Party Planning Basics
Choose Your Party Type
Party Tip: Make sure guests are clear on whether they're coming for dinner, cocktails, or both.
Party Action Plan: Include information in the invitation about what guests should expect. If your guests don't know that you're planning to serve dinner (or enough party food to be considered dinner), they'll plan to eat before or after the party, and you'll be left with too many leftovers.
Likewise, if you're serving light nibbles and drinks that aren't meant to be a full meal, be clear about the party portions or your guests may help themselves to more than you expected.
Send Out Invitations
Party Tip: Personal invitations make the party a must-attend event, plus give you an accurate guest list.
Party Action Plan: Give yourself time to send out handwritten invitations (three weeks preparty is appropriate). Personal invites add a bit of flair to even the most casual party, plus they also help you narrow down the guest list (especially if you request an RSVPs.) Use our free invite template, available below, or design your own to fit your party's theme. Send the invitations with enough time before your party so you have enough time to plan!
Party Tip: Throw a festive gathering based on an occasion, holiday, or even a season.
Party Action Plan: Let the time of year inspire your next party. In summer, plan outdoor potlucks and barbecues. In fall, gather friends for apple picking or tailgating. Knowing what you're celebrating is a great start to planning the perfect party.
Keep the Decor Simple
Party Tip: Unless you're planning a theme-party, decor should be simple and easy.
Party Action Plan: Small things like a bouquet of fresh flowers or simple table linens can go a long way in adding a festive touch to your party. Dress up a from-the-store arrangement or lay down a clean white tablecloth on your food table—that's it! Simple, easy, and leaves time for you to focus on other party details.
Serve the Right Amount of Food
Party Tip: Nail down the just-right amount of food that will feed your guests well and leave you with little to no leftovers. For a generous cocktail party, you should plan on having about 12 appetizer servings per guest.
Party Action Plan: According to the serving plan above, you'd need to have two pounds of chicken, 1-1/2 cups of dip, and 8 ounces of crackers for each guest to have two chicken wings, two tablespoons of dip, and four crackers.
For more information, grab our detailed appetizer quantity guides below. These are handy for planning both an appetizers-only party and determining how many appetizers to serve before dinner based on the number of guests at your party.
Buy the Right Amount of Alcohol
Party Tip: Make sure you buy enough drinks so each guest can drink one beverage per hour.
Party Action Plan: For a three-hour party with 12 people, you'll need six 6-packs of beer, eight bottles of wine, or two bottles of liquor and six bottles of mixers to quench their thirst. (Of course, you can always make the party BYOB to save on drink expenses!) See our tips for buying affordable wine for a large crowd, below.
Let Guests DIY
Party Tip: No need to play cook, bartender, and host—let your guests serve themselves food and drink for effortless entertaining.
Party Action Plan: Decide on a theme and set up a DIY drink station. Try a bloody Mary bar with mixers, toppings, and various alcohols or keep it classic with a few bar staples. Let guests whip up their own drinks—it's easier for you and they'll get exactly what they want!
Leave Time for Food Prep
Party Tip: Give yourself plenty of time to prep party food in case of last-minute distractions or mishaps.
Party Action Plan: For foods that can be made ahead and frozen, make one week in advance of the party. Wait to buy perishable items until two to three days before the event, and prepare any food that can be stored in the refrigerator then. (Our Mango Pico de Gallo, below, tastes even better when made a few days in advance.) Chill all beverages the morning of the party, buy ice (estimate 1 pound per guest), and use the few hours before guests arrive to prepare last-minute dishes.
Save Time with a Slow Cooker
Party Tip: Spend less time in the kitchen and more time playing hostess by making one or more of your party dishes in a slow cooker.
Party Action Plan: From dips and chicken wings to fancy cheese and snack mixes, we have a whole slideshow dedicated to slow cooker appetizers. Start with our Cherry-Pistachio Brie, below, and then browse more options to plan your party menu.
Make Drinks in Advance
Party Tip: Make a few pitchers of a single party drink in advance to save time and cut back on party spending.
Party Action Plan: Keep party drinks simple by making a few pitchers of a classic party drink recipe -- such as our Sweet Cherry Sangria, below -- and make it a few hours ahead to cut last-minute stress.
Get More Food Than You Need
Party Tip: Purchase about 50 percent more food than you think your guests will eat, but only set out what you need.
Party Action Plan: Keep no-prep fixes, such as cheese and cured meats, in the fridge and bring out as needed. If they're left untouched, they can always be used in sandwiches and other recipes later.
Create a Pretty Food Presentation
Party Tip: Add party-perfect presentation to food displays in minutes with different dishes, heights, and garnishes.
Party Action Plan: For simple style, group similar foods together, such as our Savory Party Dip (below) and crackers, on a compartmentalized tray. To add interest to a food display, use pedestal dishes to add height. Other ideas: Garnish dips with herbs, serve cocktails with bright drink umbrellas, or use dishes with bold colors to make a party statement.
Serve Food at Room Temperature
Party Tip: Serve party foods closer to room temperature instead of piping hot or ice cold -- many dishes will taste better this way. As an added bonus, you won't have to rush foods from the over (or fridge) to the table during your party.
Party Action Plan: Check first to make sure your dish doesn't have anything perishable in it, then set it out 30 minutes before guests arrive. Our party potatoes (below) can be served either warm or at room temperature, but the creamy aioli should be chilled until ready to serve.
Serve Food Family Style
Party Tip: For sit-down dinner parties, consider serving your food buffet or family style instead of plating a dish for each diner.
Party Action Plan: Plan your party food around a theme, such as a build-your-own taco station, and let guests serve themselves. This way, guests will only take the amount they want, and you won't be left with half eaten portions that you'll have to toss. Grab our tasty taco party recipes for instant planning inspiration, below!
Try a Party Favor
Party Tip: Sending guests home with a little gift the the sweetest way to end a party.
Party Action Plan: Keep your party favors small and easy to make. Things like chocolate, candy, or handmade treats are always a hit.