The TTF Team knows a thing or two about throwing an amazing party, hence our party planning guide. There’s a big difference between being a great party goer and being a great party hostess. (We’ve managed to achieve both, don’t ask) To be a great guest, you essentially need to show up at a reasonable time, bring a gift, try not to make a mess and not overstay your welcome. Boom, done.
But being an amazing host/hostess is a completely different animal. First of all, organization is key. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than literally scrambling the day before all over town or worse, the morning of your event. We recently threw a bridal shower for one of our own, Sabrina Francis, and planning ahead really was essential in pulling this event off.
Here’s our ultimate party planning guide on how we put it all together and what we learned:
3 Weeks Out
Get the invitations out on time and early. If this is a formal event, do printed invitations. Don’t be that idiot who sent out a Facebook invite for a baby shower. What constitutes a formal event? Any once-in-a-lifetime type event. Wedding, wedding shower, first baby shower, 40th birthday (sit-down) dinner, 50th anniversary etc. Make sure to include an RSVP on the invite and don’t be afraid to call any stragglers that are undecideds. When you’re the host, you don’t want/need any surprises.
Make sure the guest list reflects the party that you want. First of all, don’t feel obligated to invite random people. Hurt feelings aside, you need to be really strict with the size of the party that fits into the space where you’re hosting. Are kids invited to this party? Are people allowed to bring a plus one? Don’t be hesitant to make this clear to your invited guests about any kind of restrictions. Being the host means that you call the shots.
Decide on your theme. Is there going to be a theme? Now would be the time to decide on a color scheme, plan decorations, order specialty items, research recipe ideas, maybe start putting together a music playlist. Even if you don’t want a formal “theme,” at least decide what kind of get together you want it to be. Let’s say the shower you’re throwing is a casual get together but the bride loves purple and country music. Make sure that you can find the right decor and start putting together a list of crowd-pleasing country songs.
2 Weeks Out
Make and buy decorations early. Trust me, you’re not going to want to be scrambling all over town the day before the party looking for stupid napkins to match the forks you already have. Buy them early so that you can focus on more important things. Try to check out the space that the event will be held at beforehand so that you can get a feel for what kind and how much decorations you want. If there’s anything to DIY, now would be the time to do it. Also be aware of that the fact that if you need to set up the day of, make sure that you will have help doing so. You don’t have time to be running around assembling paper lanterns when you have to put all the finishing touches on the food.
Plan your menu correctly. Now is not the time to attempt that meringue recipe you’ve always wanted to try. Stick to crowd-pleasers that you know that you can easily assemble ahead of time. If you’re pressed for time, feel free to order really good-quality desserts from your local bakery. Marinades and dressings can be mixed ahead of the event and stored in the fridge as long you put in the fresh herbs at the last minute. Pies and baked pastas can be fully assembled and then frozen beforehand so all you have to do is thaw them out and bake them off the day of. The key is to really leave yourself as little work to do as possible right before your guests arrive.
Stock the bar. It’s not necessary to have a full bar for when guests come over. If anything, keep things simple by just having a signature drink plus beer/wine. Plan for about 3 bottles for every 5 guests plus 2 cocktails a person. Plus make sure that there are plenty of nonalcoholic options for people who either don’t drink or just want a break.
1 Week Out
Take inventory of all the serving items. Make sure you have enough flatware, cups, plates etc. Know which menu items you will be plating in what serving dish along with the serving utensils. The last thing you’ll want to do is to be running around finding a slotted spoon for the vegetables when people are already halfway through the buffet line. Now would be a good time to borrow things from friends and to make last minute trips to buy an extra pair of tongs if need be. (Don’t worry, you can never have too many pairs of tongs)
Handle the favors and gifts. If you’re giving out favors or prizes, get them and wrap them now. Even if you haven’t made a final decision on what you’ll be giving out, just pick something and get it done. You’ll be super glad that this was handled ahead of time.
3 Days Out
Set up your decorations. Anything that has to be assembled (pinwheels, lanterns, pom poms, tassels) do it now and put them up. Side bar: For my friend’s wedding I thought that it would be super easy to assemble 40 pom poms really quick the night before the rehearsal dinner. Turns out, they’re SUPER tedious to put together. First of all, they don’t look as round as the final photo looks, secondly they take forever to arrange the individual tissue pieces and you have to be careful because they rip easily, and finally, the packaging is lying to you when they say that “you’ll get the hang of it.” Surprise, you won’t. Just save yourself the trouble and buy a bunch of honeycombs. Like any idiot can put those together in like two seconds. Perfect. Done.
Do your grocery shopping. This way, you leave yourself minimal trips to run the day before and the day of in case you need to go to a bunch of specialty markets etc. Side bar: Don’t make any recipes where you need to go to a bunch of specialty markets. No one will even notice the extra 10 hours you poured over that ethnic dish when it’s a buffet. Also, ice should be the only thing that you should be buying the day of the party. (If anything, have one of your early guests pick that up for you on the way)
The Day Before
Buy and arrange flowers. If you don’t have time to put together any type of special arrangement, just save yourself the trouble and buy a bunch of the same type of flower (carnation, gerberas, baby’s breath) and bunch them together in one little vase/jar. We dressed up our jars by adding denim fabric and twine to each jar. A five-minute makeover that really makes them POP. We kept the same presentation theme throughout the accent jars as well.
Arrange the chairs and furniture for the party. Don’t worry if there aren’t chairs for every person. I like there not to be enough chairs and tables to be slightly small because that forces people to be more cozy and mingle with each other.
Add finishing touches to the food. Pop things in the oven and time it so that they’ll be ready when guest arrive. Have a selection of pre-made snacks available for when guests arrive. (Just your luck, a handful of people will show up early) Also, make sure that your kitchen is clean, toss out any cans of chicken broth or jarred sauces that you might have been using. Guests LOVE to snoop at what ingredients you’ve used for their food. Plus when your kitchen is clean, you won’t feel uncomfortable to have them hang out with you in the kitchen while you’re scrambling to put everything else together.
Have the drinks ready. For those guests that arrive early, make sure you have the cocktails ready to shove in their hands. Put them to work and have them help you set up as “punishment” for arriving early. Trust me, they want to help out and be involved. Those are the type of people that show up super early to parties, so take advantage of that.
Have fun. Please don’t get stuck in the kitchen cooking. Your guests want to see YOU. They’re there to spend time with you so please make sure that you’re available to be a host. Mingle with everyone that showed up. Don’t be afraid to make introductions. Keep an eye out for any shy stragglers. The whole point is that everyone is having fun, including you.