7 Simple Steps For Planning The Perfect Party
Party planning can be incredibly fun – or incredibly stressful. Whether you're planning a birthday bash, baby shower, family reunion, or holiday get-together, here’s a guide to planning the perfect party, along with tips to help you stay stress-free.
First, set your budget. Let this frame your planning process. Some things you may need to include in your budget are:
- estimate adults will consume approximately 1 pound of food total
- plan on a half-pound of meat (or entrée) per person
- 1 bottle of wine /champagne for every 2 guests
- 4-6 beers per guest
- 3 cocktails per person
- 1 post-dinner drink per person
- 4 non-alcoholic drinks per person if you’re not serving alcohol
- Estimate 1 pound of ice per person, maybe more if it’s an outdoor party
- Party favors
Tip: Don’t stress too much over your budget – plenty of amazing parties are hosted without a spending a lot of money. If you’re worried, make it a potluck and ask guests to bring a dish to share, or borrow decorations and dishes from friends and family. Also check Facebook for a local Buy Nothing community and see what your neighbors have to give away!
Second, pick a venue, date, and time. Hosting at home will save the most money, but that’s not always an option. If the weather will be nice, look into renting a pavilion at a local park. Your city may have other locations you can rent. Otherwise, consider a restaurant that has private rooms or large tables.
If you opt to rent a location, that may dictate which date you choose. Be sure to call to reserve the location before sending out invitations or telling anyone a date!
Tip: Most state and national parks have campsites, pavilions, and other areas that can be rented or reserved for a very low price. If it’s possible, having an outdoor party is a great option for a lot of reasons. You’ll definitely save money on the decorations (who needs balloons when you have flowers, trees, and maybe even a lake or river?). The downside is many parks have stricter rules about what food and drinks you’re allowed to serve.
3. Guest List
Once you have picked a venue and date, you can put together a guest list. Some other things to consider:
- Space in the venue: how many people can you comfortably fit?
- Food budget: based on the list above, how many people can you afford to feed?
- Drama: we typically don’t want to be political when hosting parties, but sometimes you know two people just don’t get along and will bring down the mood of the entire party if they’re in the same room together. It may be uncomfortable to think about, but it’s better to face one difficult conversation than it is to face several hours of tension at the party.
- Decide if guests will be allowed to bring a plus 1, and make sure you include a note on the invitation about it, no matter what you decide.
The typical rule is 70% of invitees will show up – and as many as 20% may not RSVP at all. Don’t be afraid to set a firm deadline for RSVPs and then call anyone who doesn’t respond by then. It’s okay to tell them you need a definite head count so you can make a plan for the food in order to prompt a response.
Tip: Start with the most important people, and build the list from there. Keep the recommended food serving estimates, and your budget, in mind, while making the list.
Next, pick a theme! This will help you decorate, decide on a menu, and maybe even tell you what to wear. A theme can be anything as simple as a color to as complex as a carnival. If you have a guest of honor, be sure to consider what they would like. Here are just a couple of great theme ideas, that can easily be adapted to fit your venue, budget, and creative abilities:
- Color: everyone comes dressed in a certain color, and all the decorations are in that color. The food may be able to follow the color scheme as well.
- Personality: pick a person (it could be a celebrity, politician, or even the person of honor at the party) and have guests come dressed like them.
- Circus/carnival: the decorations for this will be so much fun, and guests young and old will have a blast playing the games, eating popcorn, and laughing at the clowns or people on stilts (depending on the venue ceilings, of course!).
- Decade: pick your favorite decade, or your guest of honor’s birthday decade. Guests should wear their favorite styles from that decade.
- Murder mystery: these work best for small dinner parties, and often are designed to be played while eating, but can be adapted for other party structures as well. This kind of a format is especially great because it gives a clear timeline for the party, and guests can easily leave when the mystery is done, or they can just as easily continue hanging out.
Tip: Don’t go too crazy on the theme. Unless you’re hosting something like the murder mystery party, you don’t want the theme and décor to overwhelm the party itself. Go for more subtle decorations, and colors, with just a couple of more exciting “conversation pieces” to tie it all together.
Your invitations should fit your theme. They should include the date, time, location, theme, and a note about when you need their RSVP. If there’s a dress code, make sure you explain that clearly, so no one feels out of place for misunderstanding! Invitations should be mailed out 2-3 weeks before the event, or earlier if it’s a significant party and you want to ensure everyone can be there.
For fun, consider including: asking guests for a song request, a favorite game to play, etc. Getting guests involved right off the bat will get them more excited for your party!
Tip: When writing your invitations, opt for more direct language than fun, flowery words. Especially if it’s a surprise party! You don’t want to confuse your invitees; that may make them reluctant to attend or possibly lead to embarrassment at the event.
Plan extra activities, or have backups, to ensure guests will stay entertained the entire time. The entertainment or activities you plan will depend on the structure of your event.
For cocktail parties, where guests mingle and the structure is loose, consider having live music (but putting together your own playlist is fine too!) and a few games set out that can be played with as few as two people. If it’s a dinner party or like a baby shower, where it needs to be more structured, have activities and games prepared. Again, if you have a guest of honor, check in with them to see if there’s any activities they want to do – or don’t want to do, or think about a game centered around them, such as a trivia game.
Tip: If you want guests to mingle more, choose music without lyrics and keep the volume down low.
Your main job as a host is to make sure people are having a good time, getting enough to eat and drink, and so on. But you’re also supposed to have fun! It is your party, after all. Don’t be afraid to take a little breather after you’ve made the rounds once or twice.
Before the party, come up with a list of talking points in case you come across a lull in the conversation while mingling. If it’s a small enough party, you could try to find 1-2 things directly relevant to each person that you can talk about.
Tip: If you’re expecting to stay very busy socializing and organizing at the event, have someone set aside a plate of food for you – and then make a point to take a few minutes to eat. All that chatting will definitely work up your appetite, and you’ll be a better host if you aren’t hungry.