Learn how to host like a pro without breaking a sweat. Camille Styles, event planner and party blog editor, shares her top tips and “rules to live by” when hosting your next big party or get-together.
Planning a party or event shouldn’t be stressful or intimidating. By staying organized and starting early, you can plan, create and host a memorable affair with ease. Download and print our detailed party planning checklist to make the process even easier, from one month before the party to an hour before your guests arrive.
I always keep several lists that I continually update through the planning process: a master to-do list where I highlight every task that must be accomplished, a shopping list that ensures I won’t forget any supplies, and an all-important guest list where I track contact information, dietary restrictions and RSVPs.
Create a Theme
Milestones like birthdays and holidays can be even more festive when a creative theme is chosen to set the tone. Transform your space into a south-of-the-border fiesta by serving margaritas and hiring a mariachi band, or throw a Great Gatsby-inspired brunch with croquet on the lawn. The possibilities are endless!
Send Out Invites
Although online invitations are perfectly acceptable for last-minute get-togethers, there’s nothing quite like a mailed invitation to set the tone for a party and build anticipation for the fun in store. There are plenty of online stationery companies offering chic well-designed invitation designs, or you can get creative and make your own. A brightly colored square of card stock embellished with finds from local craft stores is every bit as special as custom invitations (and for a fraction of the cost, too).
Offer a Self-Serve Bar
The key to a simple drink service? Set up a self-serve bar so guests can be their own mixologists. Set up a pretty tray with a decanter, two or three kinds of liquor and a few festive mixers. Let everyone have fun creating their own concoctions. Welcome guests with a drink upon arrival by placing a tray of champagne and sparkling water near the door so they can grab some bubbly and start mingling as soon as they arrive.
Create a Specialty Concoction
It’s fun to include at least one specialty cocktail that leaves a lasting impression with your guests. Serve it in a chic glass or incorporate creative garnishes to make it extra festive. Tip: As a general rule of thumb, plan on one alcoholic drink per hour per guest.
Keep Appetizers Simple
Consider serving dinner-by-the-bite with trays of mouthwatering hors d’oeuvres in lieu of a sit-down meal. This less-formal approach allows guests to sample lots of different flavors and provides more opportunities to mingle with other guests. The key to whipping up appetizers in a snap is to assemble ready-made ingredients from the market — instead of making everything from scratch. A few of my favorites are toasted pita wedges with hummus and eggplant dip, bruschetta with buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and basil, and warm Marcona almonds sprinkled with sea salt.
Set Up a Kids’ Table
For a family-friendly gathering, it’s often smart to set up a separate area for little ones to have their own fun. Try covering a table in butcher paper, and place bundles of colored pencils in Mason jars at each seat so kids can channel their artistic side right on the table. Bamboo plates make cute (and disposable) place settings, and a cupcake centerpiece is sure to be met with delight. Just don’t expect them to save dessert for last!
Keep Settings Simple
A perfectly set table doesn’t have to be complicated; feel free to give place settings a modern twist. Tie flatware with pretty ribbon or fabric, handwrite names on a piece of kraft paper and tie to the stem of seasonal fruit, or add a vibrant napkin for a pop of color. Try incorporating natural
elements that mesh with the concept, like bare branches with snowy white votives for a wintry setting or glass vases full of seashells for a beach party.
Leave yourself an hour before guests arrive to freshen up, slip into something party-ready and light some candles for added ambiance. This creates a welcoming atmosphere from the moment you open the door with a big smile and cocktail in hand, of course. Don’t forget that, as the host, you set the tone, so a relaxed attitude will bring out the same in your guests.
Don’t Forget the Favors
A small token of affection is an unforgettable way to end a celebration. Pretty boxes with candies or homemade baked goods are personal and sure to be much appreciated by your guests. Small terra-cotta pots with herbs and flowers are super affordable and even double as a table centerpiece during the party.
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