When you are planning a party or hosting friends for a long weekend, take a note out of Santa’s book and make a list! Doesn’t hurt to check your party planning checklist twice either… Also, give yourself enough lead time to plan your event(s) and stick to that list.
Now, what goes on that party planning checklist? Allow me to help…
When planning a party, your first question is – What type of vibe do I want to set? Do I want the party to be elegant or casual? Who am I inviting? Do I want to make a full dinner or maybe just appetizers and cocktails? Potluck? Indoors or outdoors? How long are people staying? One evening? Or a couple days? Identify, set, and stick to you what makes you feel confident and you will set yourself up for success! The answers to these questions will help you to curate the rest of your party planning checklist.
Once you’ve decided on the vibe, the next item on your party planning checklist is communication. I will usually send out a save-the-date text or email six weeks out if it’s a big party. I’m also a big fan of paperless posts and Evites. You get an immediate response and can see if your guest opened the invite. Using USPS, you’re not 100% sure if they received it.
On your invite you can indicate if guests are welcome to bring a dish or not. I know being that direct can be uncomfortable, but as the host, it is dealer’s choice on what you choose to serve at your party. What someone else may bring could clash instead of compliment your menu, so being clear (and of course kind and respectful) with expectations and preferences will give everyone the best experience possible.
If I’m hosting people for a couple of days, I like to create a loose schedule of events and send that out to my guests prior to their visit. For the planners in the bunch, this creates excitement and allows people to budget, pack the appropriate clothes, and prioritize their time. For the spontaneous gals and guys, I make the itinerary loose enough to schedule in lots of time to relax and enjoy downtime napping or swimming, etc. This July 4th, I’m having a house full of people over for a week to celebrate and here is what my itinerary looks like:
You have the vibe and you’ve let everyone a party is happening, so next on your party planning checklist is determine the menu. If you’re lost on what to serve, an easy strategy to locking down your menu is to base your meal on the season, the traditional staple foods of the holiday that you’re celebrating, or if the occasion is to celebrate a birthday or anniversary – incorporating the honoree’s favorite foods into the menu can be so special.
I have shared several of my favorite recipes here.
For one meal, I like to pick my protein first and then choose the side dishes that compliment it. I include one starch and two veggies at the very least. Let’s say you’re going to have 20 people at your home: If you are serving an appetizer and small bites in addition to your entrée, your recipe doesn’t need to serve 20, you’ll be eating leftovers for days! I usually make 3/4 servings of the total amount of people, for example for 20 people I would make enough food to feed 15. If a recipe says it serves 4 to 6 I would multiply that by three.
*Pro-tip: Avoid trying out a new recipe while you have company. The stress of the unknown is not worth it, my friends. If you want to come up with a menu and try new things, do it a couple weeks prior to the party and make sure that that’s what you want to go with.
Once I’ve decided on a meal or meals, I will pull out every single recipe that I am planning to make and start a list of all needed ingredients. Even if it’s something I cook from memory I will mark it down in my Evernote list app on my phone. Make your grocery list and check it twice!
In Fredericksburg, we do have a great Texas grocery store chain, (H-E-B) but they can be limited on certain products. Before I have a big party or host a lot of guests in my house, I usually will take a trip down the road to either Austin or San Antonio. I plan on going to three different stores and I make my shopping list accordingly. I go to Costco, Trader Joe’s and Central Market. Central Market is H-E-B‘s answer to Whole Foods, only much much better. They have such a wide selection of meats and fish and carry items that might be harder to find outside of a city.
The vibe and the menu aren’t really complete until you cross beverages off your party planning checklist. If your guests enjoy an adult beverage or two, you might want to stop at a larger liquor store to pick up a bottle of vodka, gin and tequila. You do not have to have a full bar but having those basic liquors can create some great cocktails with just some tonic water or a splash of juice and a slice of lime. If you have a bourbon drinker in the house you might also want to get some good cherries and bitters to make their favorite cocktail. I always have Tito’s by the handle and a flavored vodka available. Ketel One has some wonderful options, my favorite is grapefruit and rose. For gin, I usually have two options: my favorite is Empress 1908 which is a beautiful purple color and always ignites conversation and Hendricks gin.
Ranch water is a great alternative to a sweet margarita. Put the juice of one lime in a glass, pour a shot of tequila, and top it off with some ice and Topo Chico mineral water. Any sparkling water will do and you can add one flavored with lime if you really want to punch it up. For tequila I always go for Casamigos Blanco. It never gives me a headache and we drink Texas Ranch Waters like they’re going out of style when we have company.
You have your vibe, your menu, your beverages, and all your shopping is done, but a major piece of the party planning checklist is determining your cooking timeline. We want to eliminate all possibilities of surprises, because trust me, surprises are going to happen, so it’s all about the pivot and having a plan in place!
Before the event, I will jot down a detailed cooking timeline that I split into two parts:
I will do a rough draft sequencing everything that I will cook including the time it takes to prepare each dish. You’ll be high fiving yourself with this detailed plan!
These catering boxes from Amazon are excellent solutions for keeping warm food warm or cold food cold. They are life-savers and are totally necessary to have on hand when having company over. You just can’t put both in the same box.
I also highly recommend pulling out all serving platters and bowls at least the night before the party and placing a sticky notes, labeling what it’s going to go in each bowl/platter and also include the necessary serving utensil. This will not only will help you plan what you will plate where but will also help you to know what platters you have or if you’ve lent something out and need to pop into a shop to grab a serving dish!
The dishwasher! This is one of the most helpful tips that took me forever to implement. While you’re prepping things, wash dishes as you go along, either by hand or in your dishwasher. ***Your dishwasher needs to be empty and ready to go when your guests arrive! People like to help clear plates and often ask to do dishes, which quite honestly is a little uncomfortable, but if I have my dishwasher emptied I can say, “Sure rinse off the dishes and fill the dishwasher but once that’s done just leave everything in the sink and I will take care of it.” You might not mind people doing dishes so if people offer, take them up on it!
A lot of great conversations happen around the sink when you’re doing dishes. At least that was my Mother’s philosophy on why she made my sister and I wash and dry dishes every day…but I digress.
I like to build a run of show for the day of the event and make sure that everything is ready to go 15 minutes prior to the first person arriving. That gives me time to turn on music, light candles including one in the bathroom, make sure hand soap is available in the bathroom, put on some lipstick and pour a drink.
When your guests arrive you should not be sweating in the kitchen!
You want to be available to welcome your guests, if it’s winter take their coats and get them their first drink. Let them know they are welcome to get themselves subsequent drinks once all or most of your guests have arrived. If you’re throwing a dinner party you can go back in the kitchen and start assembling your meal.
Grab your best friend if you’re feeling a little stressed and have them help you out – that’s why you have your platters labeled! Try to create a stress-free environment for yourself and if it’s coming down to it and you didn’t get to make one of the side dishes, that’s OK! No one knows but you. If you are running behind just say, “Thank you for your patience the chicken is taking longer than I expected!” You’ve opened your home and invited people in, trust me they are not going to be mad if they’re waiting 10 minutes more for dinner.
Give yourself some grace and go enjoy your party! You’ve created an environment for your friends, family, neighbors or complete strangers to get together in fellowship. That needs to be celebrated! Good for you.
I hope you have found this party planning checklist and these tips helpful and are empowered to open your heart and home to entertaining!