Knowing how to plan the perfect party is one thing but making sure you keep on track to make sure everything goes off with minimal issues is an art. But, it is an art you can learn. If you can write, you can do it. It just takes the ability to make your list of things to do in every area of the party. Once you’ve done that, just work the lists.
Below is a list of all the lists you might need and the things to consider within each one. However, you have to come up with a method that works best for your style, but we are both list people. Remember two things: (1) Not all these lists are necessary for every party. These are the ones we use when throwing a really big party with lots of advance notice. (2) These lists are not static, they are dynamic. You’ll create one and realize it has an impact on another. You may re-write these things over and over (at least Melissa does, somehow it makes her feel better to keep thinking about it). You may even want paper and pen on your bedside table for those thoughts that come to you in the middle of the night.
This list is really just the menu and all the recipes for whatever you are preparing. You don’t have to rewrite the recipes but keep them close by throughout the entire planning process as they will be referenced several other lists. If you have 5 recipes in 5 different books, you may want to consider making copies of those pages.
Keep your menu in a place that is easily accessible and you can refer to it throughout your cooking process to “check off” what is completed. You can also make notes of when to put items in the oven and on what temperature so you don’t have to keep your recipes in a million places. Denise keeps her list on the inside cabinet of her kitchen above a pencil box which is a perfect place!
This list should consider all the beverages you plan on providing, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. When creating this list, think about the following:
1. Quantity to purchase. See our beverage page for some useful tips on estimating.
2. Cups/Glasses needed. Think through what everything will be served in. If you don’t have the type of cup in the proper numbers, add it to your shopping list.
3. Ice. If you are serving anything that will need ice in it, make sure you plan on getting ice. However, with ice comes storage. Not everyone has an ice maker that can keep up with the quantity needed for a large party, so it may need to be purchased. If purchased, where will it be stored. Will you have room in your freezer? If so, buy it in advance. If you don’t have room in your freezer, buy it the day of and place it in a cooler. If the ice is going in a drink, keep it separte from any coolers where you are storing beverages.
4. Keeping Cold. If you are serving cold beverages, you’ll need to get them cold in advance and have the room to store them. If you are not going to have room in your refrigerator with all the food, then you’ll need coolers. Not enough coolers for beverages and ice for drinks? Add it to your shopping list.
5. Recycle / Trash . You will want to have a place for folks to throw out used drinks and hopefully recycle glass and plastic. Make sure you have these containers near the bar.
Household List (Cleaning, Yard Work, Decorations)
Make a list of what needs to be done inside the house before your guest arrive and when you’re going to do it.
Make your “outdoor” to do list as well if you will be spending time on a deck, lawn or patio. Think about things like fresh flowers near your front door and whether or not the yard should be mowed or new pinestraw laid down. Add items to your shopping list as needed. You will also place some of these items on your timeline list as well.
This is a subset of the ingredients for all your menu items as you will have some ingredients already. However, it is not just that. This list might also include decorations, beverages, ice, paper products, etc. It is critical to read through the entire recipe of each menu item and make sure you have all the cooking products you’ll need to make the item and a serving dish for that item. If you don’t have what you need, at it to your shopping list. We often break down our list by store and by date.
Manage this list too. Everyone invited and who has RSVP’d. Somewhere between our parent’s generation and ours, this has become a bit of a lost consideration. I don’t know if people just don’t like committing to a party in advance or just don’t realize how important it is to let the host know if they are coming. Regardless, you’ll need to reach out to those non-RSVP’ers sometime before the party and ask if they will make it. The best way is to pick up the phone and call them.
This list all depends on how much advance notice you have. If you have several weeks, you’ll want one of these lists that help make sure you are getting as much done as far in advance as possible.
If you don’t have much time before the party, then you may just make a timeline list for the day of to help make sure you have time to get everything done. When you make the day of list (we usually make this the night before), be realistic about what you have time to do. Be sure to include the time to get yourself ready (and your kids if appropriate). If you realize you can’t get everything done, prioritize the list and just do the critical items. If you have too many last minute things with the menu – simplify the item, change the item to something else or just don’t serve it.
Important tip: Read through each recipe in its entirety. You may find utensils, serving trays and other items needed to make it that will need to go on your shopping list. Additionally, break down the recipe into what can be done and how far in advance it can be done. If the last step in the menu is to sprinkle it with chopped parsley, make sure your timeline list has you chopping parsley earlier in the day and keeping it ready for the sprinkle. You won’t have time to chop it seconds before serving it.
Here is an estimated timeline for a party with a lot of advance notice:
1. As far in advance as possible, plan the space, guests and menu and start your lists.
2. Up to one week out, shop for your non perishables and all cooking and serving utensils and platters, do your yard work
3. One – two days before, shop for your produce and perishable items and prepare what things you can do this far in advance. Some of these items might be a sauce or salad dressing, preparing a fresh vegetable prior to cooking, washing your fruits/vegetables, etc.
4. The day before prep and prepare as much as you can with just one day to go, set tables/chairs/decorations, get your camera prepared if you want it, and create your day of list. Make adjustments to account for remaining work versus remaining time. Be realistic.
5. The day of make whatever you can before your guests arrive and rewrite the timeline list to just be the steps while guests are there. See below for details.
6. During the party, just do what is absolutely necessary at this point with the last minute items to prepare and spend the rest of the time attending to your guest’s needs and have fun.
Day of List
We generally make this list the night before the party. We re-read all of our lists to that point and anything that has not been done is added in one place to this list. Once everything is there, you may want to put it in priority or timeline order. This is where you do all the cooking that can’t be done in advance, prepare the beverages, and do the last minute cleaning. Oh, and don’t forget to schedule time to take a shower!
During the Event List
Hopefully you’ve done 95% of what needs to be done and you can enjoy the party with your guests. However, there will certainly be the last minute items that are required. Be sure to have a list of them and include the times to do them. This is where you put time to preheat oven/ start grill, take items out to get to room temperature, put items in the oven, remind yourself to garnish, etc.
Set timers if you need them to remember when to do certain things as you will get distracted in conversation with your guests.
When in doubt, make a list. You will never forget anything if you write it down, as long as you remember where the list is!!
Next Step: Beverage Planning