1. Start planning ASAP.
And focus on these three things: the date, the venue, and the guest list. You'll need to make a decision on these items before you send out invitations. How many people do you plan to invite? Choose a venue that could accommodate everyone if they said they could attend. Some venues book nearly a year in advance and fill up fast, so the sooner you can get that call in to reserve your date, the less stressful it will be when it comes time to start planning the details for the party.
2. Include the R.S.V.P.
And don't hesitate to follow up with your guests! For larger parties and parties in which your guests might have to make extensive travel arrangements, it's best to invite your guests as far in advance as you can. You want most of your guests to be able to come, so make it easier on them and on yourself by inviting them early. This also gives you an idea as to who will (or won't) be attending.
3. Create a master to-do list for all of your tasks.
The food? The decorations? The shopping list? The day-of prep? Create a timeline to complete your party-planning so that you know what needs to be done and when, and then stick to it. Make sure to check off each item as completed. That way, you'll be able to see what has been done and what tasks still need to be prioritized at a glance.
4. Enlist help.
Ask friends or family if they'd like to help you get things ready for the party. You can have someone help you with the shopping or cooking. Another person can help with decorating. Are you making party favors? Enlist your crafty friend to help you get those ready for the party. If you're throwing a potluck, ask guests to bring their favorite dish. If you're hosting a cocktail party, ask to borrow barware and serving glasses. Delegating tasks will help to lower your party-planning stress and get more things done more efficiently. Not to mention, mixing and matching talents lends to everyone feeling more neighborly with each other.
5. Serve small bites, buffet-style.
It's easier, more communal, and usually more relaxed! This will simplify your shopping and preparation tasks, which will make the party much more fun for you too. Serve delicious appetizers that don't take too long to make, such as toasted brioche rounds with creme fraiche and caviar or lobster salad on endive spears, instead of an entree and complete the evening with a dessert bar that allows your guests to create their own ice cream sundae.
6. Offer a Few Signature Cocktails
The same simplified approach taken to food applies to cocktails and mocktails. There's no need to offer a full bar when you have a few quality spirits to present. Decide to serve either a signature drink or a big bowl of punch, which never fails to please a crowd. Might we suggest our Pomegranate-Champagne specialty?
7. Pick a premade music playlist.
Isn't that what technology is for? The last thing you need to worry about are the tunes. Pick a playlist that enhances the event, rather than distracts, and transitions smoothly between the tracks. Let Spotify or another app play DJ for you, and all you have to do is press "play."
8. Have the decorations do double-duty.
Make them edible. Set them up as place settings. Pass them out as party favors at the end of the night. You can plan around a central color palette (two or three colors) and focus your decorating on a few simple ideas or one statement wall that everyone will be clamoring to snap for Instagram. For one idea, take a closer look at this party setting: the paper pom-poms seen here do double-duty as hanging ornaments and napkin rings.
9. Be ready for an "oops" moment.
A stained table cloth. Increment weather. A spilled wine glass (or two). Even the best laid plans for a party can go awry. Before the party, walk around your venue and spot potential problems. When you've considered the worst-case scenarios, be prepared. Have a few dish towels, a small emergency kit, and this handy stain removal chart on hand, and it will be easier to tackle any problems that come up the day of the party.
10. Minimize the cleanup.
Think ahead: Line your appetizer and dessert plates with wax paper to keep food from sticking to the serving dishes. Keep the waste baskets in clear sight and easy reach of the guests. Stock a bar cart that keeps your glassware and spirits (and mess) contained. Flowers, cookies, and leftover slices of pie can all be quickly packaged and passed out as party favors. All of these things enhance the experience for your guests and help you enjoy your own party. (If anyone should enjoy it, it's you!)