Group of people having a party and toasting with wine glasses

Party Planning Basics

What’s as much fun as the party? Planning the party of course!

It doesn’t matter if you live in a one room studio or a palace, have a big budget or a little one, cook like a pro or can barely boil water…anyone can throw a party! With a festive spirit and a little creativity, you can entertain with the best of them.

Party planning is about a lot of things. It is about the family and friends you will gather, the atmosphere you create and of course the food.

Whether you're giving a full blown extravaganza or an informal TGIF get-together, take a moment to ponder each of the following points. Each will shape your event and effect your party menu choices.

First Things First

Organization is your key to success, no matter the size of the party or the theme. Stress, chaos and exhaustion are unnecessary here…it’s a party people! No one will really care if your house is not spotless or if the risotto is dry and tasteless. They will remember the laughter, the company, and you as a confident and gracious host.

Many people are lost when it comes to entertaining. Planning carefully and making sure that the most basic tasks are done in advance will assure that you are rested and relaxed and ready to party. The more fun you have the more fun your guests will have. That is your goal.

Party planning starts with a few initial considerations. Keep in mind that these decisions also affect your party menu planning.

Just Host It!

Parties can be over the top extravaganzas or just an evening chillin’ with your closest friends. Either way or in between, your duties as a host are all the same.

As the host, RELAX. Nothing exceptional is expected of you but to be yourself. Host the kind of party you would like to attend. Don’t worry that people won’t enjoy themselves. A party invitation is a treat to receive. It means free food, free drinks and a chance to have a good time.

Be spontaneous flexible and prepared to improvise (yes all at the same time). Most importantly...enjoy yourself!

A first-class host greets people at the door and introduces new friends to old friends. Give each guest a little one-on-one time, at least for a moment or two. Look over your guests like a mother hen. They will appreciate the special attention, unwind and have fun.


The guest list is not the only list you need to make. To-do lists are the first tool of the party planner and will become your best friends. Keep all lists in the same place be it a computer program, Smartphone or sheets of paper. Make sure you keep the lists with you when you plan the menu, make phone calls, shop, etc. Trust me, you will need to refer to and cross reference them often. Consider:

  • Guest List: Use this list for menu planning, alcohol selections, invitations and phone calls
  • Menu list: Once the menu is finalized, write down each dish or item in order to create your grocery list. Calculate amounts for all the common ingredients like onions, cheese, vinegar and herbs. Group those ingredients by type, such as produce, dairy and meats. Use this info to make up your...
  • Grocery List: If your list is organized by supermarket department (produce, dairy and meats), your shopping will be that much easier. This includes beverages, paper products and trash bags

Use your grocer’s home delivery service, the best stress reliever I know!

  • Alcohol: This should be a separate list from groceries because you should carefully calculate the types and amounts of alcohol you should purchase.
  • The “Day Of” List: My personal favorite and the key to avoiding last minute, out of the blue details from stopping you dead in your tracks. Make this list the night before the party, or at least that morning.

The Purpose

There never really needs to be a reason to throw a party. To throw a party, is a reason! No matter what the occasion you can go all the way and create a fully themed event or just add your own special touch to an informal gathering.

The People

You know who your people are! Compatibility and synchronicity are words to keep in mind when making up your guest list. Although you may want to invite “everyone you know”, consider the personalities and quirks of your family, friends and acquaintances and whether or not everyone mixes well together.

The Place

I always think a “house party” is the most intimate and sociable way to entertain, but don't invite more guests than you can comfortably accommodate or tolerate.

Guests need space to mingle and be prepared for the possibility of broken glasses, red wine on the new white carpet, cigarette burns on the old couch and clogged toilets. Also be aware of your neighbors and the noise levels they will tolerate.

When party planning, also consider your kitchen space which will affect the menu:

  • The number and size of your stove’s burners and oven will determine the number and types of hot dishes you can serve

  • Your available counter and drop space is important for final set-up of dishes BEFORE they get to the buffet or dinner table. If your space is limited don’t plan on too many individual plates or platters

Growing up in the South, the kitchen WAS the party place

The Time

The time of day or night the party starts will usually depend on the purpose and will also influence your menu. For informal in-home dinners or casual get togethers there is no need to indicate an end time to your guests, but do have one in your mind.

Cocktail parties, brunches, lunches and open houses can have a start and end time, usually lasting 2-3 hours.

The Budget

When planning a party, figure out how much you can afford and how much you would like to spend. Try to land somewhere in the middle of these two numbers. That way you won't feel like a cheapskate and you also won’t fear you’re breaking the bank.

Of course be aware that when throwing a party there will be expenses other than food, such as disposable paper goods, decorations and rentals. And don't forget the alcohol which could be your greatest expense (depending on the kind of friends you have)

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