Lay the groundwork for a stress-free fête with this essential pre-party checklist.
friends gathered around table dinner party
Credit: 10'000 Hours / Getty Images

Winter has no shortage of party-ruining potential for even the most experienced host—like unexpected snowstorms, early sunsets, and traffic-causing ice. But with these four tips from expert party planners, you'll be ready for everything from guest cancellations to delayed deliveries.

Send a detailed invitation.

Make life easier for your guests by giving them as much detail as possible on the invitation, including the dress code (if there is one). "It's important to properly prepare your guests for your party, no matter the season," says Karli Spangler, owner and creative director of Ivory & Vine Event Co. "Listing whether or not events will be held in outdoor spaces will help them plan their attire, from their footwear to outerwear. Don't make your guests uncomfortable by asking them to dine outside without proper protection. No matter how gorgeous a dinner hidden amongst snowy pine trees might be, guests will never remember the beauty of the gathering when they are so focused on how cold they are."

Check the sunset time.

Later sunsets in the summer mean your party can linger into the evening without ever having to consider the lighting, but the shorter winter days require an intentional timeline. "In the winter, most evening events will begin at twilight or later," says Spangler. "This is an important factor to consider when designating the time for your event." An after-dark timeline also means you'll need to provide lighting. Make sure walkways are properly lit, fill indoor spaces with cozy candlelight, and, if a portion of your party takes place outside, consider adding a fire pit for both heat and ambience. "We all adore candlelight when it comes to décor, and firelight can provide the same effect," says Spangler. "Whether it's capping off the night with a cocktail next to a cozy bonfire or stationing beautifully lit glass heat-warmers with flame, this is a fun and cozy way to warm up your guests."

Prepare for delays.

Winter weather can mean more than just cold temperatures: Even predicted snow or ice can affect your day-of plans. "Weather can often cause delays in traffic and, in turn, deliveries," says Spangler. "Be sure to give yourself ample cushion time when it comes to any kind of rental or catering delivery, and always check the weather forecast to anticipate pushing up your timeline if needed." Bad weather in the days before your party can also cause problems, says Virginia Frischkorn, founder of Bluebird Productions. "Supply chain issues may impact grocery stores, and cold weather and poor road conditions impact your grocery shelves," she explains. "Prep in advance and be prepared to pivot if need be!" Weather issues can also change your guest list, causing people to cancel at the last minute because of hazardous driving conditions, babysitters who can't make it, or closed roads.

Have a back-up plan.

Along with accommodating changes to your guest list or food service plans, you should also prepare alternatives for the larger details: Do you need to switch homes due to weather-induced road blocks? What if you need to cancel due to a COVID-19 spike? How should you reschedule? "Having a back-up plan is crucial for the success of any event, small or large," says Spangler, who suggests having your indoor space prepped if you need to take the party indoors due to weather or a few heaters and fire pits on stand-by in case you would be more comfortable outside.


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