Establish the Basics
Organization is key to make hosting a breeze. There are six questions to answer to get started: What is the date? How many guests will be there? What is the location? What type of party will it be? What is your budget? Is there going to be music or entertainment?
Sending invitations is not necessary for informal parties. A simple telephone call several weeks in advance is sufficient. For formal affairs, invitations can be sent out three to four weeks in advance, or even earlier for very important events. If you are sending invitations, be sure to include an R.S.V.P. And don't hesitate to call people for responses -- not knowing how to calculate quantities for an event is a sure cause of nervousness.
The Guest List
It could be a group of people you like; it may be professionals you need to entertain. Be strict about the size that fits your space and try to find an idiosyncratic mix of people who would make an interesting ensemble.
Evaluate your space like a critic -- don't excuse a small oven or single bathroom -- and don't exceed the space and equipment you have. If guests will be standing, the average-size room can generally accommodate 30 people, a three-room expansive about 60. For any form of buffet, you must provide seating. Consider renting a place or equipment if your home isn't equipped to handle the party you want. Think outside the box -- a greenhouse or museum gallery could provide an interesting edge to your party.
Cocktails or Dinner?
Why you are throwing the party -- a birthday, for fun --will help set the date and size. Add to that your location, budget, and equipment to determine the type. Cocktail parties are the least expensive and most versatile. For a sit-down meal, you must have (or rent) dishes, flatware, glassware, linens, seating, and serving pieces. A buffet is almost as versatile as a cocktail party, and the size and price can be tailored to your budget.
Consider liquor, food, rentals, service, music or entertainment, and flowers or decorations to establish your initial budget. Think drinks first, as alcohol can be a major expense. Don't feel as though you need to be as well stocked as a restaurant; consider serving a signature drink. Be inventive with your food choices to limit costs -- instead of fillet of beef, have a Mexican fiesta.
Music and Entertainment
Music can make or break a party but doesn't have to be complicated at all. Match your selection to your budget and style. For simpler affairs, it is generally there for background support. Hook your iPod up to speakers and create a specific playlist. For more theatrical parties, consider live music. Student musicians are a good source for quality and affordable entertainment. If it is for dancing, choices range from a rented jukebox to a hired disk jockey through neighborhood rock groups or an expensive and established swing band.
Putting It All Together
Once you have answers to these questions, the framework for your party is in place -- the time, place, and style have been established. Now use this information to figure out the details. The type of party will dictate what you need for equipment, the season can inspire the menu, and the budget will factor into the type of entertainment you choose and if you use a caterer. Outside of that, be creative and tailor a party you would want to attend.
Party Planning Checklist
Organization is the secret to any party's success. To make sure yours runs smoothly, print our All-Occasion Party-Planning Checklist.