- 1. Decide on a Party Type
- 2. Choose a Theme
- 3. Select a Date
- 4. Reach Out to Vendors
- 5. Send Invitations
- 6. Plan Your Menu
- 7. Make a Checklist
- 8. Prepare Your Servingware
- 9. Make a Playlist
- 10. Prepare Your Home
- 11. Add Ambience
Whether you have a birthday coming up or you’re hosting guests for the holiday season, planning a party can feel like a daunting task. What should go on the invitation? What foods and drinks should you serve? Should you hire caterers?
While these are all important questions to ask yourself, they shouldn’t feel overwhelming. A simple party planning checklist will help you streamline what needs to get done a month versus a few weeks in advance—and what can be saved for the days leading up to your event.
1. Decide on a Party Type
The kind of party you throw will dictate how you plan it. Are you hosting a formal dinner event that needs caterers? An open house where people can come and go? A casual backyard barbecue with outdoor games? “The varieties of parties you can throw in your home are limited only by your imagination,” says Liz Curtis, entertaining expert and the founder of the first rent-the-table service, Table + Teaspoon. “The rule of thumb for picking a party style is to choose what sounds like the most fun to you and run with that format.”
2. Choose a Theme
Whether or not you have a theme is a personal choice, but it can help inform your décor and menu choices. “Employing a theme for your party can be as straightforward as a color palette,” Curtis says. If you are going with a theme or overarching aesthetic, make sure you don’t go so over-the-top that guests feel crowded or your home looks forced. “Go for substance over kitsch when choosing your theme,” Curtis says.
3. Select a Date
Next, set a date for your party. This will help you come up with a timeline. “Typically, checking in with a few key guests about a date that works for them is a good way to start the planning process,” says Curtis. Use that information to decide on a day and time that works for you and your closest loved ones. Keep in mind that around 25% of your guest list will cancel closer to the date, so have backups in mind, particularly for seated parties,” Curtis adds.
4. Reach Out to Vendors
If it’s in your budget, hiring professionals is a great way to take some of the pressure off. “For catering, depending on where you live, it’s a good idea to do this as far in advance as possible,” says Sarah Spiegel, a designer and entertaining expert.
If you have chosen to hire caterers, live music, or bartenders, be sure to discuss the details at length ahead of the event. Talk to them about song choices, menu selections, and review a timeline of the day in advance. “Give specific loading and parking instructions as well to ensure the day of the party goes smoothly,” says Kristine Cooke, an event planner and designer at Simply Charming Socials.
5. Send Invitations
Invitations set the tone for your gathering, so it’s important to make sure they have all of the essential details. Start by choosing a method of delivery—an email, social media send, or a mailed invitation—then use your theme to guide your design. “Send your invitation out three to six weeks before your party,” Curtis says. “Include the date, time, location, attire, anything you would like your guests to bring, dietary restriction requests, and an RSVP on your invitation.”
6. Plan Your Menu
If you’re preparing the entire meal at home, plan ahead as much as possible. “Choose the menu, gather and read the recipes, make a shopping list, and time out your items so that your stove and oven aren’t overloaded,” says Cooke. “A cooking schedule is always helpful, ensuring courses and dishes are ready in a timely manner.”
The part of the evening everyone looks forward to the most is the food. “For the menu, determine not only how the meal will be served—plated, cocktail style, grazing station, self-serve—but also what cuisine works well for the time of day and theme of the event,” says Cooke. At a cocktail party, for example, you wouldn’t want to serve something suitable for a sit down dinner, like roasted duck.
Also, consider how the foods on your menu pair together. “I always like to include something fresh and light to balance out any heavier dishes,” Spiegel says. In the same vein, avoid having repetitive ingredients when organizing your menu—if you’re making a pear dessert, for example, don’t also include pears in your side salad.
Use your invitations to help guide your menu by considering guests’ dietary restrictions. “Still, some people may forget to answer you, so it’s always wise to make sure there is at least one thing to eat that is vegetarian and without dairy or gluten—maybe a salad or something where you can easily hold the cheese,” Spiegel says.
Beverages are also a good time to consider the style of party you’re hosting. For a casual, open house-style event, opt for a bar cart with pitcher cocktails and grab-and-go options. If you’re planning a formal dinner, serve guests wine, Champagne, or sparkling water at the start of the meal, then keep options at the table for when glasses run empty. “Both boozy and non-alcoholic drinks should be on hand,” says Cooke.
7. Make a Checklist
A lot goes into planning a party—to keep everything organized, write out a detailed checklist of what you need to accomplish. “The week before your party, create a list of everything that has to happen before your guests arrive, and then assign dates to each component,” Curtis says. Everything from what grocery supplies you need to the type of music you want to play should be itemized as a to-do so you’re not scrambling to get anything done last minute.
8. Prepare Your Servingware
The last thing you need the day of your soirée is to realize you’re missing a plate or bowl in your dinner set. Avoid this mishap by preparing your servingware at least two days before the party. “I set it all on a table and you can even use a note to write what you plan to serve in each dish,” Spiegel says. Be sure to clean everything before laying it all out—this includes polishing your silverware.
9. Make a Playlist
Music is an important element of any celebration—it gives the event more personality and fills in quieter moments throughout the evening. “Make sure to prepare a playlist in advance,” says Spiegel. “I think it’s fun to play music that reflects your own personal style and tastes. Just be sure to consider what your guests will enjoy, too.”
10. Prepare Your Home
Get your home ready for company a few days early. “If you forget anything, you’ll have time to go shopping without interfering with your cooking schedule,” Curtis says. This includes cleaning all common or guest-facing areas and setting up any decorations ahead of time. And don’t forget about smaller details, like providing fresh linens, throw pillows, and extra seating to make your home feel more inviting.
11. Add Ambience
The day of your party is all about adding the finishing touches. “Lighting and florals are the easiest way to create a comfortable atmosphere,” says Curtis. Pick up fresh flowers the day of your event and place them throughout your house—especially in areas where guests tend to gather. The combination of candles and florals will make your home smell luxurious by the time loved ones arrive.
Candles will also help to fill your home with ambient lighting, so you won’t have to use harsh overhead lights. You can also use dimmers or twinkle lights for this effect. “For candles, I use unscented so as not to compete with the food,” says Spiegel.