Implicit here are a few assumptions.
1) You have people to invite. My rule of thumb is every person I invite should know at least 2 other people who I am inviting. Therefore I don’t spend my entire party taking care of someone, and if one person they know is having a snit, no one person is left by themselves.
2) You have a space to have a party in. This is serious. Though parks may work during the summer, a space for the party should fit the people. My parties are always more like LAN parties than American Pie Parties. But since my friends are a mix of tech geeks and other kinds of geeks, if there is going to be gaming I have a separate non-gaming room. I am in my parent’s house and use the kitchen to make popcorn and the fridge to keep sodas cold. The gaming room is also a TV room for movie watching. If it is a sleepover (ie, for New Years) you must have a quiet room for people to go to sleep in if they want. Depending on the ownership of your space (ie, if you have parents who like sleep) you should discuss *at least a week before hand* the hours of the party, the hours people will be awake, and the acceptable behavior of guests.
3) You have a day. If you have the set up and 1) own your own house or 2) have very accommodating parents and 3) friends who don’t schedule things far in advance you can do a nice party with only a day or two’s notice.
Understanding these assumptions, here’s your time line and shopping list for a fictional birthday party.
A day or two before the party:
Set up an Evite. You can do a version of this using Ruby on Rails or any other scheduling website, but I have Evite to be unobtrusive and low maintenance. You will need all of your invitees emails (note, keep these for future parties. Having one central list will save you time next party around). Use the map option on the Evite; also, take some time to figure out how to get to your house/space by public transit and with a car. It may be obvious to you, but if your friends don’t come over often, help them out.
Ask a friend to co-host. Having a friend to bounce ideas off of will help (also s/he can show up and help 1) keep you calm 2) help you finish setting up food before the party starts.
First check out what you have at home–however never underestimate how much your friends will eat. This time of year there should be cookies, fruit cake and candy. Put them out in decorative bowls when the time comes and voila! pretty food.
- Cake: (bake at home or buy in grocery store)Chips: (1-2 big bags)Salsa: 2 jars, 1 spicy and 1 mild
Vegi or fruit platter: (they sell the entire thing at the grocery. Just buy it. Chopping carrots as the guests come in is a bore.)
Soda: I figure 1-1.5 sodas per person. So for a party with 20 people coming, get 4 six-packs of soda and 1 six-pack of root beer.
Popcorn (buy the bottles full of kernals and pop them on the stove if you have time. If I remember right, 2 tablespoons of butter or oil per 1/4 cup unpopped kernals. You can also shake up 1 tsp of cayenne pepper or 1 tsp of cinnamon with the popped popcorn to make it more interesting).
Ice cream. Buy about 2 quarts. If you have toppings at home (chocolate sauce, honey, Maraschino cherries) use them. They are extremely optional.
Pack everything into the fridge. All sodas do not need to go in now, you can do 2 six packs at a time to always have cold sodas on hand.
The night before the party.
Double check with co-host and space owner (if that’s you, check with yourself). See who rsvped, call people you really want to attend who have not, answer last minute questions from intivees. If you have any messages (ie, can someone please bring a Wii, mine is in China) send them out before about 7pm the night before. Friends will answer a call late, but try to avoid imposing (this one’s hard because sometimes issues are only discovered late. That’s why being flexible is important).
Figure out where you’re ordering pizza from. They should deliver and you should like their pizza. NOTE: if you have any celiac, dieting or diabetic friends take this into account. For celiacs (no wheat orother gluten grains) offer to make them a great salad, or if some canned soup would be ok. Dieting, maybe order salad with the pizza or make the party a potluck (this works less well with teenagers). For diabetics, check with them, but make sure you have a supply of diet and caffeine-free soda.
Before you go to sleep, pick out your outfit of the party. It’s easy to get over stressed about how you will visually present yourself at a party and it’s better to plan it out before hand.
The day of the party (party goes from 5pm-11pm).
Clean your space and decorate. Move furniture (more chairs where you think they’ll be needed). Move things with a eye to how you want patterns of movement to exist. If you want everyone to sit around a room, place the chairs in the circle. If you want a few people to game, put a few chairs in the room near the console/tv and more around the edges of the room. If you are doing any cooking, so it in the morning so you can be clean for the party.
Eat lunch. This is your party and you will need all of your strength to be a kind, courteous and graceful host.
Co-host comes over, helps final clean-up and decorating.
With or without co-host. Get an idea of what kinds of games and movies you would like to have going on at the party–however remember to be flexible. Just because your dream date is watching Firefly, doesn’t mean all of your friends don’t want to watch Family Guy. By putting some thought into what you want to watch before hand, you avoid watching something you don’t like. How does a successful dictator stay in power? If democracy cannot be avoided, only allow those candidates on the ballot who you like. Same goes for party planning.
Everything for the party should be done by now. Take a quick shower (if more relaxing is needed, start at 3 or 3:30pm with a bath or a good novel) to get all of the cleaning and cooking feeling off of your skin. Get dressed in the outfit you picked out the night before.
Get out dishes for popcorn, chips and salsa. Fill them up with snacks. Place them in your snack area (where pets do not have access to it). Make sure your sodas are chillin’ and your tv/gaming console plugged in. You can take vegis out of the plastic container if you want them to be pretty (my family has a large supply of serving container. Feel free to leave things in plastics and bags if that’s not your style).
NOTE: here’s some social engineering advice. If a bowl looks over flowing people will eat more out of it. If cookies are perfectly arranged no one will want to disturb them. People eat more out of large serving utensils. Any be green conscious: soda cans can be recycles but the plastic cups you will use with large soda bottles cannot. Use real plastic plates and cups instead of disposable ones. Bike to the store. Whatever it takes.
Guests arrive. I’m always a little off schedule so I’ve developed a great ice-breaker/social save. The penalty for guests who show up early or exactly on time is they get to help me finish setting up. This gives us all something to do with our hands while we talk and makes guests feel part of the party. This is also a good way to get help with cleanup, because a guest who knows your kitchen will come in handy when it’s time to serve food.
Most every body should be there (they will straggle in with regularity for about an hour and a half after the official starting time of the party). Round everyone up and ask them about pizza preferences and order the pizza (for 20 people I would plan 3 larges. This is a good size because it allows for 1 all vegi, 1 all meat and 2 1/2s whatever random combos my friends will like this time).
Start a movie and eat pizza. This can be tv episodes and fairly short, or feature length. Leave it up to the guests–be flexible. If guests don’t want to watch, make sure there are cartoon books or other coffee table books in another room to keep them occupied.
NOTE: instead of a movie you can play games, Risk, Cranium or Wheel and Deal (a family favorite) or video games. I think it’s generally good to not force everyone into conversation for the entire 6 hours. Movies let people rest a bit in between socializing.
Movie’s over, time for cake and presents (if its a birthday party). If not, time for ice cream. There’s time for another movie or for people to break into smaller gaming and non-gaming groups. Let the guests dictate how it goes from here.
People will start getting picked up by their parents or driving off. Have a movie or something non-committal (ie, not Lord of the Rings Risk) going on if possible. See everyone to the door and make sure they are getting picked up by the right people.
Last stragglers are leaving, co-host will help start cleanup. Finish cleanup before you go to bed–it won’t be any prettier in the morning. Let any locked up pets out.
The biggest rule to party planning is Be Flexible. If all of the food went bad because of a power outage, well, you will have popcorn. Ask a few select unaffected friends to bring unspoilt goodies and have a party by candle-light. If an ex-shows up who you can’t deal with, tell your cohost and s/he will keep him/her occupied and out of your hair.
The only thing a party cannot recover from is a stressed out host. It makes the party no fun for anyone, least of all you. If you’re getting stressed, take a break. Go to the bathroom, go get a cold drink of water, even lie down for five minutes. Just stay cool and everything will be fine.
For more party stuff, see How to be a party girl by Pat Montandon. I read it in middle school and it has shaped how I run my parties. Great advice from a cool lady.
And have fun!
When Solomon said there was a time and a place for everything he had not encountered the problem of parking his automobile. – Bob Edwards