Learn how to plan a party with the step-by-step process I use for planning every one of my events. Then use the printable party planning checklist to keep yourself on track!
Planning a party or holiday event is a lot of fun, but also a lot of work.
To cover all of the details, make sure your guests are happy and not end up totally stressed out, it helps to have a plan!
Today we’ll be going over all the steps I take when I’m planning a party.
I’ve also created a printable party planning checklist with a timeline for each of these steps. That way you have something to follow the next time you’re planning a party.
You can get it for free from our subscriber-only resource library.
If you’re not a newsletter subscriber, sign up below to get access to the checklist.
And for those of you who prefer to watch rather than read, here’s a video that covers all the steps:
Now let’s get started!
1 | How Much Do You Want To Spend?
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The first step to successful party planning is to decide how much you want to spend.
The answer to this question will impact pretty much every other decision you need to make.
So figuring your budget out early is important.
When I say spend, I don’t only mean money. You’ll need to decide how much time you have to devote to getting ready for this party.
Generally, money and time offset each other. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can spend more money to get things done for you. If you don’t have a big budget, plan to spend more time on DIY projects to get the party you’re looking for.
2 | Know Your Party Priorities
This step is all about identifying what is important to you when you’re planning a party. And then making those a priority.
Most party plans run into money and time issues at some point along the way. When that happens, knowing what your priorities are will help you focus on doing the things that will make you feel like your party is a success.
Here are the most common things that people consider as party priorities:
- making sure guests are mingling
- good food
- awesome drinks
- fabulous dessert table
- making sure everyone has a good time
- beautiful decor
- staying under budget
- doing as little work as possible
- making sure all of their friends and family are invited (no-one is left off the guest list)
Of course, we will probably do all of these things in varying degrees for all of our parties. The priority list just decides which ones you are going to focus on the most.
Put them in order of most important to least important for you, and then remember the list when you need to make decisions later on.
3 | When Is Your Party?
Of course, you need to select a date and time for your party.
The date is often pretty obvious (on someone’s birthday, a Saturday night when everyone isn’t working or a BBQ on the 4th of July).
However, picking the right time may not be.
If you aren’t planning to serve a meal, make sure to pick a time when people don’t expect to eat: The middle of the afternoon (eg. 2 PM) and later in the evening (after 8 PM) are the best times for parties with lighter food requirements.
4 | Where Will It Be Held?
Now you’ll want to decide where the party will be held.
If you’re having a party at home (as almost all of mine are), then this is a really easy decision. Will it be in the backyard, in your living room & dining room or in the great room? Make sure the space you pick will be big enough to accommodate the number of people. If it’s an outdoor event, always have a back-up location in case of bad weather.
But if you’re hosting it at a friend’s house or renting a hall, you’ll need more information.
Make sure to get the size and layout of the space you’ll be using. A really big room may need additional decorations (like backdrops) to make it feel more intimate. While a small space may be too crowded.
5 | What Kind Of Event?
Next you’re going to decide what kind of event you want to have.
Will it be a sit-down dinner, a buffet, an afternoon BBQ, or a cocktail party? Do you want to host a casual get-together or a more formal affair?
The number of people you can have at a sit-down dinner is usually limited by the number of tables and seats you have available.
Buffet style or cocktail parties can cater to larger numbers if people don’t expect to eat all at the same time.
6 | Create Your Guest List
Now you’re ready to create your guest list and figure out how many people you’ll be inviting.
Keep your budget and location in mind while you’re doing this.
You may need to go back and make some changes to your previous decisions if your guest list ends up being larger than you expected.
If you have too many people for your budget, consider changing the type of party. You can cut down on the expenses by hosting an appetizers-only party instead of a sit down dinner, making it a potluck buffet dinner where everyone brings some food or asking everyone to BYOB (“bring their own booze”).
If you have too many people for your space, a buffet will work better than a sit down dinner. Try to use other rooms. I always set up the buffet in my office because there isn’t enough room in the living room / dining room area where the main party takes place.
7 | Pick A Theme
I think every party should have a theme. It helps to make decisions so much easier since it narrows down what the decor, table settings, food and drinks choices.
This doesn’t have to be an elaborate theme…just choosing a couple of colors you’re going to use will help.
If you do want to go a little further than that, here are some ideas for helping you choose:
- Time-based themes – roaring 20’s party, 70’s disco party, 80’s dance party
- Movie or book-based themes – Harry Potter, Maleficent or the Addams Family
- Location-based themes: Wild west party, Hawaiian Luau party, Chicago gangster party
- Sports-based themes: Football party, baseball party, hockey party
- Nature-based themes: Flamingo party, Winter wonderland party, Under the sea party
- Color-based themes: Pink party, Black and white party, blue and white party
To help get ideas for themes, I create a Pinterest board dedicated to my party. Then I pin every party-related decorating idea and recipe I find to that board. I may not use them all, but at least I know where to look to find them when I need them!
You can see all my party theme boards on my Pinterest profile here: https://www.pinterest.com/entertainingdiva/
8 | Send Out Invitations
At this stage, you have enough information to send out invitations to your guests.
I usually do this 2 to 3 weeks in advance (but if it’s a date that people are likely to have multiple invitations for such as New Year’s Eve, you may want to do it a little earlier).
These don’t have to be formal delivered-by-mail invitations (although those do make a party seem really special!)
If you want to easily keep track of who is attending, try evite.com* or set up a Facebook event.
Otherwise, you can just send out an email or text message letting people know when and where the event will be held.
Remember to include any additional information you need them to know…like it’s a BYOB party or everyone is expected to bring a dish.
9 | Decide On The Decor
Next we’re onto the fun part…at least it’s my favorite part of throwing a party 🙂
Use the ideas you saved on your Pinterest board to come up with the list of decorations you want to use at your party.
Then decide if you are going to buy decorations or make them yourself. The choices you made to previous questions like budget and priorities will help to determine this.
Are you using paper plates and plastic glasses, or using your china and crystal?
Do you have enough dishes and napkins for all of your guests?
Do you have enough tablecloths to cover all of the tables?
Buy the supplies you need well in advance so everything arrives in time for the party (especially if you are doing a lot of DIY decor projects)
I’ll be going into a lot more details about decor in a few days…so stay tuned for that post.
10 | Create Your Menu
Once again, your Pinterest board should in handy in helping you find some recipes.
You can also hunt through your favorite recipes, cookbooks and recipes on-line to find ideas.
Once the list is complete, look it over to make sure you have a variety of different kinds of foods (so that everyone will have something they like).
For buffet and cocktail parties, try to have finger foods or things that are easy for people to help themselves (eg. cupcakes work better than a cake that has to be individually sliced). Sit-down dinners have more flexibility in food choices since the hostess is usually helping to serve.
If you are making things that you have never made before, try them out at least once before the party so you know you like them (unless you and your crowd don’t mind the odd food flop)
Also try to get as many “make ahead” menu items as you can. The least amount of cooking to do on the day of the party, the better.
11 | Pick Your Poison(s)
While I always have wine, beer and the standard liquor (like vodka, gin, rye and rum) available, I usually limit the “fancy” drink options at my parties. This saves a lot of time serving people while the party is in full swing, and is usually less expensive.
Like with the food menu, I like to have drinks that can be pre-made such as Sangria, punch and jello shots.
If I do go with a “signature cocktail”, I make batches of it in a pitcher so it serves more people at one time.
Also, make sure you have non-alcoholic options available.
12 | Choose The Music
Last but not least is to choose your music ahead of time.
This seems like a small thing, but it’s amazing what a difference music makes to the ambiance in a room. And it’s an easy thing to forget.
I always use a music service like Pandora because I can put it on a station and it just keeps playing. So the only thing to do in advance is to find the station you want to use.
If Pandora isn’t an option, try the music stations that come with most TV cable subscriptions or create a playlist on your phone.
Of course if you are doing a larger event, you may want to hire a DJ or a band…which you would definitely need to do early on in your schedule!
That’s it for our tips on how to plan a party. Don’t forget to get the party planning checklist above to help keep yourself on track!
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Have comments or questions on how to plan a party? Tell us in the section below.
This post was originally published on December 2, 2019 but was updated with new content on August 19, 2023.