Party Planning 101

Have you ever wanted to throw a party but felt overwhelmed by where to start?
If so, you’re not alone.  Over the years I’ve hosted, or helped host, events ranging from mega, multi course banquets for hundreds of people, to simple backyard barbecues for family and friends, and what I’ve learned is that there are some basic – but vitally important – steps involved in successful party planning.  Below, I’ve shared the 5 things I do – and you should too – if you want to throw better parties:
1.  Think about why you want to hold the event in the first place.  Is it for some special occasion, like a wedding, a birthday, or a meeting?  Perhaps, it’s because you love attending parties and having your friends around you.  Or maybe you’ve been to some awesome parties, hosted by other people, and you’d like to become an awesome host as well.  The reasons for hosting events is as varied as the events themselves, but determining WHY you want to host the event is critical in being able to put together a plan that actually helps you get there. The saying, ‘Failing to plan, is planning to fail.’, was never more accurately applied, than when it comes to event planning.
A few months before my 50th birthday, I decided I wanted to have a birthday party, and not just any ol’ party mind you; I decided I wanted it to be kind of a big deal.  My reasoning was simple – you only turn 50 once – that’s a big deal!  Once I’d decided that, I quickly determined that rather than hinge the success of my event on everyone else (i.e. my husband and family) figuring out what would be fun for me, I’d just make it easy on everyone – myself included – and plan the whole thing.
I love the beach and found this awesome beach cake on Pinterest (below), which I made for the party. Cake decorating doesn’t get any easier, and I received nothing but rave reviews.
2.  Determine how large you want the event to be (i.e. how many people you plan to invite) .  Generally speaking, the larger the event the more time it takes to plan for it, the more ‘moving parts’ you’ll have in putting it together, and the more notice you should provide your guests.  (Planning for a wedding, for example, should begin at least 6 months ahead of the wedding date.)
Although both my husband and I enjoy cooking and often do a lot of the cooking for parties that we host at home, for my birthday, I knew I did not want to be cooking or serving anything during the party. Instead, I wanted to just be able to show up and enjoy my friends, so I chose for us to hold the party at a local Tex-Mex resturant that my husband and I enjoy frequenting and that also has a banquet room large enough to hold over 50 people.   I decided that my guest list would be 50 people – one for each year I was celebrating.
In addition to the beach birthday cake, the only other thing I cooked was 50 cupcakes (below) for everyone to be able to take one home – in lieu of goodie bags.
Dessert table edited
3. Set a theme for the party/event in line with your goal/reason for hosting it.
I decided on a ‘Bucket List’ theme for the party, and was able to find some miniature galvanized buckets online, which I ordered and used to hold the 50 take home cupcakes (pictured above).  In the bottom of each bucket we placed individual slips of paper with one of my Bucket List to do items printed on it  – as a challenge for each of my friends to discover later and then to also do.  This, I thought would be fun, and would give us things to talk about in the future.
The restaurant already had a festive decor, so the few additional decorations I purchased for the party were simple and inexpensive – helping to offset the cost of renting the banquet room and hiring a band – thus allowing me to stay within the budget I’d previously set for the party.  I purchased and decorated a simple display board from a local craft store, with some balloons, some colorful, artificial flowers, a few other nick nacks – all with my ‘Bucket List’ theme (below).
Bucket list table edited
4.  Set a budget you can live with.  Most events will end up costing more than you originally plan, so just understand that going in, but do set a budget with the intent to stay within it…otherwise your spending will spin out of control.  (Ask me sometime how I know this.)
Hosting a gathering for over 50 people where food and beverages are being served, was simply not realistic with the budget I’d set for the party – and actually, footing the bill for everything isn’t really my idea of a great birthday present anyway, so when sending out the invitations (which I did as an Evite), I let everyone know that we would be providing a live band for music for the party and would also be serving birthday cake.  I then included a link, from the restaurant’s website to their regular food and drink menu, with an explanation that if anyone was interested in ordering anything, the restaurant staff would be happy to provide menus upon request, and this statement: “(See attached link for details and pricing)”.
Photo booth edited
5.  Lastly, think about the people you’re planning to invite and what they like to do, and how you can make the event fun for everyone – yourself included.  (i.e. Unless your idea of fun at a party is cooking, cleaning, and/or serving people, do everything ahead of time, and make sure everything is set up as self-serve as possible.  Doing so allows you to be part of the party rather than becoming the party attendant who is there to make sure everyone ELSE has fun.)
Since the age range of all those attending my party ranged from about 3 years old (children of some of the guests) to over 50, I knew it was going to take more than just a band to keep everyone engaged for the length of the party (two hours), so I came up with the idea of setting up a photo booth (above) with costumes, since with just a little imagination and a few props, you can keep most children happy for quite a while.  I purchased and decorated a second display board, and a bunch of costume props from a local party store, which I just put all together in a large bin – allowing the guests at any time to sort though it, coming up with their own ‘costume’, which they were free to just wear around and/or to use for taking pictures.  It was fun to see what everyone came up with.
It began subtly at first – with just a stick on mustache cropping up here and there around the room…
Jason at table w mustache
 Then my friend Dannielle and I decided to glam it up with some giant sun glasses…
Me and Dannielle edited
 Party hat envy could have been at play when my friend, Jason, decided to don a sombrero AND big glasses…
Me and Jason at my party
Never ones for blending in – my oldest son and his girlfriend then tried to break the internet…
Jonathan and Kristen
 In addition to hiring the band, Plastic Gravity  (which my husband’s and my friend and neighbor, Jeff Wallace, plays base for), to play a compilation of 80’s hits during the party, my son, and professional musician,  Joel Adam Russell ( below), also agreed to do a cameo appearance.  (Little did I know he would play a special mother’s day song – I’m not a big one for crying, but that nearly did me in!)
Joel singing at my partyedited
All that said, it was awesome party, and I know that because people are still talking about it.
Follow the 5 basic party planning tips I’ve just shared with you today, and see if your next party also doesn’t leave people with lots of good things to say!

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