Secrets of Party Planning
Don't be late
Nothing says "stress case" more than planning a party a week out. Start the process six to eight weeks before your event date, unless you really do just want to see your five best friends for a game night of Twister and Chinese takeout.
Dot your i's and cross your t's
Create a master to-do list as well as a guest list. They will keep you organized when the week-before chaos hits. You'll be able to easily delegate tasks to friends and family, and keep a concise record of RSVP's, food restrictions and, later, thank-you cards. Websites like Evite not only allow you to send out free online invitations, they also offer online checklists and budget planners.
Know your crowd
Your party isn't about you; it's about your guests. Consider who you want there. If it's a singles-mingle shindig, squash the garlic and limit the seating so they'll be forced to stand and move around. If it's a young, hip crowd, you'll want trendy foods like gluten-free grilled cheese bites and sweet potato fries. Are your guests more likely to prefer blueberry mint mojitos or beer? You get the idea.
No music equals dead space. Hire a DJ, a band, plug in your iPod, or ask a friend with good tune taste to load their player and bring it over. Keep the music playing as a backbeat. Too loud and you'll summon the cops or force your guests to shout to be heard.
Get 'em talking
The more people connect and mingle, the more likely you'll hear kudos for your "great party." You know your crowd, so decide if they're up for hokey things like karaoke, flag football, or a scavenger hunt, or if they would prefer wine tasting and a riveting game of "I Never." One clever hostess had bowls filled with Trivial Pursuit cards so guests could reach in and quiz each other with questions.
To sit or not to sit
The worst thing that can happen is for guests to plunk themselves down and never move. Of course, you will need some seating for the weary, but you should have more guests than rest spots. Consider calling everyone into a different room for a particular announcement or, if you're having a dinner party, making everyone switch seats between courses.
What can I do?
Give your guests a job. Most people would rather pour drinks than stand around feeling awkward. Take advantage of the impulse by delegating tasks like clearing plates, taking coats, freshening drinks and clearing plates.
Set the mood
Your lighting can make your guests feel, and look, sexy or scary. Dim the overheads and bust out the candles. Or better yet, hold a dusk soiree on your deck. The last light of the day will make everyone look their best.
Bartender, pour me a...
Parties always rock the more alcohol you serve -- up to a point. Hire a bartender, or ask a friend who needs some extra cash to tend bar and put out a tip jar. That way you have eyes on the drinking. If you go the self-serve route, silently replace the booze with water before things start to wind down to make sure your guests are not overserved. For lasting memories, create a signature cocktail and post the recipe online after the party.
Pass me that plate
If there's anything people like more than free booze, it's free food. Go for bite-sized versions of everything. Plates will take up less room, less food will drop on the floor or laps, and by placing different flavors around the room you'll encourage guests to mingle. Make sure there's enough to last through the night or you'll have the alcohol problem again. Save yourself some headaches and expense by shopping for readymade ingredients at big box stores and assembling them at home with your own flare.