Host a successful party with a checklist

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How to Host a Successful Party

I love hosting a party! There is nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes from hosting a successful party. I consider a party successful when everyone (even me) enjoys themselves. Laughter, smiles and lingering goodbyes are signs of success!

Here is my secret to hosting a successful party.

I always start by making a list. Whether it’s a last minute get-together or one I am planning well in advance, my checklist prevents me from becoming overwhelmed. Some of the things on the list may seem obvious but, let me tell you, forgetting something off the list is a scramble to fix!

Hosting should be fun, not stressful!

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Party Planning Checklist
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Phase 1 of Planning

  • Venue – Where are you gathering? Your home, a park, a banquet/fellowship hall, a restaurant. This needs to be decided first so everything else can be planned accordingly.
  • Guest list – Who is coming? You need a rough estimate of the number of people you will be entertaining.
  • Invitations – This depends on the  type of party I’m planning. A day or evening at our house; a holiday gathering; a graduation or other big celebration, how will you invite your guests?
  • I believe that a casual gathering just to visit does not require formal written invitations. In this digital age, a text message or email will work. However, if it is a celebration or a holiday, I send written invitations. Written invitations are appropriate as they allow you to include important event information. Written invitations imply that the person’s presence is important enough for me to take the time to write (or print) and mail an invitation. Mailed invitations should be mailed so that they are received approximately three weeks prior to the event.

Phase 2 of Planning

  • Menu – BIG decision! Are you preparing all the food yourself? Is it a potluck occasion? Are you ordering food and picking it to serve yourself or are you having it catered? Hot or cold foods? Is what your serving intended to be a meal or just appetizers and snacks? Are there special diet concerns? I like to make my own trays of sandwich meats, cheeses, veggies, and fruits to save money. This can cut the cost in half! It takes time and planning, but I always take pride in the fact that I put it together myself. BTW, there is nothing wrong in taking pride in planning and executing a successful party. We will go into more detail about planning the menu later.
  • Serving supplies – Once you have your menu started it’s time to think about what kind of serving supplies you need. Plates, will one size work or do you need dinner and dessert plates, same with napkins. Do you need plastic wear or is everything eatable with fingers? Don’t forget you will need serving utensils. I like to get mine at a local dollar store, tongs, big spoons, dessert servers, ladles (punch). I even get my serving trays there. Don’t forget the table cloths! ( I have and it was a last minute scramble to the store, not fun.) You can order serving supplies here.

Phase 3 of Planning

  • Tables and chairs – Do you have enough? Do you need to borrow or rent some? If a good portion of time will be spent outdoors ask your guests to bring a lawn chair.
  • Decorations – What is the occasion? Do you need them? Decide what you want and look at dollar stores or online for the best prices. Remember if you are ordering online to allow time for shipping.
  • Decorate ahead of time! I decorate 3 days ahead. Tables and chairs can be set up with table cloths and centerpieces. I set up my drink station early, too.
  • ICE – don’t forget the ice! (I’m sad to say that I’ve done this.)

Let’s Talk Menu

The menu is one of, if not the most, important aspects of a party. Whether it is simple finger foods, appetizers, or full meal, people will remember what you serve. Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring a dish or dessert, especially if it is a casual, last minute affair.

If you have plenty of time to plan and want take care of all of it yourself, well thought out plans will make sure you are not scrambling at the last minute.

I am going to give you some example menus and how to organize yourself so you are not overwhelmed.

Casual with Close Friends or Family

For a light menu

Consider building your own sandwich trays. These can be ordered but are easy and less expensive to create yourself. Simply head to the deli at your favorite market and pick up a variety of lunch meat and cheeses. Be sure to ask what is on sale and if they have a special combo price for a pound of meat and a half pound of cheese. A pound of meat and half pound of cheese will feed approximately 6-8 adults.

Pick up some lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pre-cut fruit, fancy crackers and a couple of different types of bread. I like to get croissants and sub rolls at the bakery. Don’t be ashamed of buying a dessert at the bakery, too.

Make your grocery purchase 1-2 days prior to your party, if you can. The meat, cheese, and vegetable trays can be made the day before, covered tightly with plastic wrap, and placed in the refrigerator until ready to use. Your bakery items will still be fresh. Place them on trays just before your guests arrive.

With family and close friends consider asking that they bring a bag of chips or a dessert. I know I can always count on my mom to offer to bring a dessert. Who is coming that will want to contribute? Let them!

More of a meal

If you want to serve more of a meal, consider a casserole. They can usually be prepped ahead of time, baked the day of your party, and kept warm easily in the oven. My go-to is Chicken Spaghetti Casserole. It’s a favorite of my family, feeds a lot of people (can even be doubled if necessary), and is easy to make. With a casserole, serve a salad and some bread. Things you can ask people to bring if you want, but super easy to do yourself.

A taco bar is good way to go, too. You can prep before hand, even cook the meat the day before and reheat it in your crock pot the day of your party. It lends itself to having people contribute to the meal as well.

More of a formal affair

This includes your special occasion parties.

For a light menu

Hot appetizers! Hit the freezer section of the big box store and select a variety. Use your small appliances to keep them warm. These do need to be cooked the day of your party. I utilize my crock pot, electric pressure cooker, toaster oven and oven to keep these warm. You can even serve out of a crock pot and electric pressure cooker. Consider borrowing a couple of extra if you need them.

Cookies and cupcakes are okay for dessert in this situation.

More of a meal

Being in Texas, Bar-B-Que is my go to here. I serve it at my holiday party every year. I make a brisket and pulled pork served with baked beans, a salad or slaw, and a relish tray (pickles, onions, olives, peppers…). This does include two days of prep since I marinate my meat for 24 hours prior to cooking and then it takes hours to cook the meat.

Here is how I do it!

My party is usually on a Sunday so Thursday night or Friday morning, I will marinate my meats with my homemade rub. I let them marinate in the refrigerator until Saturday morning. My pork goes in the crock pot on low for a eight hours or so. It’s done when it is falling apart. I take it out and shred it, let it cool, place it in an airtight container, and into the refrigerator it goes.

Saturday morning the brisket goes in the oven at about 250 degrees for 6-8 hours. Once it’s done, I let it rest a good hour. Then I slice it, allow it to cool, place it in airtight container, and into the refrigerator.

Sunday morning both meats come out of the fridge and sit for about 30 minutes. The sliced brisket goes into my crock pot on low and the pork into my pressure cooker set on warm/slow cooker. By the time my guests arrive they are warm and ready to eat. I serve them straight from the crock pot and pressure cooker. (Be sure to use liners!)

If Bar-B-Que isn’t your thing, find something that you can prep and cook ahead if possible. I strive not to spend the day of my party in the kitchen cooking.

Dessert Tricks

There is nothing wrong with serving a cake you make out of a box mix. Just don’t use that store bought canned icing…yuk! I have a super easy, delicious whipped buttercream icing that will turn any cake mix cake into something a professional baker drools over. Give it a try!

You can also buy the fancy bakery cookies and place them on a tray, they look and taste great!

You can find all my dessert recipes here. There is a rich, decadent chocolate sheet cake recipe that has been passed down in my family. It is a must try!

Enjoy your party!

If you have a close friend to bounce ideas off of it helps. I brainstorm with my sister!

Who can you brainstorm with? What type of party are going to plan next?

Get all my Time Manage tips here.

6 thoughts on “Host a Successful Party!”

  1. BBQ is such a great party food! I’ve even gone to multiple weddings lately where they served bbq with all the fixings. You just can’t go wrong with it!! Love all your food ideas 🙂 I always struggle with planning the right amount!

  2. I agree, lists are critical when planning a party. I have a list for practically everything I do. It’s good also to start with a list that has everything on it, that way nothing is ever forgotten and then you just omit items from the list that will not be used for that particular occasion.

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