Let’s Party!

Getting ready to host a party? Whether it’s a holiday gathering, BBQ, birthday party or intimate dinner party, these tips and planning checklists will help you take the stress out of hosting. By planning early and getting organized, you can create and host a memorable event without breaking a sweat!


Planning Checklists

Three Weeks Before

  • Make an invitation list. Decide on your guest list.
  • Decide on a theme, if you want one. Make, buy, or borrow any decorations or music you may need to fit the theme.
  • Send invites. Mail, e-mail, and even text invites are all acceptable.
  • Plan the menu. Assemble the recipes (choose only those that can be prepared in advance, perhaps even frozen, with just warming and assembling required on party day). Make a list of how far in advance each can be made and compile a shopping list. Place an order with your local deli or bakery, as needed.

Two Weeks Before

  • Clean any crystal, china, and silverware you’ll be using. Launder and iron linens like tablecloths and napkins.
  • Come up with a playlist. The music should last throughout the party and match the type of party you are hosting. For example, don’t play 90’s dance music if you are hosting a dinner party.
  • Do a first round of grocery shopping and cooking. Prepare any dishes that can be frozen.

One Week Before

  • Clean the house thoroughly. This way, you’ll need only a quick once-over before the party.
  • Set the stage. Arrange the furniture as you’ll want it for the party, making sure that guests can move easily from one part of your house to another. Designate a coffee table for coffee and dessert if you’ll be serving them. Tuck away things that will be in the way, precious items that might get broken, and any clutter.
  • Take inventory of cookware and serving dishes. If you don’t have enough for every dish you’re serving, consider purchasing inexpensive pieces from a discount or thrift store. Label each dish with a Post-it so you’ll remember what you plan to use it for at party time. This saves me every time I host.
  • Stock the bar. Plan three bottles of wine for every four people, and three to four cocktails per guest for a two- to three-hour cocktail party.

Three Days Before

  • Set up clean-up and medicine baskets. Place stain remover, club soda, and a couple of rags in a wicker basket, and store a few in strategic places in case a nasty spill occurs. In the bathroom, I generally have aspirin, antacid and bandaids available for guests.
  • Specify a place for coats. Make space in a closet and fill it with hangers. You could also choose a bed for coats, or purchase an inexpensive portable garment rack.
  • Finish grocery shopping. Make a detailed cooking schedule for your remaining dishes.

One Day Before

  • Decorate. Arrange candles, put up theme decorations, etc.
  • Set the tables. Or set up the buffet.
  • Buy and arrange flowers.
  • Finish as much of the cooking as you can. For any foods that require cooking on party day, do as much prep (dicing, marinating, rinsing lettuce, etc.) as possible.
  • Give your house a once-over. Do necessary touchups.

Day of the Party

  • Finish any last-minute cooking. Keep this to a minimum!
  • Place chairs. Don’t worry about having enough seating for everyone; fewer seats will encourage mingling.
  • Display food. One to two hours before guests arrive, set out appetizers and snacks that won’t spoil. Wrap them tightly to ensure freshness; tear off the wrap when the first guest rings the doorbell.
  • Greet guests as they arrive. Things should be organized so you’re free to mingle, not tied to the kitchen.
  • Take a deep breath. This is so important. Take a few minutes before guests arrive to take a deep breath and relax. The more relaxed you are when your guests arrive, the more at ease they will be.

After the Party

It’s a good idea to take note how much was left over and what people liked and didn’t like. This information will be a big help when you plan your next party. Think of your party journal as a reference to look back on what worked and what didn’t work. That way you’ll be even more prepared for your next event.

Tips & Tricks I’ve Learned Over the Years

Don’t make your party so complicated you never do it again. Whatever it is that makes it less stressful for you to host a party, feel free to do it. When it comes to food, you don’t have to make EVERYTHING from scratch. Make a few things, then fill in as needed with store bought items. I pretty much promise no one else will notice. Believe me, it’ll save you time and energy.

Do one thing well and cut yourself slack on everything else. I see it all the time, pics of parties that has about a million amazing details. At the end of the day, who cares? I usually pick one thing to focus on, and then make everything else. Don’t kill yourself trying to make everything amazing.

Use paper products. I follow this rule of thumb when hosting a large gathering, like a BBQ. It makes cleanup is super easy. Plus, there are so many pretty paper products available.

When cleaning, focus on the big impact areas. No one is looking at your baseboards. I prioritize vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning the bathroom, because those are the most noticeable. Do this the day before your party, it’ll save time the day of.

A few small details make a big difference. Some cute paper straws, a bouquet of flowers, or some balloons go a long way and are all inexpensive, plus it looks like you went to some effort to be a good party host.

Turn up the AC. When you’ve got a house full of people, the temperature is going to go up. Don’t melt your guests. We always turn our AC down about four degrees lower than normal. In the winter, we often crack a window or two to keep it from feeling like an oven.

Don’t be afraid to let others help you when you host a party. If people offer to bring something (side dish, appetizer, soda, anything really), take them up on it. You might feel like you’re failing as a host, but believe it or not, people like to feel useful. Plus, it’ll save you time (and money) to do other things.

Account for children. If you’re going to have kids around, make sure there is somewhere for them to sit or that there are activities for them. If you don’t want kids to attend, make that clear when you send the invite. Don’t assume people will know, just be honest and tell them upfront.

Remember that people just like to be together. Some people feel the need to create a bunch of activities for guests. That’s not always needed. Sometimes people just want to catch up and talk. Let them.

Put the food where you want people to be. If you put the food in the kitchen, EVERYONE WILL BE IN THE KITCHEN. Put food in the living room, dining room or areas where you know guests will gather. If we are hosting a big party, I usually layout appetizers in different areas, like the living room or our basement bar (there’s always a crowd at Old Salty’s, our bar).

Once people arrive, just enjoy the party. This is the #1 rule for how to be a good host. If your guests see you stressed out, they won’t have a good time. Don’t apologize that you MEANT to have three desserts, but only had time for two, or point out that your floor could have used a sweeping.

Avoid menu experimentations. I can’t stress this enough. While it might sound intriguing to try that new recipe you’ve been dying to test out, if you’ve never made it before, save it for another night. For dinner parties, go with dishes that are tried and true and guaranteed to be a hit. It will be less stressful for you, and you can be sure that your guests will love a classic. However, if you want to switch things up a bit, you can always dress up basics like a salad by using edible flowers or pink radicchio. Little touches can have a big impact.

Don’t play bartender. While it can be tempting to want to make a signature mixed drink for the evening, the truth is, the goal is to relax and enjoy yourself. You can’t do that if you’re playing bartender and making drinks all night. You can always make something up ahead of time that sits well in a carafe or punch bowl, like sangria. Have drinks readily available for your guest to help themselves.