8 stress-free party planning tips
Entertain more, stress less. Tap into your inner party planner and host parties large or small. These party planning tips are designed to help you plan like a pro.
Give yourself plenty of time
Whenever possible, plan early. Start by picking a theme and figuring out your guest list. Send invitations out four to six weeks before a formal party or two weeks before a casual one. This gives your guests plenty of time to schedule your event into their busy lives. It also gives you plenty of time to tend to all the necessary details. Pro tip: Make a checklist at least a month in advance to stay organized and on task and a shopping list to avoid forgetting any important items.
Keep party essentials on hand
Impromptu gatherings can sometimes be the most joyful of all. Keeping essentials on hand lets you entertain anytime without breaking a sweat. Some of the things to keep at-the-ready include:
- A bar cart stocked with your favorite mixers, sodas, and glassware is great for parties. Don't forget cocktail napkins, toothpicks for garnishes, and pretty plastics for when you need unbreakable serveware.
- Pretty plates make everything look festive and chic. Consider mixing and matching patterns for an eclectic look. Make sure you keep a stock of salad/dessert plates and dinner plates so that you're covered for any occasion.
- Disposable silverware looks great and makes clean up a cinch. It lets you avoid slaving over dirty dishes without sacrificing the stylish flair you want for your special occasion. If all else fails, opt for plain disposables and decorate the handle with washi tape for a personalized look.
- Candles give every room a warm glow. Traditional or flameless, both work equally well to add instant ambiance.
- Paper napkins in solid colors or patterns are essential for everything from cocktail parties to coffee klatches. Keep a pile on hand to always be party-ready.
- Serving trays, bowls, and pitches work add pizzazz to buffets and let you keep your menu items dazzlingly displayed.
Keep things simple
The simpler, the easier. Start by simplifying your guest list, including close friends and family, people you want to reconnect with, and anyone you think will add interest to the mix. Keep in mind that the more guests you have, the more complicated everything's bound to be. Set up a self-serve bar to avoid spending the entire party playing bartender. Better yet, mix up a large batch of your signature cocktail or mocktail and offer that in addition to sparkling water or other easy-pour beverages. Keep your menu simple, making one or two signature dishes and catering some of the extras so that you spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying your guests. Or, opt for a buffet-style meal that's easy to keep warm in chafing dishes so your guests can serve themselves.
Ask for help
It's tempting to try to go it alone. But enlisting help with overwhelming or time-consuming tasks can make a huge difference. Delegate some of the jobs to loved ones. Having someone else pick up the cake or arrange the flowers could free you up enough to finish all the last-minute details that pop up.
Create a timeline
If you're having a formal party, creating a timeline of the must-have events you want to include can help keep everything on schedule. It's also a huge help when you're working as part of a team to pull off a fantastic party. For example, you might have guests arrive and mingle with drinks and appetizers for the first hour before getting seated for dinner. You might have speeches or live music that's set to start at a certain time. Even a loose timeline helps you envision how everything will unfold.
Don't forget the music
The type of music or how it's played doesn't matter. What does matter is setting the right tone with the right tunes that appeal to everyone's tastes. Pro tip: softer music during seated dinners encourages conversation while maintaining a lively atmosphere.
Be prepared for the unexpected
Veteran party planners will tell you that almost every party has something unexpected happen. Extra guests stopping by, spills, injuries, emergencies, and snafus could derail your plans if you're not prepared. Some things to consider keeping on hand in a party emergency kit include:
- Scissors, tape, push pins, and writing tools
- Extra phone chargers, USB cables, power strips
- Sewing kit in case of a wardrobe malfunction
- Extra cleaning supplies, paper towels, cleansing wipes, and trash bags
- First aid kit, pain relievers, and antacids
- Printed version of speeches or any computer slides
- Enough food for two extra guests. Worst case scenario, you end up with leftovers.
Do as much as possible beforehand
Waiting until the last minute to arrange the tables and finish food prep is a sure-fire recipe for party planning stress. Set the table, prep your recipes as early as possible, assemble favors, and decorate the space the day before (or earlier) whenever you can. That way, you'll have essential last-minute details to attend to on the day of or the hours before your party.