This week, Ten on Tuesday has us thinking about planning big parties. If you read the lists this week, maybe you won't need to cry at your next big party!
I have given four big parties in the last five years (Graduation Open Houses for each of my kids, plus a Graduation/Farewell party for Dominik - our foreign exchange student, and a 50th Anniversary Celebration for my parents), plus several big school-related events (cast parties, tech dinners, hockey events, etc.). I definitely have some advice to pass along! Here's my list of Ten Tips for Throwing a Big Party.
1 -- Begin planning early! Get a date set early -- and then start spreading the word (especially if it's grad party season; make sure to check in with the parents of your kids' friends to make sure you're not holding their parties at the same time). Be sure to talk to other people you know who have thrown great parties in the past and find out how they do it. Before Erin's graduation party, I hadn't been to very many grad parties. I talked to lots of veteran parents to get their tips. It helped immensely!
2 -- Make a comprehensive, Master To-Do List -- and put it in timeline format (Three Months Out; Two Months Out; Two Weeks Out; Day Before, etc.). Write everything down, keep The List with you, jot down new ideas as the occur to you, and revise, revise, revise.
3 -- Determine a "theme" -- either a concept or a color-scheme. This really helps you coordinate the various party "elements," from décor to invitations to entertainment.
4 -- Determine your food and beverage menu and calculate how much to serve -- and whether you need help with the serving (either volunteer or catering) or whether you want to try to pull it off on your own. I like to do my own food - because I actually enjoy that part(!) - but there are many, many catering options out there, too. My rule of thumb for amounts (if you're doing it on your own): Expected guests X 2 servings x .60. They always, always eat less than you think! (Except if you serve a taco bar. If you serve a taco bar, they will eat it all. Every. Scrap.) It's also good to think about menus where guests can serve themselves -- a taco bar, an ice cream sundae bar**, a rootbeer keg, a hot dog stand, etc.
5 -- Determine entertainment. You always need entertainment! It doesn't have to be live music and dancing (although it could be!) -- but you need some form of entertainment. Whether it's a more formal event (we planned a Renewal-of-Vows ceremony for my parent's anniversary celebration, complete with music). . .
or outdoor activities to keep teenagers engaged and mixing . . .
or just a simple iPod playlist . . . you need entertainment to set the tone and keep the party flowing. I also can't emphasize enough how fun it is to have photos and memorabilia out and about for guests to look at and enjoy.
Put together a slide show and have it playing on a loop throughout the event. Entertainment and "activities" really help to keep things moving, serve as ice-breakers, and hold your theme together.
6 -- Figure out what you have, what you need to borrow, what you can rent, what you need to purchase. (This is true for chairs, tables, decorations, serving utensils, games, photos, memorabilia, you name it!) Make arrangements early -- especially if you need to rent equipment (like, say, a tent) and especially if it's a busy party time (like, say, graduation).
7 -- Think about logistics. A lot. Where do you want guests to enter? How will you greet them? Where will they park? Where will you serve food? Where will you store their coats? Their purses? If guests are bringing gifts, where will you put them? How will you keep your food and drinks at the right serving temperature?
8 -- Get your guest list put together and get the invitations out early. Printed invitations are best -- they look great and can reflect the theme of your party. I like to design and print my own invitations, but there are so many inexpensive, quick resources for printed invitations online these days that it's easy to have professional looking invitations without breaking the party budget. (Photos are GREAT on invitations.) Also -- include a map and directions to the party, along with any special parking arrangements.
9 -- Figure out how to keep your guests moving -- especially at an Open House. Party flow is vital -- there will be times when you have a huge glut of guests. . . and times when it thins out a bit. Plan to keep things flowing.
I usually set up "stations" around the area: food serving, several beverage "stations," an area to check out photos, memorabilia, a slide show, a "cake station," several groupings of chairs or small tables, a place for folks to get out of the sun (if you're outside), game or other activity "stations." Just keep people moving! And -- don't forget to have a spot where the guest of honor can greet "their people!"
10 -- Always, always, always have a Plan B. It rains. You run out of plates. You drop a whole plate of hot dogs on the ground. A neighbor is having a party on the same afternoon and there are no places on the street to park. An old girlfriend shows up. The tent falls down. Think a bit about What-To-Do-If. . . (because it will. . .)
Remember: It IS your party. Have fun! Do as much as you can ahead of time, make sure you have enough volunteers to help you, and remember to breathe! Don't take it too seriously! No tears at YOUR party!
** Great tip for ice cream sundae bars: Scoop the ice cream into cupcake liners in advance (one scoop per liner); store them on cookie trays or shallow dishes or even bowls in the freezer; bring them out during the party as needed. I do one of these at every party I've ever hosted -- and it's always a huge hit! (Have root beer in addition to ice cream toppings and you've got some great, self-serve options that people love.)