Help… I’m Hosting The Party!

party scene

Are you hosting a big party?  Are you anticipating a large crowd? Throwing a party for a crowd can feel a little intimidating. The key is breaking it down into smaller steps. Here’s how:

The first thing is to set the “tone” for the party.

  • Is the party to celebrate a special event?
  • What time will it be?
  • Will it be an open house or a sit down meal?
  • Will it be potluck or will you provide all of the food?
  • Are children invited or is it adults only?
  • How many people will you have?

Once you set these parameters, you can prepare the invitations. Electronic invitations are a simple and affordable way to reach a crowd. Online sites like Paperless Post and Evite make invitations easy by providing templates, sending reminders and allowing you to easily add more guests. (You will need email addresses if you go this route.)  Even if the event is just for family, sending an invitation with these details ensures everyone has the right expectations. Be specific on in the invitation about things such as dress code, gifts, whether guests can bring anything, parking, etc.

Now you can plan the menu.  Decide what food you will provide. Be sensitive to any food allergies and dietary needs.

  • Appetizers
  • Main dishes
  • Sides
  • Salads
  • Desserts
  • Drinks

The next step is to design the set up. Keeping in mind the format and number of guests, you need to decide:

  • Will the guests serve themselves from a buffet? Snack casually on appetizers? Be served once they are seated?
  • Where will everyone sit? Will the seating be assigned or can guests seat themselves?
  • Will you use paper products or traditional dishes? Likewise, what will you use for for drinks? What serving dishes will you use?
  • Will you serve alcohol?       Will you have a bar? Where will that be set up?
  • If appropriate, where will you put gifts?
  • If appropriate, where will you put food people bring?
  • Who will tend your pets? Where will they go?
  • Will you hire help to serve food/clean dishes/empty trash? To oversee children?
  • Who will be taking photos?

In light of the event’s theme, decide if you will have any special activities:

  • Will there be some activities set up for kids (e.g. crafts, games, movie?)
  • Will there be any planned activities for the adults, such as a speech, gift opening, dancing, games, etc? Where will this take place?
  • Will there be music in the background? Will this be live, streamed, or played from a playlist?

Consider what special touches you might want to add:

  • Decorations
  • Table centerpieces
  • Lighting/candles
  • Tablecloths/Placemats
  • Party favors

Once all the decisions are made and you’ve collected RSVPs, you can get ready for the countdown. Here are some milestones to follow:

One week before:

  • Prepare table decor (e.g. iron linens, assemble placements, purchase plastic tablecloths)
  • Purchase any needed paper products
  • Purchase beverages/beer/wine/etc.
  • Purchase non-perishables
  • Declutter the entertaining space

1-2 Days before:

  • Purchase perishables
  • Prepare any food that can be made in advance
  • Chop/pre-measure ingredients
  • Prepare your music if necessary
  • Designate a place for coats, umbrellas, etc.
  • Set the table if you are having a sit down dinner

Day of:

  • Clean the house
  • Prepare/pick up food
  • Set up coffee/tea service
  • Set out glasses, plates and other elements of the set up

Last minute:

  • Empty trash
  • Light candles
  • Turn on the music
  • Fill ice bucket
  • Isolate pets if that is the plan
  • Check the guest bathroom to make sure its clean

Most importantly, once the event begins, relax and enjoy it. Even if things don’t go as planned, your guests will have a great time if you are having a great time.

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What is your best “party planning” tip?

21 thoughts on “Help… I’m Hosting The Party!”

  1. All great tips! I always wrap up the party prep an hour before guests arrive so I can use that time to get myself ready. Hope your post wedding bash went well this weekend. In my opinion, you had beautiful fall weather! 😉

    1. It was good enough weather… no one was melting, which I know you would appreciate! I love the idea of saving that last hour to get yourself ready and just mentally relax. I have a cookbook that has a recipe which ends with “giving you time to take a shower and get ready while the cooking finishes before guests arrive.” I’ve always found that line so appealing:)

  2. Oh, Seana! I can see from this post how much love, energy, and planning went into your special event. I hope you did just what you advised and relaxed and enjoyed having your family and friends together. My husband and I have hosted many parties over the years, even before we were married. I think my best tip is to do some planning together in advance to decide who will do which things. And once we have our lists, we can work on them independently and help each other if/when the other one needs it. It’s always worked out pretty well. And when things don’t go according to the plan (because as we know, “stuff” happens,) we support each other in that too. I love your advice about focusing on enjoying the event because that’s why you have it in the first place. We can get so caught up in preparing that we forget to enjoy having our loved ones together.

    1. I love this tip about sharing the planning with whomever else is involved. My husband and I definitely split the duties! He spent Saturday handling the structural and electrical needs, and I always send him out to do the heavy lifting of the beverages. As with all things, good communication and a “divide and conquer” mentality is not only efficient, but gives everyone a sense of belonging and investment. It was a wonderful evening. On a side note, my husband also bought something at Home Depot that he used to stretch out the space for my mini-fridge and got it into the proper place. #hero

  3. All wonderful tips and that last one about actually enjoying the party that you host is so very important. As I learned that the hard way having hosted parties in the past only to get bogged down with all that I had to do to host to not enjoy the actual event. So, I agree and have learned from the past that valuable lesson here.

    1. It is hard for a guest to have a good time if the host/hostess seems stressed out. Once it start, roll with it… the good, the bad and the ugly! I actually find most guests appreciate everything not being perfect, because in the back of our minds we know that we aren’t perfect, and it helps you relax to see that others are the same way!

  4. Lots of great information. So many people don’t entertain because it’s just too overwhelming. Using the time line but making it your own (more simplified or complicated) as great place to start.

    1. It seems like some people entertain with ease, while others find it stressful. Not all of us like throwing big events. BUT, if you have one coming, it can be helpful to have a checklist and a plan. Loving all the extra tips coming in on the comments today as well!

  5. Hi Seana,
    I hope you had an amazing party. I tend to organize groups to get together “go figure”. Anyway, I recently got people together for a retirement party and used evite. It was so easy and simpler. I didn’t have to coordinate a thousand emails and everyone could see what was going on. We also had a small group of 4 to plan for the party so that really helps too. I cannot imagine doing all of that on my own. And this party was at someone else’s house and it was a really great evening. Usually, a party will come together and it all works out in the end. I hope your party was a great success and now you have some time to relax and take a big breath.

    1. Party was a lot of fun, Kim, thank you so much! Having a group to coordinate with you is always a plus. This allows you to delegate and focus on doing your part with excellence. The retirement party sounds wonderful, and I’m not at all surprised that you were tapped to organize the event:)

  6. Great tips on planning a memorable party. I have a lot of parties at home ranging from 15 to 60+ invitees. My favorite tip is to find inspiration on Pinterest for party planning. Then, I pick one unique area to feature at the party. One year we did a Margarita/Sangria bar. Another year, we had a taco party. One year we did an ice cream bar. Another year, we did make your own pizza area. People love it! And, it makes me feel less overwhelmed with the planning process.

  7. Agree with everyone — this is a great list of party prepping tips! I love planning super early so that I can get my ducks all lined up. This helps me stay calm and happy on the day of the party so that I can have fun, too. =)

    1. Exactly. What fun is it you don’t get to enjoy the party. Guests never have a good time when the host/hostess seems stressed out. And not every party has to be huge or fancy. I mostly throw potluck parties, and those are pretty easy:)

  8. Could I have you come plan my parties for me, Seana? I enjoy getting together with friends. I enjoy planning. I enjoy organizing. But something about party planning and organizing stresses me out!

    1. I know lots of very organized people who feel that stress of entertaining. I think we long for our guests to have a good time, so there is an extra weight of wanting to please. Not all of my parties are fancy. Usually I just send an evite and everyone brings something – simple! I wish you could come Susan and we could meet face to face:)

  9. It’s like you said – anything that lessens your enjoyment of the actual party is a good tip! So as much prep, cooking, baking, etc. the night before. Cassidy used to do dishes while at the party but luckily I’ve taught him to stop doing that! I hate to admit it – but sometimes paper plates just make a huge difference.

    1. I will sometimes wash dishes during the party if the guests brought food (so they can take home a clean plate), but only if they are empty. I think having disposable plates and glasses makes everyone feel relaxed and less like they are leaving the host with a huge mess to clean up. Of course, that means that I rarely pull out my nice china except for special occasions. I think it is all about whatever helps you extend the invitation and enjoy the moment!

  10. It’s been 14 years since we downsized, so even longer since we hosted anything requiring this level of organization! I just love the way you’ve grouped the tasks by timeline – makes it seem much less overwhelming and more manageable.

    1. I just sent some tips for entertaining in a small place, so you never know! Even for small gatherings, it is helpful to have that checklist to make sure you aren’t forgetting anything. I felt this way with my daughter’s wedding last year. I had to make decisions even on small details that were not important to me!

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