks, beer, and water in coolers.
- Set out the food. This is usually the last and most hectic step but all your prep work will help! This always takes more time than you expect, so allow more than you think you need.
- Unlock the front door so guests can let themselves in.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if as the guests arrive you feel in control instead of frazzled? So for your next party, use this planning process and breathe a little easier! Put out that last dish, pour yourself a cocktail, put on a smile, and have a great time at your own party. No one will even suspect all the hard work that took place.😉
Having overnight guests? Make them feel at home with the tips in the post, “The Perfect Cozy Guest Room: Make Them Feel at Home with These Essentials.”
Make sure to download your printable checklist in the subscribers-only library down in the footer menu. (The password is at the bottom of every email you get from me.)
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