Take my family, for example. Completely out of the blue and with no prior indication whatsoever, our 15-year-old daughter decided to turn one full-year older. Seriously, another birthday? I’m pretty sure she just had one last year.
On top of it all, there’s this whole new-fangled “Sweet Sixteen” thing (you’ve probably never heard of it, either) — whence, upon the sixteenth anniversary of a girl’s birth, said girl hosts a gathering of close friends, relatives and random acquaintances to celebrate her coming of age. And when I say “said girl hosts a gathering,” I mean, “said girl’s parents.” And when I say “hosts,” I mean “frantically trying to organize something awesome and fun that appeals to a large group of people from a completely different generation who largely finds your interests and ideas ridiculous, sad and old.”
And when I say, “ridiculous, sad and old” — never mind. You get the idea.
Clearly, I’m no party-planning expert. However, I recently wrote the phrase “party-planning expert” in a sentence, and that — combined with the fact that my husband and I lived through organizing our daughter’s sweet-sixteen celebration in a limited time frame — gives me enough experience to impart a few nubbins of wisdom.
If you find yourself hosting a party this season, here are a few tips to help you organize a successful event.
Consider the size: Deciding on a budget and an invite list are the first, most crucial elements of party planning; and the two go hand-in-hand. Knowing how many people you want to invite defines how much space is needed and how much food to supply. Inversely, having a budget defines how much space and food you can afford. Nailing down your budget and your invite list are key to the rest of the process.
Choose a theme: From weddings to birthdays to summer swim parties, you should have a sense of a) what you’re celebrating, and b) how you want to celebrate. The what is usually the easy part; it’s the whole reason for the gathering. The how, though, is usually a little trickier. Take a birthday party, for example. The what is pretty obvious. But how do you want to celebrate? Is it a formal event in a rented hall, or a casual backyard barbecue? Either style can be tied to a theme — like “black tie formal” or, “country western hoedown” — that will make the rest of your party planning decisions much easier to make.
Plan a menu: So you’re having a houseful of people; what are they going to eat? Feeding one’s guests is not simply a kindness; it’s expected. A party’s theme makes defining your menu much easier, since you’re essentially serving foods that you associate with that theme. Hosting a luau? Pineapple, Hawaiian barbecue and umbrella drinks leap to mind. Country western theme? Grilled tri-tip, ranch beans and potato salad make a lot more sense than serving shrimp cocktails and champagne.
Pick your colors: While having specific colors tied to your party is by no means a requirement, it saves time and makes decision making a whole lot easier, especially if your theme is really general. Example: Our daughter liked the colors blue and black for her party. Perfect. I knew I was going to need table cloths, a cake and other decor items; having colors guide my choices narrowed down the field for me. Dozens of niggling “What should I do here” moments were answered with, “go with the blue one.”
Decide on entertainment: Another host responsibility is to make sure that guests are entertained. And while an extrovert can be dropped just about anywhere and have a blast, not so for the huge population of introverts out there. Providing something to do is a party essential, and it’s much easier to tie various entertainment options to a chosen theme. For example, if you’re hosting a casino themed party, clearly there should be some casino games available. In the case of a luau, perhaps swimming, dancing or a quick game of limbo. Music is always, always a plus.
Plan ahead: Most of all, give yourself plenty of time to visualize all the things you want to accomplish. It’s incredibly frustrating to have the greatest idea ever, only to find you’ve run out of time to execute it. And never forget the power of DIY. Some of the best party ideas on Pinterest are accomplished with a thin budget and elbow grease — and a little extra time.
Good luck this party season.