Party Planning Checklist

Novice hosts are wise to follow the lead of the most-seasoned hosts – a written party planning checklist that covers all the details. Plan your party’s details and work up your checklist before invitations are sent and make it your mission to do as much as possible in the days before the party. And always remember that no matter how long you think it will take to stage your party, it’ll actually take longer. Plan accordingly.

Divide your checklist into four sections – food, beverages, equipment, and supplies. Within each section, determine what can be done ahead and do it early. This is especially easy with equipment and supplies, takes a little more forethought with beverages, and is vital to food preparations.

Supplies are the disposable things everyone takes for granted – napkins, coasters, stir sticks, straws, paper towels, even toilet paper. Have an abundance of all these items because they go fast. People rarely take one napkin per drink; instead, they take one for the glass, a couple for the table, more in case of spills, and a few extras just in case.

Two good things about these supplies are that they are inexpensive and nonperishable. If they don’t get used at the party, they’ll come in handy later. Buy these things early and in bulk to save money.

The equipment you’ll need depends on the food and beverage menus. Frozen drinks will require at least one blender, depending on party size and drink menu. They’ll also need long-handled spatulas for getting the last of the beverage out of the blender canister.

Shaken drinks call for at least one shaker/strainer combination but more will keep the drinks flowing faster. Drinks served from pitchers and punch bowls make hosting easier but have at least one back-up container ready to replace a pitcher or punch bowl when it gets low.

Garnish trays can be filled ahead of time but have more than one ready so they can be switched when one gets low without the need to prep more.

Bottle openers and corkscrews have a tendency to travel so have several of each handy and maybe a back-up or two stashed away somewhere.

Count on using at least one glass per person but know that more is better. They break, people want fresh ones, and they put them down and forget where they left them or don’t know which one on a crowded table is theirs. A good rule of thumb is to calculate the number of glasses per person and add 25%.

Don’t use the two-part plastic champagne or wine glasses that require assembly. They are too flimsy, too time consuming, and too hard to keep upright when filled or empty. If this type glass is a must, rent a case (usually 24 each) of real glasses from a local party supply house. Once assembly time and frustration are calculated, the rented glasses are cheaper.

People get really creative chilling beer and wine these days so have some fun here. Just make sure there’s plenty of room to keep enough chilled to get the party off to a good start and enough room elsewhere to have a back-up supply chilling and ready for replacing what gets served.

Buy booze long before the day of the party. Take advantage of sales and buy by the case for discounts that usually range from 10% to 20%. Case discounts apply for wine as well as hard liquors and mixed cases, containing an assortment of wines or liquors, are usually OK.

Bigger bottles are cheaper by the ounce and most hosts don’t mind leftover liquor. Don’t break the bank but buy enough so that you won’t run out, either.

Plan on one drink per hour per guest but adjust this amount according to your guests. The wilder the gang, the more drinks you’ll serve. Pre-mixed drinks, served in pitchers or punch bowls, go faster than those mixed to order. Guests are usually thirstier at outdoor parties, especially if games, sports, or swimming are involved, so factor this element into your plans. Use the extra-25% rule you used with estimating glassware, too, because when those glasses get broken, left behind, or spilled, your guest will want a fresh drink.

One bottle of wine contains four or five servings, depending on the size of the glass. If you’re inviting wine-lovers to the party, count on a bottle per person for a three-hour party. Leftover wine can always be used for cooking later.

An average party-size drink made with hard liquor contains 1.5 to 2 ounces of liquor. A liter bottle, one of the most common sizes sold, holds just more than 32 ounces so it’s a safe bet you can make 15 to 20 drinks per liter of liquor. The largest bottles, with handles, hold 1.75 liters.

Bigger is better when buying liquor and it’s the same for mixers. Count on about one-half liter per person for the duration of the party when buying club soda, tonic water, ginger ale, colas, soft drinks, and juices. Cap leftovers tightly when the party’s over and most of these beverages will keep nicely for another few days.

Be sure to include non-alcoholic beverages on the menu, even for adults-only parties where everybody generally drinks. You never know when someone is ill, dieting, or possibly pregnant. Providing alternative beverages takes the spotlight off someone who, for whatever reason, chooses to avoid alcohol at this particular time.

You’ll need lots of ice, at least one pound per person, so have plenty of ice buckets, coolers, or freezer space available to hold and store it. That one pound of ice will ice down the beer and wine, be used in on-the-rocks beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and will be shaken and thrown away each time a cocktail is made.

Outdoor parties and heavier drinkers will use more ice so plan on at least 1.5 pounds per person in these situations. One sure way to spoil a party is to run out of ice so don’t skimp here. Ice takes up lots of space so do wait until close to party time to buy it.

Some foods are best served on ice, too, such as shrimp cocktail, oysters on the half shell, and many other popular seafoods. If these foods are on your menu, buy extra ice for them so you won’t have to borrow from the bar ice.

Always serve food when you serve alcohol but a lavish feast isn’t necessary, especially when inviting guests for cocktails and conversation. If you’re supplying the food, rely on some tried-and-true recipes that can be made ahead of time and finished off or assembled a few hours ahead of party time.

A party is no time to dazzle with new recipes. There seems to be an unwritten rule that trying to do so will only result in failure. Hosting a party is stressful enough for most hosts and hostesses so don’t invite trouble.

You’ll want plenty of food, plates, napkins, and servingware on hand so do employ the extra-25% rule here, too. Serving platters and bowls will depend on the foods chosen but always have one platter or bowl available to your guests and one replacement container of each dish ready to replace an empty one.

Parties are a bit of a production and adequate planning is important. You’ll want your guests to enjoy themselves but they won’t if they see a stressed-out, hard-working host instead of a relaxed, congenial one.

Each party is unique and details matter. Begin as early as possible devising your guest list and menu, then itemize each menu ingredient and all the equipment you’ll need to make it or serve it. Shop early, with list in hand, and prep as much as you can in the days leading up to the party. Then, relax and enjoy your guests. They’ll have a better time if you do.