Hosting a party requires thoughtful planning, no matter the occasion. From formal dinner parties to casual happy hours or backyard barbecues, every event calls for careful planning, day-of execution, and post-party follow-up to prepare you for the next event. Entertain like a pro by following this guide to party planning basics.
1. Envision Your Event
Before you dive into details, start by envisioning your party. Imagine how you want your party to play out by making broad decisions about the event. Determine whether you want to invite family, friends, or coworkers––or a mix of all three. Select a date and time, keeping in mind that timing will dictate whether you serve a full meal or just snacks. Think about what type of entertainment your guests may enjoy. Jot down some notes about these details, which will serve as inspiration as your party planning continues.
2. Design a Guest List That Works
Your guest list is the first major decision you’ll make about your party. You know your guests, and you want to invite people who will entertain and engage with each other. When considering who to invite, keep the type of event in mind. For instance, a formal dinner party might be appropriate for adults, while a backyard barbecue can include the entire family. Next, consider how many people you can realistically accommodate. Think about how much seating you will need for a meal or how many guests you can comfortably fit in your home. Stick to that maximum number to avoid feeling overwhelmed and crowded.
Once you’ve drafted an initial guest list, consider how those guests will mix. If you’re including kids, determine whether you have a broad range of ages or kids that are close in age who may play together well. If you’re inviting coworkers, either stick to just coworkers or let each colleague bring a guest. Allowing married coworkers to bring their spouse and inviting single coworkers to attend alone may create some tension.
3. Create a Menu That Guests Will Love
Food and drink are an essential element of any home party. However, not every party calls for an elaborate buffet or plated meal. So, let your event serve as your inspiration as you design a menu that reflects the vibe of your party. Consider these key factors as you plan the party menu.
The time of day doesn’t just dictate what you eat; it also determines how much food you should serve. If your party takes place around a meal time, such as 12 p.m. or 6 p.m., guests will expect a full meal. On the other hand, a late morning or mid-afternoon gathering doesn’t necessarily call for a full meal. So, if you want to serve lunch or dinner, time your event accordingly. Alternatively, if you’d prefer serving lighter fare, you can pick an off-meal time for simplicity.
When planning your food, first decide whether you want to cook, have the meal catered, or do a little bit of both. If you’re cooking, go with your most trusted recipes––now isn’t the time to sample a new recipe. At a minimum, try the recipe out before you cook it for the party. Local restaurants and catering services can work with you to design a customized menu. Or, you can make the entree and pick up some appetizers, side dishes, or desserts from your favorite restaurant or bakery to lighten the load.
Thoughtfully plan your drink menu, whether you’ll offer alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverages. A variety of beer and wine selections can please a crowd. Opt for a few different types of beer––try seasonal varieties for some fun––along with red and white wines. While guests may welcome a full bar, you can simplify your selections by offering a signature cocktail. Make a pitcher of sangria, margaritas or mojitos to share with your guests. Be sure to have a variety of nonalcoholic options, such as sparkling water, soda, lemonade or sweet tea, on hand as well.
4. Plan Your Entertainment
Party entertainment can be as simple or elaborate as you desire. Entertainment helps keep the party moving, prevents any lulls in conversation or activity, and, ultimately, ensures your guests have a good time. Consider these options when choosing entertainment appropriate for your event.
- Music: Create a playlist using your favorite streaming service to add a festive touch to your occasion. Let guests get in on the fun by asking for their favorite songs before the event.
- Icebreakers: If your guests don’t know each other well, kick off the party with a simple icebreaker. Something as simple as introducing themselves and sharing how they know you can get guests talking.
- Games: A variety of board games, card games, and backyard games like cornhole and ladder toss are sure to keep guests busy at casual events.
5. Design a Festive Space
To create a festive space, take some time to decorate your home before the event. Your decorations do not have to be elaborate or expensive to add a festive touch to your space. Chances are you already have a variety of elements at home that you can incorporate into your party decor. Consider these simple ways to design an inviting space.
Your dining table or buffet isn’t just a spot to serve food. It can also serve as a decorative centerpiece of your party. For more formal occasions, dust off your favorite china, add linens you love, and incorporate candlesticks, votive candles, or flowers as the centerpiece. Casual celebrations can incorporate colorful linens and patterned dinnerware. A simple way to design a flawless table is to choose a color scheme. Carry a uniform look throughout the design, from linens to flowers.
Discover other simple ways to decorate your home for your event. Set the tone with appropriate lighting, which can include brighter overhead lights in a game room and dimmed lighting accented by candlelight in the dining room. Consider adding string lights to your outdoor space for some ambiance after the sun sets. Fresh flowers scattered throughout the space also add a timeless decorative touch.
Don’t forget to incorporate fun elements into your party decor. For example, consider creating a photo backdrop so that your guests can snap selfies at your event. Crepe paper, streamers, and balloons create a colorful backdrop perfect for photos.
6. Create a Party Timeline
You want your party to flow seamlessly from start to finish. Avoid any lulls in the action by creating a rough timeline that you can follow during the event. Consider how much time guests will need to get acquainted, sip a beverage or two, eat, and enjoy the entertainment. Keep an eye on the clock during the party so that you don’t run out of time. Also, be prepared for any lulls in conversation or entertainment with a few backup plans. For example, if one game falls flat at your game night, you can try another. If you have kids at the party, print out some coloring sheets or have a simple craft on hand in case they start to get restless.
7. Facilitate the Party
As the host, you’re the master of all trades. You invited the guests, designed the menu, stocked the bar, and planned the entertainment. Now that your party is here, you become the facilitator, ensuring your party goes off without a hitch. Fortunately, keeping the party moving and socializing with your friends go hand in hand.
Kick things off by making all of your guests feel comfortable. Introduce guests to each other to inspire conversation. Offer guests a drink and direct them to the right space to get settled. Move guests from one activity to the next. Remember, you’re the person that every guest knows, so they’re looking to you for guidance. If a guest looks bored or an activity has fizzled out, intervene so that you can keep the party moving and guests happy.
8. Reflect and Learn
Your party is over, the house has been cleaned, and you enjoyed your time with family and friends. Continue to build your home entertaining skills by reflecting on your party, celebrating your successes, and brainstorming new ideas for your next event. Jot down a quick list of what was a hit and what was a miss. Perhaps guests raved about one of your side dishes or that icebreaker game created some awkwardness. If any party elements were overwhelming for you, keep that in mind for future events. For example, your ambitious plan to cook all of the food may have left you scrambling last minute, so adding some catered items next time might reduce your stress.
Finally, listen to what your guests have to say. Chances are your party will come up in conversation and you can find out what your guests truly enjoyed. By taking note of these comments, you’ll be a better informed host next time around.
With these party planning basics, you can host an event that every guest enjoys. Thoughtful planning, creativity, and friendship are all you need to design a memorable house party for family and friends.