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Guide to Planning a Special Event

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Planning a Party Guide

The key to successful entertaining is planning.  Planning a special event makes the tasks  easier and the work more efficient.  When  there is so much to do and so little time, it is easy to lose track of some  details and to spend too much time on something that is just not that important  to the overall success.  Usually a lack  of planning contributes to more trips to supermarket, misplaced items or under  estimated time for a certain task.   Planning the details up-front allows you to better understand the many  layers and tasks that need to be accomplished.   With this high level view of the project, you are in a better position  to get things done how and when needed.

The first thing to do when planning a party is to start with  a notebook.   A place where you can write  down all your ideas, thoughts, lists, menu and also any loose pieces of paper  like recipes, pictures of decorations and cut-outs from entertaining magazines.  This party planning notebook can be as simple  or as fancy as you like but it is a must to have someplace to keep this  information or you will end up generating lists and other items more than once.

This guide to planning a special event shows there are three  levels of information you must review and outline during the planning process.  Since you are the host, you do get to make  all or most of the decisions.   The three  levels of planning information are Overview, Design and Optional.   Your start with  the Overview level and when you have  this information generated, proceed to the Design level.   You may or may not need to  address the Optional level  information. 

The Overview level is about generalities and estimates:

  1. What is the occasion; is it a  wedding, birthday, anniversary and what?
  2. What is the type of serving;  cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, full  dinner or all of the above?
  3. How many guests will there be; 10,  30, 50, or a 100?
  4. Where will the party take place; at  a home, a banquet hall or a restaurant?
  5. What is the budget?

These Overview high level questions may be fairly easy to answer but they are also very  important in going forward.   As an  extreme example a cocktail party with a few friends is much less expensive and  easier then a wedding reception for a couple hundred people.   A better example would be the differences  between a set-down dinner and a buffet for a gathering of 12 guests in your  home.  This is where your style, your entertaining  experience and the occasion play an important part in making the decisions.

At this Overview level you must try to answer all questions together since each of the questions  are related.   The answer to one question  can drive the answer to the others.  An  example is the budget; it can impact the number of guests, the type of serving  and the location and vice versa. 

The Design  level is about the details driven by the Overview answers:

  1. What serving style best  accommodates the group?
  2. Who is on the actual guest list?
  3. What is on the menu, what  ingredients are needed and how will the dishes be made?
  4. What do the invitations look like  and how are they delivered?
  5. What is the timeline; when do the  tasks need to get completed?

These Design level questions are where you really need to spend time since you now know the requirements  and limitations from the Overview level answers.  These questions have much  less dependence upon each other than did the Overview questions.  The  first thing is the serving style, by this we mean how the foods, if any, will  be served?  This can vary from a casual buffet  table style to a formal serving individual style at a set-down dinner.  The number of guests, type of servings and the  menu will determine this.  About the  maximum number of people for a formal set-down dinner is 8 unless you have  others helping.   Other things that can impact the decision on  the serving style is how much can be done a day or two ahead of time and the  size of your kitchen.

For a little larger crowd, say 10 to 50 people, a buffet  will be the best serving style.  When the  crowd gets more than 25, I suggest getting some help if serving a full course meal;  appetizers, salads, main dishes and dessert.    This is very typical style for family and friends gatherings where some  guests will bring salads, desserts or maybe even a main dish.  For more than 50 guests, it will either be catered  at a banquet hall or a potluck as in bring-your-own dish with the serving being  outside.   

You may also need to revisit your Overview level response after you provide more detail at the Design level, especially the budget.   Just keep reviewing your plan until all the  questions and tasks have been well defined.

The Optional level is about the extras that add to the atmosphere:

  1. What types of drinks will be  served?
  2. What decorations are needed?
  3. Are party favors, games and music needed?
  4. Do you need any photography, catering or party supplies?

It is suggested to limit the cocktail options to just 2 or 3  to make the mixing and serving easier.    You don’t want people asking for a B52, a Butter Baby or a Bay Breeze  unless these are part what you would like to offer. 

To spice up the party atmosphere; decorations and party  favors will help.   Music will also help  people relax and to get into the party mood.

You may want to add other items or tasks to the planning  levels based upon your style and experience.   But you need a framework that will prepare you for what is needed for  the entertaining.  This planning, this  framework will help you stay organized and it will make the event easier and  more successful then if the planning did not occur.   Remember that success is in the details.

By Jen Morgan,  Entertaining ConsultanT

Other related articles:  Art of Entertaining   Caterering

There are 2 comments
March 13, 2008 - 15:10

Great suggestions! My favorite part of party planning is setting the perfect atmosphere. Whether it is going with candles and rose peddles for a romantic setting or going with balloons and streamer for a kid’s birthday, it is always fun to spend some extra time on details.

Amy H
March 13, 2008 - 13:43
Subject: Serving locations

Jen, these are great ideas! One item I would suggest for the Design Level is serving space; this has always been my biggest problem. I have an average size house but the dinning room is small and will only hold approximately 6 people comfortably. The kitchen space is usually taken up with fixing and staging meals.

Many times I have between 10 and 15 guests. So my solution is to setup a long narrow table in the family room where the guests can be served buffet style and then either set in the dinning room or the family room. I always try to have a chair for everyone.

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