Sounds great, lots of fun to be had.
Who’s planning it? You?
Then you have some work to do.
We all know that the planning before the party and the cleanup afterwards is far more stressful than the party itself. We’re not going to worry about the cleanup afterwards but this page will take you, step by step, through solid party planning from beginning to end. The following is a great guide / checklist for birthday parties, weddings, graduation parties, block party, pre-party party, post-party party, or just about any other event.
You get the idea.
When you’re done reading (and using!!) this information, you’ll be well equipped to get this done. And the next time around, when somebody else gets to do the planning, be sure you send them this link! We are also attaching a download at the end of this post for you to work with and/or share with the next party or event planner.
We’re going to look at this from a timeline perspective but there’ll also be enough links on the page that you can jump around freely without losing your page. There’s also quite a few links to resources on other sites – clicking on any of those links will open the link in a new window so when you’re done there you can come back here and pick up where you left off.
We said we’d make it easy on you! We even created a Table of Contents…
Download a PDF version of this guide here (Right Click / Save As)
(you are planning that far in advance, right?)
- Creating your invitation list is a personal effort – you know who you want to attend. Go through your holiday greeting card list, your children’s classroom roster, folks you sit next to at church, close and friendly neighbors, anybody else you run into that would enjoy and make the event more enjoyable by their presence and, of course, would have a reason to attend.
- Be realistic about the number of guests that will actually attend – look at past attendance coupled with “importance” of event
- There will always be those you really want to attend, those you are OK if they attend, and those you feel obligated to invite but, if you’re honest with yourself, it’s ok if they don’t make it. For the latter group, send their invitations off with a shorter advance notice than the others. This does a couple of things. It gives them less time to prepare and, therefore, they may not be able to make it. It also sends a subtle signal that they don’t really need to make it. If you’ve ever received a last minute invitation to a party, you know what I mean. It’s not exactly a snub (hey, they did get an invitation!) but it’s also not exactly an enthusiastic or timely invitation. This approach is, of course, entirely your choice.
- Don’t send the invitations just yet though – keep reading!
A party or event has to have a theme! Well, it doesn’t have to but if it does, it improves the chances of folks actually showing up and having a good time. Spend some time deciding on the theme of your party or event – it could be a time period, a color, a music decade, movies, etc. Another interesting idea is a “DIY” theme where folks show up and are given ribbons, badges, markers, hats, etc and everybody designs their costume on the spot. A good theme helps with other decisions such as lighting, music choices, decorations and even food that is to be served. Here’s a few links to help:
- Shindigs – Party Themes
- Birthday Express – Party ideas
- Celebrations – Party Theme Ideas
- Party City – Party Themes
- Hexjam – 101 Party Themes
Editor’s note – I have to admit that the last link above, from hexjam.com, has some hilarious themes. “Blanket Fort Party”, “Marty’s Party”, “Surprise the Pizza Delivery Guy Party”, and “Tequila Mockingbird” are must-tries (in our not-so-humble opinion).
Now you get to send the invitations. Why didn’t you do it before? Because you had to choose the theme first! Now you can decorate and format the invitations in the theme of your choice.
Your guests have to eat something! It’s entirely acceptable to hold a Bring Your Own Dish event as that gives everybody the chance to help with the party planning and execution but if you choose to either prepare the food yourself or maybe have it catered, you should give considerable thought to what will be provided. Some quick and easy ideas are things like BBQ meatballs with Ritz Crackers (or Goldfish or pretzels), hot dogs (of course), chicken wings, deli meats, pizza, baby vegetables, soft drinks, juice and party punch. A recipe for very good (and age appropriate) party punch is one 2 liter bottle of Sprite or Ginger Ale mixed with a gallon of fruit juice such as Tropical Punch. Cheap, easy to make and you can even make it ahead of time and freeze it until it’s needed.
Below are links to some excellent menu ideas from some of the world’s most successful party and event planners.
- My Recipes – Party Menus
- Sunset – Quick and Easy Party Appetizers
- Pam Cooking Spray – Baked Nacho Casserole
You can do it all yourself, or you can recruit somebody to help. Neighborhood kids or family are great resources to help with setting up, sending invitations, designing invitations, after party cleanup, etc. Whatever you need help with, start the recruitment process early. When the party is over, the folks have left and the place is a mess is not the time to ask for help. Conscientious people will stay and help but it’s much better to have a plan in place so you’re not relying on people who are already tired out and ready to go home.
List of equipment you need to rent or borrow
We’re thinking of tables, chairs, serving dishes, table clothes, bounce houses or moonwalks, Karaoke setup, other various games or party necessities.
Some standard places to look come to mind but every location has it’s own local businesses that provide party or event rentals. Google “party rentals” or “event rentals” and put your local town/city in there for good location specific businesses. There are also a few sites that will be helpful regardless of where you are located – they are listed below.
At two weeks out, now is the time to tie up loose ends, take care of things you won’t have time to do at the last minute, and really think about anything you may have left out earlier. Music selection and playlist creation, general cleaning of any fancy dishes you may be using, any pre-cooking you can do now so you don’t have to do it later, and an early round of grocery shopping are in order.
- Clean china, crystal, etc that will be needed
- Music Playlist creation
- Grocery shopping (round one)
- Cook anything that can be frozen until the day of the party
~whew~ getting close!!
Time to clean the house and start setting things up. Think about what you’ll be serving and if purchases are necessary, now is a good time to head back to the store. Depending on the type of event or party, you may end up looking for hard to find drinks or other items so it’s a good idea to give yourself enough lead time to locate and purchase them if this is the case. Also, if you will be catering, be sure to get your order in now.
- Clean house
- Set the stage – move furniture, get stuff out of the way, etc
- Inventory cookware and serving dishes
- Stock the bar
- Order catered food (links to yelp or whatever)
With the party just days away, now is a good time to let the neighbors know it might get a little loud. Also, decorating now will ensure you aren’t trying to do it at the last minute. Setting up different spaces and kits (clean up, first aid, etc) now will save you important time later on.
- Notify / Invite the neighbors (and maybe even law enforcement)
- Medicine cabinets – remove stuff you don’t want guests to see
- Set up clean-up station for spills. Club Soda usually works. There’s also a product called “Wine Away” that works well. Also, keep salt and a good supplies of rags on hand. Here’s a few things you can also consider:
- Set up first aid station
- Specify/ready a place for coats, purses, etc
- Finish grocery shopping
- Paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, first aid stuff, garnishes for drinks and plates, cleaning supplies for during and after the party
Last minute – did you forget anything? Go back over this list and make sure. I know it sounds repetitive and not a lot of fun but it’s better to do it now than to kick yourself in the backside later. Take a minute, I’ll wait.
Ok, good. Folks show up tomorrow so we need to make sure the place is ready. A short checklist below.
- Set the tables/buffet
- Buy and arrange flowers or other decorations
- Finish as much cooking as possible
- Chill the beer (and other drinks as needed)
- Give the house a once-over
It’s 4:00am and you’re worrying about what’s going to happen today. Relax, if you’ve followed this plan and checklist, you’re good to go. Go back to sleep until 4:45am or so, then get busy! 🙂
Ok, awake? Good…did you remember to chill the drinks? Any last minute cooking to do? Did you pull the frozen stuff out of the freezer? Set up the chairs and tables, put the food out and get ready to have a great time!!
- Quick chill your beer (in case your forgot yesterday)
- Finish last minute cooking
- Place chairs
- Display food
- Greet guests as they arrive
Aside from the checklist and plan above, we thought we’d spend a bit of time talking about what you can do at the party to keep folks busy. Yes, you can google “party ideas” (and we encourage you to do so) but we intended to create a one-stop party planning article so it won’t be complete unless we share some of our favorite party distractions.
- Jenga / Life sized Jenga – Jenga is always a crowd pleaser and is good for every age. Take it a step further by buying or making your own “life sized” Jenga using blocks of 2×4’s or similar sized blocks of wood. Feel free to decorate these Jenga pieces as you see fit. Our life sized Jenga set has been thoroughly customized by our party goers over the years and remains one of the most popular features of every party we hold. For a better idea of what this looks like, google “life sized jenga” or “jenga extreme”. Great stuff!
- Bounce House / Moonwalk / Inflatable Jumpers – Every kid and most adults love the fun to be had bouncing around or sliding down one of these party favorites.
- Puzzle completion races – I know…puzzles? Seriously though, this is a great concentration effort for the kids but also a fun event for the adults. Create teams of kids and adults, or maybe kids vs. adults and see how much fun this can be. Use puzzles with large cut-outs and a small number of pieces to keep the action fast and furious.
- Karaoke – Nothing gets a party going like Karaoke. Make it even better by encouraging people to sign up other people for random songs. At one party we held for a 50th anniversary, a rule was that any song signed up for had to be at least attempted, regardless of who actually signed the person up or the song selected. Seldom have we laughed so hard.
- Lip Sync – this is a relatively new one. Instead of actually singing (like Karaoke), instead the participant acts out the video associated with the song or maybe mimics the singer of the song. Lots of fun!
- Nerf Battles – Have an energetic bunch? Have them bring their own nerf weapons or maybe supply them. Make a warzone area to keep things interesting and get the video camera ready. Use water balloons as needed. Glow Sticks are a great addition if the battle extends into the darker hours. Kids vs. Kids, Adults vs, Kids, or everybody vs. everybody for a full Battle Royale – last one standing wins!
- Limbo / Group Limbo – We all know what Limbo is and it’s a great party addition. But what is group limbo? Group limbo is when two people team up and both have to go under the bar. First one goes, then the other. The catch is they have to hold hands (or maintain some kind of contact) the entire time. They can help each other lean back, they can pull them through, whatever they can do to help their team member get under the bar.
- Music – yeah, gotta have music. But a boom box or home stereo is just so…90’s. Check out these little gems to get creative with your music. It won’t sound as good but it’ll get the attention of the folks at your party. These will also stimulate a lot of discussion and maybe spark a little interest in exactly how it works. Check ’em out, you’ll enjoy these!
- Rest and Relaxation area – At some point people may want to escape the noise and activity. A separate room or area of the deck with beanbags or large pillows, maybe a popular Disney movie showing or other quieter activities will be a big draw for many of the people. Remember, some people are drained by noise and chaos while others thrive on it.
What about the dog / cat / hamster / ferret / pet lion?
You dog might be the most well behaved animal ever but keep in mind that some people just don’t like them. When making your invitation list, you need to decide if you will keep your dog away from the party goers or if you will be inviting only people that are comfortable with your pet mingling. For the most part, we would advise keeping the pets out of the party scene just to avoid any possibility of harm to attendees or the pet. This is entirely dependent on you, your party goers and your pet.
Other Party Essentials
First Aid Kit – bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes…they’re bound to happen if there are kids present. Keep a good kit on hand with antiseptic cleanser, swabs, gauze, bandaids, etc. You know the deal.
Sunblock – few people will remember to bring this so have a large bottle on hand. The new spray-on type is great for this kind of event.
Insect Repellent – like Sunblock, most will not remember to bring any but if the party is outdoors and it heads into the twilight hours, the biting noseeums will make an appearance and folks will thank you for being ready
Wash Rags / Wipes / Clean up kit – spills will happen, be ready for them. Have a kit with your favorite cleaning supplies ready.
Guess that’s about a wrap. We’d love to hear what you think by either commenting below or emailing us directly. We are interested in keeping this Party Planning Document updated and consider it a “living document” so if you have ideas or links to add, let us know. By the same token, if you found this information useful we’d love it if you shared it or created a link on your own website.
Download a PDF version of this guide here (Right Click / Save As)
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