Organizing a party doesn’t have to be difficult; it can even be enjoyable if you follow our general party planning advice! The more preparation you do in advance, whether you’re hosting a party for a significant anniversary, a memorable birthday, or a special occasion, the more free time you will have later to enjoy the wonderful party you’ve put together. Depending on the size and formality of the event, whether you’re inviting guests from out of town, and potential date conflicts, how early you start planning your party can vary greatly. For less stress, a good turnout, and more options for venues and suppliers, we advise starting at least four months in advance.
We have a general party planning guide and timeline to lead you through—from pre-event project management to when guests arrive—to help you stay organized and plan a successful event.
General Party Planning Guide
Part 1: Knowing Your Plans
1. Pick a place
Where will the celebration be held? Will there be a large gathering or a small gathering? Would it be possible to host it at your home or a friend’s? Did you have a particular restaurant, bowling alley, movie theater, or park in mind as the location? Make sure your chosen location is appropriate for any planned activities.
- If you anticipate hosting a sizable number of guests and are unable to do so at home, you may want to make reservations at your venue in advance to ensure that they can handle your needs. To increase your chances of success, it is best to call at least one week in advance. Make sure to include a deadline for RSVPs on the invitation; if they don’t respond by that time, call them.
2. Determine a date and time for your party
In any case, a weekend evening or night is usually best because you and your guests won’t have to get up early for work or school. Although brunch or an afternoon party also works, after-dinner parties are more common. Even though they require more careful preparation and entertainment, sleepover parties are still a lot of fun.
- Be sure to choose a date when the majority of your guests are available. Do you know of another event, gathering, or holiday that everyone has reserved? You may have to do some asking around beforehand to figure out if this is the case.
- You might also want to give your party a time limit. In this manner, your guests will be aware that they are not required to stay with you or at the venue after it closes at midnight but also that they are not permitted to do so. Additionally, it relieves anxiety associated with an unexpected departure.
3. Decide on a theme
Will there be a special occasion? If so, consider what will please the honored guest. Otherwise, try to think of a theme that might pique everyone’s interest. To help you think of potential themes, jot down various entertaining activities, genres of music, foods, and decorations you’d be interested in having. Here are some tips:
- Take an approachable action, especially if the party is this weekend. A 1940s party is difficult unless you give everyone enough preparation time; an all-black party is simple.
- Take a non-clothing-related action. A sandwich party where each guest brings a unique sandwich might be a big hit. Not to mention the traditional beer or wine-tasting event. Chocolate tasting is also seriously fun.
- Or go completely without a theme. Friends getting together and spending time together is just nice sometimes.
4. Plan your guest list
This will depend in part on the venue where the party will be held and how many guests it can accommodate. Who else would you like to invite and who would enjoy the party, too? Whom do you know who isn’t free? Make sure your location is spacious enough to accommodate all of your guests.
- Not everyone enjoys listening to music or dancing; some prefer to converse and unwind. Consider the type of party you are having when compiling your guest list. However, if you can, try to take into account various interests and social comfort levels when planning the space, and, if necessary, take into account, various age groups.
- Consider whether you want your friends to invite their friends. That may significantly alter the number of heads and mouths you need to feed.
5. Decide on a budget
If it’s your party, you’ll probably have to pay for the majority of the expenses. Even if you don’t have it at your house, you might still need to decorate. What are your financial limits?
- Holding a potluck is a good way to reduce party expenses. This way, you don’t have to pay for all the food and everyone participates and has fun. Additionally, you could direct specific individuals to bring beverages, ice, plates, napkins, and cutlery.
6. Get the word out
If your guests are unaware of the event, it won’t be a party. You can call or text your guests instead of speaking to them in person about the upcoming party. To avoid people making plans and to ensure that you have enough time to plan everything, try to start talking about the party at least two weeks in advance and ideally six weeks beforehand. Also, remind them once or twice before the celebration. It’s a good idea to get their attendance status the day before the party.
- Invitation cards could also be made or purchased. Give them out as soon as you have adequate notice. Don’t send out the invitations too soon if you intend to tell your invitees to bring friends; otherwise, you risk having more people at the party than you can accommodate. If you’re allowing friends to bring friends, set a limit on how many they can bring; otherwise, you risk being overrun by a crowd of strangers when they arrive.
Part 2: Setting Up the Party
1. Prepare and set out your food
Your party will benefit greatly from your food selection. If you’re unsure what to buy, find out what the guests at your upcoming party would like by asking around. Finger foods like chips, veggies, cookies, cupcakes, mini sandwiches, pretzels, popcorn, cheese, and crackers, as well as bites of fruit, are good choices.
- Remember to use beverages, ice, cups, napkins, plates, forks, and knives as well. To keep the drinks cold, you’ll also need some kind of chilled storage (like a sizable cooler).
- If you’re of legal drinking age, make sure to offer non-alcoholic beverages alongside your selection of alcoholic beverages because not everyone can or wants to consume alcohol. Additionally, you don’t want a lot of intoxicated visitors wrecking the area and no sober drivers to drive them home.
- Always check to see if any of your guests have allergies or severe dietary restrictions; if they do, make sure there is food available for them to enjoy as well.
2. Make a party playlist
Without music, what is a party? Choose music that you believe will best reflect the mood of your party and your attendees.
- Request that your guests bring their music if you don’t have many of your own. You could also jam out while listening to an internet radio station that features the hottest music.
3. Set the mood and tone of the party with lighting and decorations
If you want to create a lively dance atmosphere, use music, strobe lights, lasers, a fog machine, and possibly some music-synchronized video. For a sophisticated wine-tasting party, opt for candles rather than strobe lights. It all depends on how you mentally picture the party.
- The choice of decorations is entirely up to you. Typically, the decorations will be determined by your theme. And none is fine, too, if that’s how you roll.
4. If necessary, clean your house
Choose a place for the guests to sit, chat, and eat if the party will be held at your house. To make sure that the visitors are at ease and won’t be touching any of your items, clean the area in advance and tidy up.
- Cleaning supplies, such as a stain stick, are a good idea to keep on hand in case someone spills something on their person or your furniture. Ensure there is enough toilet paper available as well. Although it may sound strange, you don’t want someone you don’t know to use your hand towels or the only thing people remember about your party is an empty tube.
5. Have some party games set up
A party is more fun if you have prepared many games for all ages. These types of games can be played for all kinds of parties. Here are examples:
Saran Wrap Game
You’ll need a box of plastic wrap, a bag of candy, or a collection of small, sturdy treats for this one, so prepare a little beforehand. To create the center of your saran wrap ball, choose one item. As your wrapped ball grows, add more items and wrap them up tightly in additional layers of plastic wrap. To make the game harder, rip the wrap into smaller sheets as you go. You’re ready to play once you’ve used up an entire roll of wrap.
Gather around a table or in a circle. Give the wrapped package to one person while giving the adjacent person a set of dice. Before the person rolling the dice rolls twice, the person holding the bundle of saran wrap must unravel as much of the ball as they can. You get to keep any prizes that are awarded during your turn. The dice are passed down and the bundle is given to the person who doubles on their roll. Continue until the ball has been entirely unwound.
Alternative variations include having the player with the plastic wrap ball wear oven mitts or using a timer in place of dice for each turn.
Post It Note Game
A pen and a stack of sticky notes are required. On each note, write the name of a well-known person or character. Then pass the notes around until everyone has one. Each person should place their note on their forehead or back without looking. To learn your assigned identity, have everyone mingle or sit in a circle and take turns asking yes-or-no questions. Play until everyone has guessed their identity correctly, or award prizes to those who do.
Select one individual to be “It,” and then expel them from the room. Choose a trait that all of the people who are still present share; hair, items of clothing, or body parts all work. When the person comes back, they’ll ask someone, “How’s yours?” and that person should respond with an adjective that sums up theirs in one word. Continue until the questioner correctly predicts the trait under discussion.
Make sure everyone is seated at a table. After counting down from three and having everyone sit up and look at someone in the circle, everyone will put their heads down. You’re out if you look someone else in the eye. You’re safe if the person you’re staring at is staring at someone else. Continue until everyone has left.
Two Truths and A Lie
Choose three statements about yourself, such as “I have two siblings,” “I’ve visited three continents,” and “I love cats.” One should be a lie and two should be true. Then the next person goes, and everyone else has to guess which is the lie. This is a fantastic icebreaker game; if you play with family or friends, choose ambiguous information to trick one another for added fun.
Oldies But Goodies
Everyone is familiar with the game of charades; it is a timeless classic. First, divide your group into teams. Then, while you try to guess what it is as quickly as you can, have one member of each team try to act out a scene from a book, movie, song, etc. Only choose this option if you can take your best friend screaming at you because it will get louder the more competitive your group is.
Decide who will go first. That person will recall things like an animal, a movie, a famous person, etc. Each person will be given 20 chances to guess correctly, or the other person will win by answering yes or no questions about what or who they are. Correct guessers can either receive a reward or move on to the next round of questions.
Gather in a circle. Pick one phrase to whisper in the ear of the person next to you—no repeats. The person next to them will then whisper what they heard to them, and so on until the phrase reaches you. Get ready to chuckle at how distorted it becomes. Play some background music to make it harder.
There should be enough seating for everyone playing, minus one, in a circle of chairs facing outward. Everyone else should stand in a circle around the circle of seats, with one person serving as the designated music player. When the music begins, circle the seats; when the music stops, everyone needs to find a seat. Anyone who doesn’t is expelled. Continue until two people are vying for one seat, then remove one more chair and start over. Create your own rules for musical chairs to make it more engaging. Make changes, like allowing people to sit on top of each other.
Pass around pens or pencils and torn or cut-up pieces of paper, as well as notepads for each player. There should be an equal number of pages or pieces of paper for each player, so if 10 people are playing, each player should have 10 pieces of paper.
Write something on the first piece of paper without letting anyone else see it. Everyone’s stack of papers or notepads should be passed clockwise. The next participant will consider the word or phrase, place it at the bottom of the stack, and then sketch their interpretation of it. Once everyone is done, go around again counterclockwise. This individual will examine the drawing and translate it into a word or phrase before placing it at the bottom of the stack. Keep passing, switching between the drawings and the words, until the stacks have completed a full circle. Prepare to laugh out loud as you peruse the results.
This game is also known as Assassin, Werewolf, or Village. In general, some members of the group—the mafia, assassins, etc.—are the bad guys, while others are villagers, and still, more are police officers. The game moderator is one. Before they can kill all the villagers, the police are attempting to identify the bad guys.
As everyone is gathered around a table, shuffle a deck of cards. Place the cards face-down all around a can of soda or beer in the middle. Set your guidelines for every card. Draw a card, slide it under the tab of the can, and then follow the rules on the card. Whoever places the final card must consume the can when it pops.
Decide who will go first. Everyone will guess what it is by only asking yes or no questions as that person chooses something in the room and describes it: “I spy, with my little eye, something green.” First, the correct guesser receives a prize or gets to be the next Spyer.
Locate a piece of yarn or string. Make a circle with everyone standing. Choose one child to speak up first, hand them the yarn, and ask them to start outlining their life. The second child will shout “Connection!” and the first child will toss the yarn, and the second child will start talking about their life when they say something (like “I like dogs,” for example) that someone else in the circle has in common with them. Repeat this process until all of the kids have left and a web of yarn has formed between them all.
6. Have plans to address rules and guests’ safety
You might want to give everyone a rundown of the setup if the party is at your house. For instance, the basement is off-limits if the coats are in the bedroom. Do not get sick in the kitchen sink if there is a second bathroom off the first bedroom if you are feeling under the weather. Oh, and flushing the toilet takes a moment.
- You might need to remind everyone to behave responsibly if you’re in a public place. You might be asked to leave if they become unruly and loud, or you might be told never to return.
- If drinking occurs in your home, you must decide how to handle it. Are there also children here? If your guests get too drunk, will you watch over them and take care of them? In the section after this one, we’ll go into more detail.
Part 3: Making your Party a Success
1. Take pictures
It’s likely that in addition to remembering this party for years to come, you’ll want to brag about it on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media platforms you use. So start snapping photos! It doesn’t matter if they’re on the macaroni and cheese buffet table, you and your friends in your best attire, or your lovely disco ball; everything is fine. Record everything with a camera.
- If you want to go all out, create a “photo booth”—a section of the space designated solely for taking pictures. Put a piece of fabric on the backdrop, embellish it as you see fit, and keep a basket of funny photo props nearby for people to use. Additionally, bored guests can engage in it.
2. Be a social butterfly
There are probably a lot of people at your party who don’t know each other that well. If that’s the case, you’ll have to act as the bridge that connects them. Be a social butterfly, flitting from group to group, introducing everyone, and easing the tension to help everyone feel a little bit more at ease, especially in the beginning. When the fun begins, you’ll observe people making new friends as a result of your efforts.
- If this is a problem, think about creating a game that includes everyone. Games like Truth or Dare and Charades can be timeless favorites.
3. Clean as you go
Parties become messy very quickly. Additionally, guests are notoriously rude and messy when at a party, especially if it’s not at their house. Whether you’re in your home or a public space, it might be your responsibility to keep the area reasonably tidy. Even though it doesn’t have to be spotless, you don’t want a tower of trash to build up on your drink table, right?
- Make sure to keep the recycling and trash in a visible location. Get to it as soon as you can to prevent it from spilling everywhere later on in the night because if it fills up, people will probably keep piling it on until it becomes unmanageable.
4. If your guests are drinking in your home, take their keys
There is alcohol at the party at your house? Then you are accountable for your visitors. Take their keys at the start of the celebration, conceal them all in a bowl, and only return them if they are sober when the party is over.
- Another option is to appoint someone as the key keeper, relieving you of the burden. Ask them if they could do this for you if you know they aren’t drinking on their own accord because you already have a lot on your plate.
5. As your guests leave, give them tokens after the party
It’s nice to have something for your guests to take away from the party, whether it’s leftover food, a cupcake, or party favor. Plus, it means less clutter for you to worry about. This way, everyone leaves the gathering feeling like they had a part in it and enjoyed themselves.
- When it’s all said and done, make sure to tag everyone in all of your pictures. People will remember how much fun your party was and eagerly anticipate your upcoming event.
Timeline for General Party Planning
4-3 months before the party…
1. Select a date and time
Thoughtfully plan a date, but don’t limit yourself to that particular day. Be adaptable and confirm that the most significant guests are available on the date you’ve selected. It’s also a good idea to check with the venue in advance to see if they are available for hire on the day you have chosen and if you have a preferred location where you want to host your event.
2. Decide on a theme
Choose the type of party you want to throw and reserve/decorate your location accordingly.
3. Plan your guest list
Start choosing the people you want to invite, keeping in mind that 70–80% of people are typically expected to attend.
4. Determine your budget
Be sensible and focus on the areas where you want to spend and save.
5. Hire a venue or host it yourself
Decide if you want to host your party at home or at a specific location. Keep in mind how many guests you intend to invite as well as the planned activities. Although renting a venue can ease your life and reduce pressure, hosting at home can help you save a lot of money.
6. Book entertainment and extras
Popular options include DJs, bands, and photo booths; just be sure to inform the venue manager of your plans in advance.
7. Organize home cooking or hire a caterer
Think about what everyone needs. Do your visitors have any food allergies or special dietary needs? Plan a menu that will satisfy all of your guests and is simple to prepare if you’re in charge of the cooking. If you’re hiring outside caterers, be sure to inform them of all the pertinent information before they start recommending a menu.
8. Invite your guests
Include the time, date, dress code, and party theme on your invitations. You could also create a special event page on social media, like Facebook, in addition to sending out paper invitations. This will enthuse your guests even more and help spread the word about your gathering, hopefully increasing the number of attendees.
9. Line up some help
Find out who the venue’s go-to staff will be if you have hired a space. If you’re planning at home, try to get a few friends to help out on the big day.
3 weeks before the party…
1. Plan the details
Look for decoration and party ideas on Pinterest, blogs, and magazines that correspond to your theme.
2. Devise a program
Try to create a rough schedule for your celebration. It will also provide you with a general outline of how the party should proceed in addition to letting you know if you have enough activities for your event.
3. Place your Orders
Now that you’ve placed your major orders, pay attention to the smaller details. Parties are frequently attended by a cake, homemade decorations, and party favors.
4. Create a seating plan, if needed
If you’re hosting more than 50 guests, this is something to think about. To promote mixing, make sure to seat people equally among those they know and those they don’t.
1 week before the party…
1. Follow up
If guests have not replied to your invitation, contact them by phone or email.
2. Finish DIY projects
Are you finishing up your party plan or creating your decorations? Having your helper friends over for a pre-party can be enjoyable.
3. Make a party playlist
The mood for the rest of your party will be set by the music. Try to fill the dance floor as soon as possible, but avoid playing all of your biggest tracks right away. Maintain a positive attitude while creating the atmosphere.
4. Confirm all deliveries and pickups
Make sure everything you ordered will arrive before the big day and that you have ordered it.
5. Speak to the neighbors
Check-in with your neighbors to let them know there will be a party if you’re hosting one at your house. You can either let them plan their outings or talk to them to find out if they have any boundaries or preferences that need to be addressed. Of course, you could always extend an invitation to them as well.
1 day before the party…
1. Pick up rentals and flowers
Gather your orders and check that everything is prepared for the big day.
2. Shop for last-minute items
Have you forgotten something or just now realized you need some extra supplies? This is your chance to purchase them!
3. Charge your camera
Imagine being unable to record the highlights of your celebration! This won’t occur if your camera is fully charged the day before.
4. Check your party program and checklist to tie up any loose ends
Since party planning takes time, some details inevitably slip our minds. Verify your list a second time, then finish any last-minute small tasks.
On the day of the party…
1. Start the party before the real party gets started
On the morning of the party, if you stay in touch with your guests on social media, it might be nice to send them a message with some last-minute tips, such as weather updates. Remind them of the specifics of the event and try to pique their interest by dropping hints and encouraging them to dress to impress.
Now is the time to unleash your inner interior decorator! Lighting, tables, serving stations, and the dance floor should all be set up along with flower arrangements. Do not blow up balloons until one to two hours before your event.
3. Queue up your music
To avoid any awkward early silences, make sure your playlist is queued and run sound checks.
4. Welcome your guest
Keep in mind that you’re also here to party! Set the mood for the rest of the evening by giving your guests a warm welcome.
5. Connect different people in the same room
By pointing out shared interests, try to bring together visitors who haven’t met before. If you do this right away, it will foster a friendly environment where everyone feels like they know one another.
6. Relax and enjoy
Try to unwind and have fun; as long as you’re prepared beforehand, there shouldn’t be many problems during the party. If your visitors sense that you’re stressed out, this could affect the mood of the gathering. You could always hire a party promoter as well and leave it to the experts if you have the money to do so. Just keep in mind that having a good time and being happy all night long is your top priority!
After the party…
1. Say thank you
Thank your venue, helpers, and visitors. Order your thank you cards at the same time as your invitations if you want to save money on shipping.
Make sure that the venue is left in the same condition that you found it, either with a hired crew or with your group of helpers.
3. Check your camera
Send your guests any pictures or videos you took during the party as a memento. Go through the pictures and videos you took.
1. Write your checklist
Every party is unique. Use this list as a guide and add any additional items you might need to think about for your party.
2. Make sure the bar is well-stocked and there’s plenty of ice
Expect each guest to consume 1 drink during the first hour, followed by another drink every hour after that. You can better understand how much alcohol you should have per guest.
3. Hire a venue with a built-in activity
Planning an entertaining venue, such as a karaoke bar or bowling alley, will make it easier.
It’s normal to feel anxious when planning a party. This general planning guide for parties is intended to be helpful. The most important thing is that you enjoy yourself at the party and that you are happy with the planning process.