13 Ways to Plan the Perfect Party

I mentioned in my birthday post that Andy and I decided to throw a party for all the folks in our program who have September birthdays, which is surprisingly many for such a small program! Well, that happened Friday night and ended up being a really good time. We've thrown several house parties since moving into our place last July because 1) we like to, and 2) we probably have the biggest place of all the students in the program (we're homebodies, so having a comfortable home is a priority for us). I thought I'd share some of the things we do to get ready in order to have a fun, stress-free party.

1. Clean up: this seems pretty obvious, but there's a couple of specific things I'll say about it. One, your house does not have to be perfect to invite people over, but it should be clean enough that you're comfortable letting people walk through your house without worrying about them seeing certain messes, and also clean enough that your guests aren't uncomfortable with mess (like in the bathroom, gross). When you look at your house like you were walking into it for the first time, not like you live in it, you suddenly notice how dusty all of your shelves are and how long it's been since you vacuumed.

2. Re-arrange: whenever we're having a larger get together (as opposed to a dinner party) we always put the leaves in our dining table and push the table against the wall to make it the central food station. We also take everything off of the coffee tables to make room for plates and drinks and move our dining chairs into other rooms. We cluster our outdoor chairs in groups and around the fire pit and we put our coasters out.

3. Consider the weather: when it's nice out, people tend to spend most of their time outside (as least here), and when it's colder people will stay inside and congregate in the living spaces. When you think about where people will likely hang out, it helps you strategically place drinks (if outside, in coolers, if inside, in the fridge and on the kitchen counters) and other things to make access to them convenient.

4. Make signs/labels: this might seem weird for some people, and if you're only inviting over people who know you house really well this is unnecessary. At every party we've thrown, people have trickled in and out throughout the evening. They don't conveniently arrive all at once so you can say everything once and be done with it. Our second bathroom is in the bedroom, and most adults don't poke around other adults bedrooms, so no one would probably go in and use it if we didn't direct them to. So, we put a sign on the hall bathroom describing how to get to the other one. We also used a chalkboard table runner to write descriptions of the foods so that people wouldn't pick up stuff they don't like/are allergic to/do not choose to eat (like meat for vegetarians). Other ideas: sign in the foyer directing you take off your shoes or where to hang up your coat, drink signs on coolers.

5. Provide a few things and ask everyone to bring something: one time for an author reception I made an entire spread of fancy appetizers, finger foods, and desserts, and it was all awesome but by the time everyone got here I was too tired to enjoy the party. Don't do that to yourself! Since then, we've always done a "potluck" type deal. If someone doesn't bring something that's fine, they don't get kicked out or anything, but people are really good about at least bringing a bag of chips or a bottle of wine. We make a few nice things (usually a couple of appetizers and a dessert) and provide some nonalcoholic drinks and a bottle of wine and/or some beer to get things going, as well as cocktails fixings (lemon and lime wedges, simple syrup, mint leaves, cherries, bitters, vermouth, whatever you have on hand/will compliment the liquor people might bring). Sometimes someone quickly volunteers to bring plates and those kinds of things, and if not we provide them. As people come in they add to the table and everyone can help themselves to everything (no one is limited to drinking/eating what they brought), so everyone brings one little thing and gets a lot of choice. Win-win.

6. Communicate: usually we create a Facebook Event page for our parties, though you could do an email/text chain or something else. We provide the details of the party (start/end time, our address, occasion for the party, what to bring, etc.), as well as what we plan to provide. We ask for people to post what they plan to bring, which of course not everyone does but it helps us get an idea of what to expect and helps other guests think about what to bring based on what is spoken for. It also helps us get a head count as people RSVP.

7. Do everything ahead of time: get as much cleaning done as possible the day before so you're not exhausted when the party starts, and get your cooking done the day before or earlier in the day. This helps make sure that your kitchen isn't a wreck when people arrive and that you're not scrambling at the last minute. At a dinner party you can serve food hot and ready, but at a larger event you want stuff that you can make ahead of time and that will keep. Even if you made it at the last minute, most people will not arrive on time so that's something you have to plan for.

8. Make Lists: I'm a huge fan of list-making. I feel like this step is especially necessary if co-hosting with someone else, so you're both on the same page of what all needs done. I usually write a list the night before or in the morning on the day of the party with everything I can think of that still needs done and put it out where Andy and I will both be able to refer to it. This way we don't completely forget to clean the bathroom or make one of the dishes we planned to. You can also make a list further in advance, but we usually end up getting as much done ahead of time as possible and then making the list for things that we didn't have time to do before or need to be done at the last minute, like taking out the trash or putting ice in the ice bucket.

9. Let people drop stuff off early: sometimes people will come by the house after they go shopping the day before or earlier the day of the party to drop off their contribution. It's definitely not necessary for everyone to do this, but if anyone is planning to walk or knows they'll be coming pretty late, this is always nice so that you're not waiting on their stuff to arrive along with them. This is an especially good idea if someone is providing something important like plates, so if that's the case you might suggest this to them.

10. Give yourself some time: there tends to be a lot of running around and being on your feet when you're preparing for a party, so it's important to make sure you give yourself some time to have something to eat and relax and get dressed and ready and feel your best when the party starts. Have a nap if you want to. Your ability to enjoy the party and act as a good host is the most important thing.

11. Entertainment: everyone loves a little mood music. Create a playlist in iTunes or Spotify or pick a good station on Pandora and play it on your laptop or docked iPod/iPhone. We usually have music playing in several rooms in the house. You might also put out some games for people to play if they are so inclined--unless it's a children's party, you probably don't want things to seem too planned, but if you have games like Catch Phrase or Scategories that are great for large groups you can set them out in case anyone would be interested in playing, or have bocce ball or horseshoes set up in the back yard. Depending on the event, you may have one or two planned activities that you ask people to participate in; this Fourth of July we had a water balloon toss and patriotic quiz, both of which people really enjoyed.

12. Be prepared for the consequences: if your party involves alcohol, you should be prepared for the consequences of over-drinking. Make sure you have pepto and ibuprofen and fill up your Brita pitchers. You may consider buying coconut water or Gatorade to better hydrate yourself. Put a water bottle, face wipes, and medications on your nighstand and know that when you wake up feeling miserable at least you'll be prepared.

13. Make cleanup easy: when you're hung over, the last thing you want to do is walk around your whole house picking up other people's trash. Yuck. Make sure your kitchen trash can is emptied and prominently displayed and if you're using the back yard, move your big garbage bin (the one you put on the curb) and your recycling bin into the back yard so that guests can throw their trash directly in there. There will always be cups that are abandoned/lost/forgotten about, but this substantially cuts down on the cleanup time. People are usually curteous about cleaning up after themselves as long as it's easy, i.e. they don't have to go asking around about the whereabouts of the trash can.

Beyond that, relinquish control! You've done your best and enjoy the party. Side note: decorating is not included on this list. I guess that goes in with cleaning kind of.  We don't do a ton of decorating for our events, so it's not really a significant step for us.

What tips do you have for making big parties run smoothly?

Yours Truly, Jen

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