Party Planning 101
Use our timeline to tackle party details like a pro.
Whether you’re dreaming about hosting a catered affair or an informal barbecue bash, start planning about two months in advance. Make major decisions about the theme, date, place, size and overall budget first.
Two Months Before
- Pick a date.
- Decide on a theme and activities.
- Decide whether to have the party at your home or somewhere else. If you are renting a location, reserve the venue.
- Create a guest list. Remember: The number of people you invite will determine the size of your party and greatly affect budget.
- Create or order invitations. Be creative; some people will decide to attend based on this first impression.
- Decide if you will be hiring vendors such as a photographer, a caterer, a disc jockey or other entertainers; prepare to sign contracts and make deposits now.
One Month Before
- Mail invitations, asking guests to respond at least two weeks before the party date.
- Complete a list of activities and buy or arrange to rent the items you will need.
- Compile a menu yourself or with your caterer.
- Draw up an emergency plan in case of inclement weather, such as having a tent or moving the party inside.
- Make plans to put up balloons, ribbons, a colorful sign or some other indicator of the party outside your home or at the party venue.
Two Weeks Before
- Purchase paper goods such as plates, napkins, decorations and signs.
- Make goodie bags.
- Reconfirm volunteer help.
- Call outstanding invitees.
- If doing your own food, compile a grocery list and make arrangements for storing and preparing dishes that can be made ahead.
One Week Before
- Reconfirm RSVPs for a final guest count.
- Call party vendors to confirm date.
- Review all contracts and deposits.
- Make an event timeline for each 10 to 15 minutes of the party.
A Few Days Before
- Start decorating.
- Shop for food and prepare items that can be made ahead.
- Think about where activities will happen. You may need to rearrange your furniture so guests will be comfortable. It may mean actually moving pieces of furniture out of your home. Do it now or have a plan in place.
Two Days Before
- Draw up and distribute a task list to party helpers.
- Create a "shot list" for the photographer, spelling out the people and party events you don’t want him or her to miss.
- Think of special requests for the DJ, including what you don’t want to hear.
- Make sure you have enough cash on hand to tip vendors.
The Day Before
- Do as much decorating and food preparation as possible in advance.
- Create a master party checklist that includes the party timeline, task assignments and vendor contacts. If you're hosting a children's party, include parents' names and phone numbers. Prepare a list of guests to give to security guards or the front desk, if applicable.
The Day Of
- Call or tour the venue to confirm setup.
- Make sure all rental items have arrived.
- Put directional signs in place.
One Hour Before
- Make sure food is ready to serve.
- Test microphones, cameras and other equipment.
Now That The Party's Over
- Tip vendors.
- Return rental items.
- Review bills and claim deposits.
- Send thank you cards.
- Relax. You’ve got 10 whole months before you have to start planning again!