How to Plan a Party

Y’all, I just threw a housewarming party for about 100 people at my house over the weekend. Gasp! Still seems surreal. I don’t think I’ve had a “party” at my house since my 3rd grade birthday when I had 13 girls over to spend the night and my little sister got locked in the closet. And someone gave me a live rabbit. Without asking my parents. And it wasn’t my house (it was my parents’, so…).  But this weekend was SO FUN! Was it crazy? Yes. Could I have been better prepared? Yes. So if you’re thinking of having a party of any size in the future, keep reading. I learned some things that, I’m hoping, will be helpful for you in being prepared and saving money, regardless of the size of party you’re having.

Now, I’m NOT a Type-A person. I’m more Type-Meh. Not because I don’t want things to be perfect. That’s actually WHY I can’t be Type-A about it. I’m a typical perfectionist. If everything can’t be perfect, I don’t wanna do it. If I can’t workout 7 days a week for an hour, I will throw my hands up in disgust and declare my life a failure. (Dramatic, I know. It’s who I am.) But I’m trying to be more methodical, deliberate, and organized in life so that the world sees I DO have work ethic, lol.

I know that not everything will be perfect for the party so I can’t expect anything to be. Remember how I’m an expert “winger”? It serves me well where it relates to stress. I tend to be pretty laid back in these situations given what’s about to happen and figure, “if something doesn’t get done, it’ll be ok.” No one will die, right? I mean, unless I have some kind of crazy poison out on the cabinet listed as punch, but I don’t make poison any more so…. But I do want my guests to have a fun experience from the moment they walk onto my property until they walk off. Or are carried off. I don’t judge.

I knew Pinterest would be my friend. So I started researching party ideas waaaay ahead of time. I made a list of high-level TO-DO’s in the beginning that I kept with me at all times and added more detail as the planning progressed. Here’s my high-level list:

  1. Theme
  2. Guest List
  3. Food
  4. Drinks
  5. Entertainment
  6. Party Favors

I would take a picture of the ACTUAL list and show you but what ended up happening was that I would be at work and have an epiphany and make a note for my list on my work notes. So instead of having ONE MASTER LIST (cuz I supposedly kept it with me all the times, right? WRONG. I lose stuff sometimes.) I had one mommy list and a litter of baby lists. Don’t do that. Halfway through I realized that one thing I ALWAYS have is my phone. Insert list. By keeping my list on my phone it was all right at my fingertips. Let’s review:
Lesson 1: list your to-dos

Lesson 2: put the list in your phone. Unless you’re Amish. Or lose your phone a lot and don’t back it up. Or you’re in prison. But then you prolly won’t be throwing parties. Maybe, I don’t know. I haven’t seen the latest season of Orange is the New Black so I could be missing something. Anyway, back to party planning.

The theme was easy for me. First of all, I wanted the party to be welcoming and comfortable. Not pretentious or stuffy. Also, I LOVE to dress up in costumes. LOVE IT. It’s Christmas time ‘round these parts so I immediately decided on an Ugly Christmas Sweater party. Fun, festive, as unpretentious as you can get. If someone doesn’t wanna dress up or for some reason can’t, no biggie. Let’s do it.  As for decorations that match your theme, Lesson 3: go to Amazon.  Feel free to shop around, but ALWAYS CHECK AMAZON.COM.  Chances are, you’ll find what you’re looking for at amazing prices.

The guest list. For this party, the guest list was simple. I wanted to have all of our friends, family, and neighbors over as a way to say “Thank You” for their support and help with the move. I wanted everyone who has made a positive impression on our lives in our house so we could celebrate them.  That’s what this was about. I’m positive I didn’t include everyone. As hard as I tried not to leave anyone out, I’m sure I did. You know what that means!!!  ANOTHER PARTY!!!

My hubs and I got married in Vegas with just my bestie and her super-awesome hubs. We always expected to have a reception and celebrate with everyone when we got home and things “settled” down. Breakin’ News: “Settled” doesn’t exist. So, in a way, I saw this as our chance to celebrate everything that’s happened over the past 6 years. Our engagement, our wedding, our first house, our babies, our second house, our friends, our new rescue dog, my new shoes… wait. I’m off track again. Anyway, I figured maybe half of the people we invited would be able to make it. I was wrong. All but about 5 families were able to take time out of their schedules during the holidays to help us celebrate. That’s a reason to celebrate in and of itself.

Next up, FOOD. I severely under budgeted. In my Type-Meh mind I assumed that buying tons of food would some how equate to a cheaper per person rate. In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t. I also thought that having heavy hors d’oeuvres would be a good idea. They’re little, they’re filling, and they’re prolly much more economical. Not true on the economical part. So if you’re trying to decide how much to budget for catering a party, Lesson 4: plan on $15 USD per person as an average. Going with hors d’oeuvres can increase that to about $18 per person if you’re using good, quality caterers, which is definitely the way to go. Don’t skimp on the food.

In keeping with the laid back atmosphere I was aiming for, I went with BBQ. It was delicious. The kind of delicious that makes you wonder if there’s crack in it. If you happen to be located in the Atlanta, GA area, ‘Cue BBQ is AH-MAH-ZING. I called them up at the Milton location, got a quote, Julie was extremely helpful and patient, answering all of my questions and giving me time to shop around. She even suggested food amounts given the expected number of guests. In the end, there was plenty of food, some left over, and people are still stopping me to thank me for the delicious food and to tell me how much they love ‘Cue. All in, tip included (that’s what she said), it was just over $12 per person. Not bad at all.

For appetizers, I highly suggest Costco if you’re doing them yourself. If you don’t have a membership, find someone who does, someone who won’t steal your money, and get them to buy frozen appetizers from Costco. For $11 USD per box you can get 48 Mediterranean-style tapas and for the same price, 100 assorted appetizers like pigs in a blanket, chicken and mushroom turnovers, and potato puffs. Just pop them in the oven and voila. Well, it felt like “voila”. Easy and tasty, just like me.

Here’s the next lesson: Lesson 5: You’ll need to bake the appetizers about 45 minutes prior to the guests coming over if you are doing them yourself. Luckily, my mom and aunt showed up early because there is NO WAY I could have done this without them. They totally took care of that for me so I could finish getting ready. Next time, I’ll bake them about an hour ahead of time and prepare to either keep them warm in the oven or have a chafing dish ready to keep them warm. Trying to get ready and finish up the details was not something I could do on my own. And as wonderful as my husband was at getting things done, he was focused on the “man things” like the yard.  Another lesson I learned but won’t number: check the oven before you turn it on. My husband stuck the pizzas for the kids (boxes and all) in the oven to keep them warm and I almost burned down our home. Oops.

Drinks. Ah, drinks. I knew I wanted to serve a drink to the adults as they came in.  I found an apple cider mimosa drink that I thought was festive and fun.  Done.  All I needed were champagne flutes.  Amazon.com had a pack of 48.  Done.  Lesson 5: don’t skimp by purchasing cheep champagne flutes.  The bottoms kept falling off and they were really flimsy.  Get the good ones that arrive assembled in one piece.

I was totally lost about how much alcohol to get. So, I did what any self-respecting unprepared female does… I consulted Pinterest. And Pinterest lied. I thought it would be my friend and it let me down. The chart I found stated that for 30 people, you should have 16 bottles of wine, 3 cases of beer, and 5 bottles of liquor. Done. We were expecting about 55 adults and I’m in charge of the wine. I’m gonna knock this OUT. So I just doubled the suggested amount of wine. AAaaand I had about 20 bottles left over. Good news: just like a good casserole, it’ll stay. (Get the Zoolander reference? No? Dam. Oh, well.) I have enough for several more parties. Several. I also made 2 types of sangria (Pomegranate and Wicked Apple) and a pre-dinner drink, Apple Cider Mimosas. Overboard? Maybe. Necessary? Yes. Lesson 6: Include other cocktails in your drink count and for a party of 55 people, you’ll only need about half of what Pinterest says. Cuz Pinterest lies.

Lesson 7: Set up the non-alcoholic drinks and plenty of water. Cuz I forgot. What had happened wuz that I thought my hubs had grabbed them out of my car. He hadn’t. And I was too preoccupied to realize it until guests started asking for it. Oops. Also, make sure you CLEARLY label what is alcoholic and what isn’t.

Entertainment. One thing we did that I think was well received: we had sitters over to help watch the kids. There were only 2 of them for about 45 kids so I just asked them to try to make sure no one gets hurt or hurts the house. Honestly, we could have used a few more people to help them out because I know it wasn’t an easy job. But the parents didn’t have to worry about finding and paying for a sitter and they could enjoy themselves knowing that their kids were safe and right downstairs. If you’re inviting the kids, include some things that are age appropriate for them to do so that they aren’t released into the wild and left to their own devices. We had coloring books, crafts, and movies to keep them busy. And at some point Nerf guns. So we all felt safe.

As for the adults, football, music/movies, alcohol, and A PHOTOGRAPHER. Y’all, if you’re having a party of significance, I suggest getting a photographer to take good, professional pics. Laura Breese in Atlanta is awesome. She used to take care of my babies so I know she’s trustworthy and she happens to take a damn good picture. You don’t have to worry about carrying around your phone hoping to get pictures of everything. Believe me, she captured moments and images I would never have thought to get. She even offered to take family pics for our guests in front of our tree for anyone who wanted them for cards or whatever.

As guests left, I wanted them to have something useful that they could keep as a way to say “Thank you for coming” (that’s ALSO what she said). Since it was a housewarming party, I was looking for something that brought that to mind. I found an antique skeleton key bottle opener on Amazon. PERFECTION. A simple, small token with a practical use. I ordered a box of 50, a little apprehensive that we might not have enough. We were expecting about 55 adults and I wasn’t sure if each adult would take one or if they would take one per family. My biggest fear throughout this whole planning process was that we wouldn’t have enough of something. I wanted to do this right and not skimp on anything. Turns out, we had a good number left over. I wrote a little note to attach to each and boom. Done.

Overall, I measured success by the number of smiles I saw, laughs I heard, and hugs I received.  It was a great night.  One I hope I never forget.  And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  If you’re reading this and you are one of the ones who came out, I hope you enjoyed it and I can’t wait to do it bigger and better next time. (That’s what she said).  If you’ve read this to get prepared for a party you’re planning, I hope this helps.  Let me know how it goes!

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