Thursday, August 30, 2012

Planning a Party? Where to Start

A dollar store tablecloth, fresh flowers and vases
from around the house brighten this Spring Organization party
featuring the Ziploc storage totes.
Planning any party can be a daunting task and the list can seem never-ending without a system in place.  Here is my system for breaking it into achievable small chunks.  I like to plan big parties with a lot of fun details but I am NOT one of those who spends a fortune on hosting them (I haven't found that fortune to spend anyways!).  Many, many of these tips have been discovered through trial and I hope to help you consider the right questions to avoid the error side.  Hosting a great party can be stress-free with a little planning ahead and organization.

First things first - I always start with a Word document with the party name and track everything about the party on that document.  Then as I find ideas and decorations I like online, I can copy and paste the site address into that document and find it easily later.  I use this document at first to brainstorm answers to the questions below and later to edit and fine-tune my list and track everything along the way.  This way I can remember who offered to bring a specific dish or who has an item I might borrow, etc.

1.)  Choose a theme.  To choose your theme, start with why you are having the party.  Maybe that is your theme - is is just a summer grill-out or a special occasion?  If you have a guest of honor like a birthday girl, start by asking what she wants the theme to be.
Candy, containers and candles all convey the hockey theme.
2.)  Make your invite list.  Are you throwing a big party or hosting a small group of friends?  Don't send your invites just yet.  If you know your friends need a lot of time to schedule ahead, you can send a "save the date" to get on their calendar while you work out the details.

3.)  Decide your budget.  This is an important step before you get to looking at decorations and food that fit your theme.  It will also help you decide if your invite list is too long or can be longer.  And it will help you decide whether to host it at a free location or whether you have the budget to rent space.

4.)  Location, date, and time.  Is your house big enough?  Will the weather be good enough to host it outside?  If its planned for outside, do you have a backup plan in case its too cold, hot, rainy or windy?  What sort of amenities does your venue offer?  Will you be able to prepare food on site?  Do you need to bring tables/chairs/etc.?  Does the site fit with your theme or will it require a lot of prep work to decorate?  Do any of your guests have mobility issues that might affect the suitability of your venue?  If grandma has a walker, perhaps the pavilion at the farthest corner of the park 500 yards away from the parking lot is not a great option unless you can verify with the park ahead of time that grandma can be driven right up to the pavilion.  Also, consider the date and time of day - do your guests have kids that nap so 1:00 p.m. will mean they won't be coming or the kids will be grouchy if they do.  Maybe 3:00 p.m. works better.  Do you have a lot of older guests who eat their dinners by 4:30-5:00 p.m. so a 7:00 p.m. dinner will have them grumbling?  If you have guests who are church-goers, Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. is likely out.
A candy bar makes for easy selection of decorating supplies
at our gingerbread house building party.
5.)  Food and beverages.  Think about your theme, venue and guest needs when you are putting together your menu.  Also think about how you will deal with food leftovers, extra guests, allergies, guests with special dietary needs.  Consider how easy setup and cleanup will be as well and who will be responsible for that.
A tray of non-alcoholic tasty treats for my pregnant and
non-drinking guests at my Godiva Liqueurs party.
6.)  Invitations.  Think of any details your guests might need to know beyond the who, why, when and where.  Is there anything your guests need to bring (dish to pass, chairs, coat, tennis shoes, swimsuit)?  Is there a fee for the location like a party entry fee?  Think about how you will send your invite to ensure that your guests receive them.  Evite, FaceBook events, and other online invitations do not work if your guests never check their online accounts or email.  That cute "Message in a Bottle" idea with sand in it could wind up a broken mess in the mail - or could find its way to Homeland Security while they evaluate the contents.
The bright colors in this cafeteria already shout spring and
get just a little help from bright dollar store tablecloths and garland
for a March is Reading Month daycare party.
7.)  Decorations.  Think of your theme and scrounge your house first to see what you might be able to re-purpose for your party.  You might be surprised at what you can think of.  Kids can be great at helping with this part as they aren't as "locked in" on a singular purpose for an item as adults tend to be.  Think of friends or family who might have items you can borrow for the party and then put out the word on what you need.  Hit the dollar stores and thrift shops - you'd be amazed at all the great things you can find for hosting parties. Thrift shops are a great place to score bargain serving platters, bowls and "theme" items.  The dollar stores have tons of cute streamers, plates, cups, and tablecloths for parties.  They also tend to have lots of seasonal theme items and little kids prizes.
Gold dollar store party supplies fit this Godiva party theme.
8.)  Goody bags & prizes.  Are you playing games where you want to give prizes?  Do you want each guest to leave with a small item?  This is another area you can score big with dollar stores.  They tend to have huge sections of gift bags of all shapes and sizes, candles, candy, toys, stickers and other small gifts that can go with your theme.  I've found really nice stationary sets for ladies and for the guys I head to the "practical" section where I can get LED lights, bungees, and chamois car cloths for a $1 each.
Cute little take-home gifts for guests made from dollar store items
for a Top Chef - Chef Boyardee party.
9.)  Help!  If you are doing a small party and your house is immaculate (unlike mine...) you might not need any help.  If you are hosting a large group at a location away from your house, you might need a lot of help.  Can you enlist a teenager or your mom to come help do housework or yard work the weekend before the big day?  Are some people willing to make a dish?  Do you have a crafty friend who would love to come hang out on a Saturday and put together goody bags or prizes or prepare games?  Who can you count on being early to help set up?  Who will help you with the tear-down?  Make lists for each person of things they can help with so they can help on their own time and so they don't have to keep interrupting you each step of the way.  You'll get twice as much accomplished if you aren't micro-managing your helpers.
A borrowed screen tent keeps the summer bugs out of the food
and bins for trash and pop cans make for quick cleanup.
10.)  Plan ahead.  This is all so much easier when you can plan ahead.  Sometimes things pop up and you have to throw things together quickly, but if you know something is coming up well in advance like a birthday party, the earlier you start the better.  For instance, I usually start asking the kids what themes they want for their birthdays about 3 months ahead of time.  I'll send 'save the dates' to the grandparents & my husband about 2 months ahead of time or as soon as I pick the date and time.  If I'm doing Chuck E. Cheese or whatever outside venue, then I have to verify the location availability as well before I can send a firm date and time.  Most people I know, especially families where both parents work or kids are in school sports, tend to schedule their calendars about a month out so I try to send final invites with all the details no later than one month ahead.  As soon as I know the theme, I can start keeping an eye out for items that work for decorations or prizes.  I also put the word out to key people like my mom who watch out for goodies I might like for my party.  This allows me to wait for big sales or catch items as they go on clearance and stretch my budget even farther.

I hope you find these tips helpful and I'll be posting lots more party planning tips and specific party ideas in the future.  If you have party planning questions or want some help brainstorming ideas, please post below and I'd be happy to answer them!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

i need to keep this handy list around!

Have a great day! Stop by and say hello!