How to plan a Holiday Party to Remember


Dear Daughters,

with the holiday’s fast approaching I thought it would be a great idea to share with you some Holiday party planning tips.

Part of what makes a party a success is the planning. Proper planning ensures there are plenty of refreshments, the guests are entertained, the timing is right and all the bases are covered. By creating lists of items you need, tasks you need to do and services you need to contract, you can mingle with your guests instead of tying up loose ends. When planning a holiday party use these planning tips and creative ideas for a get-together everyone will remember and enjoy. Also these tips can be used for any celebration.

Planning Ahead

This guide will help you roughly estimate the timing and process of your pre-party planning. Keep in mind you may have additional details that are not mentioned below; if this is the case, always allow yourself a week or so extra to complete those tasks.

Four to six weeks prior:

  • Select a date and time.
  • Make a guest list. Choose the type of invitation you want.
  • Choose a venue. Decide whether the party will be indoors or outdoors.
  • Choose whether or not you want the party to have a theme.
  • Begin thinking about activities, entertainment and menu.
  • Contact any entertainment and services for price quotes.
  • Make a list of party supplies you may need, including favors, decorations and eating utensils.

Three weeks prior:

  • Send invitations. Be sure to set a specific RSVP date.
  • Record all RSVPs in one place so you have an accurate head count.
  • Ask friends or family members for assistance with food preparation, cleanup, helping with activities, etc.
  • Review all activities and entertainment to determine whether you will need assistance, further instructions or special items.
  • Purchase the supplies.

Two weeks prior:

  • Call to check on any missing RSVPs.
  • Confirm any entertainment.
  • Place order for catered food.
  • Place order for cake.
  • Verify that friends will still help out on the day of the party.
  • If applicable, decide on prizes or party favors, and begin to assemble.

One week prior:

  • Call or email guests to confirm they know directions.
  • Purchase any food, snacks and candy you will be preparing and serving.
  • Verify that you have enough seating to accommodate your guests.
  • Prepare goodie bags or party favors based on RSVPs.

One day prior:

  • Prepare any food that can be cooked and reheated.
  • Before bedtime, clean the house, and put up the basic decorations. If you are renting a venue, ask whether you can have access the evening before to decorate.
  • Check that you have enough ice, beverages and favors.

The day of the party:

  • Pick up the cake and any catered food.
  • Have the family help blow up any balloons or put up decorations.
  • Set out the food, and get ready to have fun.

Making Your Party Stand Out

If you are going through the trouble of having a party, why not make sure it stands out? Consider focusing on some key elements to make your party an event to remember.

  • Invitations: As these will set the tone for your party, put some thought into what they look like and say. If you are on a budget, consider sending e-mail invitations that have graphics depicting the type of party you are having. E-mail invites are free, and it is easy to track RSVPs. If you want to send invitations through the mail, design the invitation around the theme of the party. If it will be formal, send a classic invitation with a stamped return envelope for responses. If the party is a casual affair, use a friendly, fun invitation and tone.
  • Themes: While theme parties can be memorable (think of an all-out luau or disco party), not all parties need themes. However, having an idea of what you want your party to convey will help in the planning process. Do you want your party to exude elegance or scream fun? Will it be black tie, casual attire or swimsuits only? A theme will help tie together the tone, food, environment and entertainment.
  • Decorations: Whether your party calls for balloons and piñatas or white tulle and bows, the decorations will help set a mood for the party, as well as offer visual excitement. If store-bought decorations are not your style, think of ways to offer decorations that are more personal, simple or fun. Elegant flowers and candles, confetti scattered on tabletops or pictures of your friends in lieu of name cards all offer different moods.
  • Favors: Two positive aspects of party favors is that they can act as decorations and you do not have to clean them up afterwards; a negative is that they can be expensive. Make sure you budget for favors ahead of time so you do not scramble at the last minute to find something to fit your expenses. Try to match the favors to your guests, such as a bookmark for your book-club guests, a small, age-appropriate toy for a birthday party, or small photo frames for a bridal shower.

Making Sure You Have What You Need

Never underestimate the power of planning ahead when it comes to directions, food and beverages. It is always better to be safe than sorry; you can always store leftovers for your family to eat later.

  • A good estimate for drinks is one to two per person for a lunch party; two per person for a cocktail or dinner party; and four per person for an evening gathering. Always buy a bottle or two more than you think is necessary, especially when it comes to basic liquors and mixes.
  • Keep in mind that a regular bottle of wine has approximately four to five glasses and a 750 ML bottle of liquor offers approximately 16 servings.
  • For a head count on how many crudités, appetizers, entrees and desserts to provide, consult a caterer for an estimate. The amount will depend on the extent of the menu, the time of the party, etc.
  • For buffet tables, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends that perishable food not sit at room temperature for longer than two hours. If the temperature is over 90 degrees, you should not keep the food out for more than one hour. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold with warming trays, crock pots, fondue pots, chafing dishes and ice beds.
  • While invitations do not need to be expensive, they should be specific. Before mailing, double-check that the date, time and address are correct and that you have included all necessary directions and information regarding dress, gifts, surprises, etc.

Hiring Additional Help

If your party is formal or will be larger than 15 or 20 guests, you may want to consider hiring additional help. While these services may cost a bit more, it can be the difference between being frantic and busy throughout the party and enjoying time and conversation with your guests.

Consider looking into these services:

  • Party planner. A party planner can do as much or as little as you want; he or she can plan and oversee the entire event or offer some guidance in choosing a theme, decorations and menu. Typically a party planner has contacts with caterers, florists and other services. To find a party planner, get referrals from friends, or call your employee-assistance program (EAP) for contacts in your area.
  • Caterer. If you are not a whiz in the kitchen, a caterer can be a tremendous help. Most caterers offer carry-out orders, as well as full-service plans, which include everything from the serving dishes and plates to appetizers and desserts. If you only need the food to fill the dishes, contact a caterer for a consult about the amounts and types of foods you would like to serve. Prices vary, but usually are based on head count to allow for enough food.
  • Serving staff. If your caterer does not provide for service in the home or you are making your own food, you may want to hire a serving staff. A local caterer should be able to offer contacts for serving staff.
  • Entertainment. Whether you want a clown who can twist balloons into funny shapes, a five-piece swing band or even a palm reader, entertainment is often the focal point of a party. Ask friends and family for referrals, or look up information in your phone book or online.
  • Florist. Flowers lend beauty, fragrance and an element of sophistication to a party. When looking for a florist, it is best to visit their shops, see pictures of arrangements and determine prices before signing any contracts. Pay with a credit card, if possible: it is easier to stop payment if something goes wrong. You can select flowers to arrange yourself or pay for the florist to arrange them for you.

With some careful planning, you can throw a Holiday party that looks effortless to your guests and provides happy memories for years to come.

As Always

Love Mom

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