I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like the “idea” of entertaining. We spend endless hours on Pinterest finding fun ideas and perfect themes; daydreaming of the “perfect” party we would love to throw. However, when you start deciding on a date and creating the invite list, things can start to become a bit overwhelming. So many thoughts go through your head like: what to serve, what to do with the kids, how to clean the house, who’s really going to show up, how much it’s going to cost, and the list goes on. It’s at this point that many people forget about having the party altogether.
Years ago I was definitely more stressed about throwing a party than I am today. Today, party planning comes quite easily for me because I’ve had lots of practice. Remember, parties don’t have to be huge, elaborate affairs. If the word “party” intimidates you, then call it a “get-together.” Spending time with friends and family is important and seeing one another in person beats a Facebook message. These days we have enough “virtual” contact via our smartphones and tablets. It’s just nice to see those who are most important to you, “in person,” over some good food and drinks.
We have a lot of “family” parties but sometimes we opt to just get the adults together to converse and unwind. We all have busy lives, and it involves running our children here and there and responding to their needs. As parents, we need some down time too, and these days, just to get an invite in the mail or even over Facebook for an adult get-together gives us something to look forward to.
This is especially true, come fall, when less time is being spent outdoors and we’re forced to resort to indoor entertainment (at least here in the Midwest). Make it a goal to plan a party of some sort before the end of the year. Go ahead. Pick a date. Send the invites out and keep these 30 tips in mind when throwing together those final details 24-48 hours before the big day (I’ve even thrown in a couple tips to keep things running smooth after your guests have arrived):
- Allow your guests to bring something to pass if they offer. When guests begin to RSVP you’ll almost always get a few offers from guests to bring something. LET THEM. Let them choose what they would like to bring or make a recommendation. It definitely makes things a bit easier for you and it’s so much fun to try other peoples’ recipes!
- If guests haven’t RSVP’d check in with them about two days before the party. Even a text is fine. Let them know you’re looking forward to seeing them at the party. It’s a friendly reminder to them that they’re invited and an attendance confirmation for you when they reply.
- Stock your bar. Decide what you’re serving for drinks and make sure you have all of the ingredients available. If you need ice, fill up some bags with cubes from your fridge dispenser (or make them in trays) and throw them in your freezer. Don’t rely on your automatic ice dispenser to get you through during the party. Bags of ice from gas stations and convenience stores are great for keeping drinks cold in a cooler, but not in a glass. The cubes tend to melt quickly, leaving your guests with watery drinks. Not cool.
- Create a drink menu. Typically the first question we ask our guests is, “What would you like to drink?” Their answer, “Well, what do you have?” Make it easy. List out all of the spirits, soda, wine and beer you have available. If you’re having punch, let them know what kind it is and what the alternative options are. Print out a couple and place them various places around the room depending on the number of people you’re entertaining.
- Prepare drink garnishes before guests arrive. Condiment trays are great and serve as a wonderful way to keep garnishes organized for your cocktails. Have lemons and limes sliced the night before. This is busy work you don’t want to have to be doing during the party.
- Make a list of food you’ll be serving and set out the serving dishes the night before. This may sound crazy but it works so well. I always list out everything I will be serving that evening and match it to the dish I will be serving it in or the tray I will be serving it on. I gather all of the serveware and set it out on the table the night before the party along with the serving spoons or tongs – whatever you’ll be using to pick up the food.
- Run your drinkware through the dishwasher and hand wash any items that may not be dishwasher safe if you’re using glass drinkware at your party. No one wants to drink out of dusty glasses that haven’t seen the light of day in months. Make your glass sparkle!
- Spot clean your home. Notice I said “spot” clean. Pick up clutter around the home and use a duster over all flat surfaces. If you have fur babies (AKA animals) you may want to run the vacuum over the carpets and sweep the floor. But there’s no need to do a deep cleaning. Trust me. Save the deep cleaning for “after” the party.
- Make the bathroom sparkle. So I just talked about cleaning, but bathrooms are worth a separate mention. Bathrooms should be spotless. Your bathroom is the one room your guests will spend most of their time inspecting when they’re doing their business. Clean it from top to bottom. Stock extra toilet paper, make sure the soap pump is full and have the bathroom spray easy to spot. Light a candle for some ambiance and don’t forget to change your hand towel. Who wants to dry their hands with a stinky towel? Not me.
- Serve cold drinks. Are you using coolers to keep drinks cold or do you have enough room in the fridge? Regardless, make sure beverages are cold. If you’re using coolers, fill them a couple hours before your guests arrive.
- If you’re serving punch, make 1/2 batch the day before and freeze in ice cube trays or a mold. Use the mold or cubes to keep the punch cold the day of the party without watering down the goodness. Better yet, opt for a punch that uses sherbet. It keeps the punch cold as it melts.
- Prep as much food as you can the night before. If you’re serving dips, mix them the night before, if you’re serving baked beans, prepare them the night before and stick them in the oven or a crockpot the day of the party.
- Light candles. Candles are just a magical thing and can turn a cold, boring room into a warm and inviting one. I never throw a party without candles. If you’re concerned about forgetting they’re lit, use battery-operated LED candles with built-in timers. They are the best!
- Turn up the music. Every party needs some background music. It helps make the guests feel more comfortable. Better yet, have your iPad or iPhone hooked up to the speakers and let your guests choose which songs they want to hear off of your iTunes playlist.
- Scatter around bowls of snack foods. I always have some almonds out when guests arrive, sometimes cheese curds (I’m from Wisconsin after all). Let your guests graze a bit while they enjoy their drinks. It also takes a bit of pressure off in case not all of your food items are ready on time.
- Make it personal. Think of some personal touches to add that are specific to the friends you are inviting. We have a large digital screen downstairs that we play a photo slideshow on containing pictures of the guests we are inviting over that evening. It’s fun to watch and spurs great conversation about memorable moments spent together in the past.
- Get a sitter for the kiddos or arrange an overnight stay with Grandma and Grandpa. If the party is for adults, your children shouldn’t be there either. You’ll find yourself having to tend to them rather than spending time with your guests.
- Set out plates and utensils the night before. If you’re serving buffet style, put out your plates, napkins and utensils the evening before. If you’re having a sit-down meal, set your table.
- Buy fresh flowers and use them as the table centerpiece. You can never go wrong with fresh flowers and they sure brighten up a room. Flowers are also great to take to parties as a guest. Always remember to bring them in a vase, however, so the party host doesn’t have to run around the house trying to find something to put them in.
- Clear the sidewalk. This is for my Midwestern friends. If you’re having a party in the dead of winter, make sure you shovel a path to your front door. Your guests will appreciate the feeling of dry socks over soggy ones.
- De-clutter your foyer. Make sure that when guests come in your front door there’s ample room for them to put their shoes if you prefer they take them off in the house.
- Make a welcome sign for the front door to avoid constant doorbell rings. We normally have our parties downstairs in our basement so it’s not always easy to hear when guests are knocking. We post a sign on the door to come in and meet us downstairs. And no, we’ve never had anyone we didn’t invite just walk into our home unexpected.
- Set out coasters so people have a place to set their drinks. Provide ample coasters on tables throughout the room so guests know it’s ok to put their drink down and not have to worry about ruining your wood furniture.
- Don’t forget some seasonal touches. If you’re party is around a special holiday or time of year, it’s always nice to have a few decorative touches around the home. Pinecones, acorns, leaves for fall, Christmas lights, pine boughs, ornaments for the winter season.
- Empty your trash cans. Because really, who wants to see dirty tissues or dental floss in your garbage at the party. Your guests will look in your trash can – guaranteed.
- Give guests easy access to trash cans. Have one receptacle for garbage, another for recycled bottles and cans.
- Set out two sizes of plates if you’re having a buffet. Some guests prefer smaller plates so they can munch on little portions of various items throughout the party while others prefer to load up as much as they can on a large plate and just sit down and eat to get it over with so they can get back to mingling.
- Have some board/party games on reserve. As much as we hope our guests are thoroughly entertained just from conversing with each other, it’s always good to have a back-up plan. If things start to die down or guests start to look tired, break out a game to liven things up.
- Make periodic trips to the bathroom to tidy up. Yep, I’m talking about the bathroom again. This is something I always do. I visit the bathroom a few times throughout the party to clean the mirror, wipe up the vanity, wash away the soap blobs stuck on the side of the sink, “Clorox wipe” the toilet and make sure the seat is down. Always check the hand towel too. If it’s really wet, change it.
- Have cleaning accessories handy for any spills. It’s unfortunate, but they happen. Have a tote ready under your sink with carpet cleaner, paper towels, rags, etc. to clean up any spills or messes that may occur. If you have everything ready in one place you won’t be stressed when something happens – you’ll be prepared.
So, really, that’s it. Now go and have a party! It’s always fun to hear how people plan and I’m always in search of new ways to make entertaining easier. If you have any fun tips to share, please do!