I’ve thrown my fair share of parties over the years. My husband and I love to wrestle up a great get-together. I’d like to think we do a pretty good job at it since we have friends planning to attend the next years’ party before the current one is even over!
We used to go all out and plan for months, buy essentials weeks in advance and even have a checklist of To Do’s, (OK, well maybe that one was just me). But now with children in the picture, work and a few side projects on the fire, the time and money we have to invest in a great party is almost zilch.
Do you think that has stopped us from throwing parties? No way! We’ve just become smarter with our time and resources. We’ve learned that we don’t have to do it all, and a little delegation to willing friends goes a long way. I’m going to share our secrets of how to throw a great party in the most time efficient and cost effective way ever.
Here are the easiest things you can do to throw a party, make it look like you’ve labored for hours, yet put minimal effort into the planning.
The Stuff That Should Be a No-Brainer
The items listed below can be as tedious or as simple as you want to make them. If you are strapped for time, these are the categories where you need to get simple and not sweat the small stuff. Make quick decisions and save your efforts. Here is where you shouldn’t belabor any issues.
Decide on Your Theme
Not all parties need a theme, but that is for you to decide. You may already have something in mind, especially if they revolve around the holidays. But if you need a little added assistance in heightening the premise of your party, check out this great website to streamline your efforts in choosing a great inventive party theme: fun-theme-party-ideas.com.
Where’s it Happening?
If it’s not at your home, you need to solidify the place of the event before you do anything else. You really can’t plan a party if there is no place to have it! Consider the estimated number of guests as well as indoor vs. outdoor arenas when making your decision. Have a back up plan for outdoor events in the case of inclement weather.
Choose a Date
Naturally it has to work well within your schedule, but be cognizant of potential guest needs as well. If the date is on a Sunday, do most of your invitees have church in the morning? If it’s a Christmas party, what other big events are going on that may conflict? Also, is it too daring to throw a party close to a holiday — or is it completely relevant? I find the key here is early notification, ie; plan ahead. Just simply pick a date and get the word out so people have time to make arrangements. If you are throwing a large prominent event, you may want to go an additional step and send out save the date invitations.
Establish a Guest List
This can be easy or laboring depending on the event you are having. A wedding will obviously take a little more thought than a casual book party. You already know what friends are into reading and would be fun to have at a book party, but a wedding can involve tedious decision making about whether Aunt Sissie on your in-laws side three times removed should be invited or not.
Important Steps to Throw a Party Successfully
Determine Food and Drink Choices
A good party has food and drink, period! Again, you can make this elaborate or simple. The choice is yours and also dependant on the type of party you are hosting. Naturally a dinner, potluck or progressive party revolves around the food, so you may need to put a little thought into the menu on these occasions. But for a good old slam-bake get-together such as a Halloween party, birthday party or anniversary party, you have some leverage for effortless menu planning. Need help with the carte du jour? Here is a great website to help you out with fantastic fare choices as well as easy recipes: Chef-Menus.com. If you are having alcoholic beverages at your event, be sure to also include non-alcoholic beverages. This is a must. And it’s always a good idea to have plain water available.
Just like food and drink, music is essential to creating great ambiance for your guests. Even a simple dinner party or low key baby shower needs some kind of music. All you have to do is turn the volume to a low decibel level that is still able to be heard as background noise, un-disturbing of the event itself. Music sets the tone and helps to avoid dead space in a party. It helps to fill in the gaps that you may not have planned for and keep the rhythm of the celebration moving.
Age Appropriate Activities
Some parties do not need planned activities. Other require it to keep a good flow and mingling among the guests, especially if you are hosting a party with guests from different social circles who may not know each other. Drinking games are great, but is it appropriate if children will be attending? Of course that is your call and you know your guests best. The key here is to provide a sense of entertainment to assist in party flow. Don’t waste your time trying to come up with your own activities, here’s a website that covers pretty much every party game imaginable: Party-Games-etc.com.
Keep the Ball Rolling
Think of the flow of the party. Anticipate where guests will mingle and congregate, then manipulate furniture, chairs and tables to avoid congestion. Spread out planned activities spatially and have them well-timed throughout the duration of your event. This may be the biggest time effort that pays off the most when it comes to party planning. Ever been to a wedding where the first dance happens, they cut the cake immediately after, then the toast is performed, everyone eats, directly followed by the bouquet toss? Guests will start to leave even though there are still three hours left on the tab! All the entertainment (as viewed by some) is over. Get ’em wanting more, give ’em a sense of anticipation for something to come and keep ’em interested. If people feel there is a reason to stay, they are enjoying themselves.
Get the Word Out
You won’t have a party if no one shows up! It’s absolutely necessary to get out invitations. If you want to be assured that people can make it, give them time to plan before their social calendar fills. Waiting to the last minute to invite guests will seriously impede the number of guests that can attend your festivities. Of course the magnitude of your event will determine just how far in advance these invitations need to be sent out. Large, prestigious events will need a long leeway. Private, intimate affairs may not need so much time. Save the date invitations are a great way to share your event six months to a year in advance, followed by the formal invitation one to two months preceding the affair. Little reminders can also be sent as the occasion gets close.
What’s Your Budget?
If it’s important not to spend much money on your party, you’ll need to invest some time in where you want to and need to allocate funds. If money is no object, well then — sky’s the limit I imagine. But for most of us, there is no need to break the bank to host a great party. Here are some easy ways you can be the star and still hold on to your pennies —
The Things You Can Do Without (even though you may not want to)
These cost effective and time saving tips on how to throw a great party are invaluable and also socially acceptable in the case of casually thrown extravaganzas!
Printed Invitations vs. Emailed Invitations
If you have a casual party planned, save the money and send invitations via email. Evite.com lets you send free invitations on line. They have pre-set themes and templates, or you can design your own. A great feature is the ability of your invited guests to respond with a message, indicating if they can attend or not. You can also send out messages and reminders to your invitees or guests.
Keg vs. BYOB
My husband struggles with this one every time. I think he’s still trying to capture those college days of old (aren’t we all). But the cost effectiveness is huge! I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve had to throw away beer because the ‘after party’ partiers could not drink anymore from the keg. There is nothing wrong with asking your guests to bring their own beverage. Just know that there are always those that do not come prepared so do be sure to have some beverages on hand (just keep them hidden until absolutely necessary).
Food Provided vs. Bring a Dish to Pass
If you provide the main dish, like the hot dogs and hamburgers, or the rack of lamb, guests are more than happy to compliment with side dishes. If you use Evite, you can ask guests to let you know what they will bring so others can see and alleviate duplicate dishes. You can also ask individuals to bring a specific dish or inquire what they would like to bring when they let you know they will be attending. Or if you are daring, you can simply let it ride and see what shows up. I’ve done this, and we typically get lots of chips and dip, so my advice is to find an easy way to allocate a variety of dishes. If you do decide to take on the task of providing all the food, you should try to shop at wholesaler outlets like Sam’s Club, BJ’ or Costco where you can buy product in bulk for less.
These are overrated. Sorry, but it’s true. Last time you went to a wedding, what did you do with the favor? Unless it was a close friend or relative, most likely you forgot and left it on the table. If you want to do favors, there is no need to break the bank or go overboard. Kids love to take something home, but you have to wonder how long the thrill lasts, so keep it simple. Oriental Trading Company is the place for crafts, favors and activities at low prices. Not just for kids either. Just be sure to order in time for your shipment to arrive by the date of your get-together.
While this is fun, you can still create a great ambience without having excessive decor. You can plan events during a holiday season in which you already have furnishings. If having an event on location, try to find a place that holds it’s own instead of a venue that is more like a blank canvas, such as a banquet room. Remember the saying less is more. Think about whether the decorations can serve another purpose, or be used year after year. This gives them more value as opposed to those that are disposable, in which case you’ll basically watch your money get thrown in the trash after the bash has ended.
How to Relax at Your Own Party
Learn to Delegate
If friends or family offer to help get things ready prior to your party or offer to facilitate throughout your event, don’t be afraid to take them up on it. You can even assign duties before hand if it makes you feel more comfortable.
Asking for Help is Not a Sin
If no one offers to give you help, there’s no harm in asking or it. The worst response you’ll get is a no, and that’s no big deal. If you take on too much and try to do it all yourself, you will suffocate with the duties ahead of you, most likely by setting your own expectations too high. Then you’ll be seen as the mad person scrambling all night instead of mingling with and enjoying your guests.
Just Let Go
This would be the one that I always struggle with, but I have to say I’ve come a long way. If you like to always be in control, you’ll struggle with this too. Remember, the sun will still come up tomorrow, and no one at the party is going to cry over a little spilled wine (well, I guess that would be up for debate). So welcome some help, then kick back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. After all, your guests came to enjoy your company too!
If you’re a list-maker and feel better having a guide at your side, check out Real Simple’s party planning checklist.