Party planning guide - When you’ve been placed in command of organising the next big birthday party, family anniversary, or staff do, it can all get a bit overwhelming - especially if it’s the first party you’ve ever organised. Party planning is daunting enough, but if you’re a first time party planner it can feel like you may as well be stood at the bottom of Mt. Everest in flip flops with a handful of elastic bands. Fear not, however, because we’ve put together a step by step guide for first time party planners to take the dreaded hassle out of organising a fun and memorable party.
First things first: get your planning hat on well in advance.
It’s human nature to put things off. We’ve all left something important to the last minute, promised ourselves it would be different next time, and, when next time rolled around, once again indulged in a little last minute terror. Normally things are a little rushed, but they get done all the same. Sadly, this is not the case when it comes to organising a party. The fact of the matter is that the earlier you start planning, the better your party is going to be. It’s tempting when you’re organising a party for adults to just tell everyone to show up with enough beer to do them, stick on your own music and leave people to their own devices. For a casual house party this is probably the way forward. But if you’re considering in-depth planning, a casual house party is probably not what you’re going for.
Even if you’re not naturally inclined to being a planner, you have to step into those shoes if you want your first party to go off without a hitch. Make some lists – but be sure you don’t go overboard. You’ll want to write down everything to do with budget, guests, and times...but if you’re producing a list detailing what you want everyone to be doing at any given time for the entire duration of the party, there’s a chance you’ve gone a bit overboard. As a first time party planner, you’re going to feel like you’re in that area when you’re making lists full stop, but you definitely need them if you’re going to get anywhere. You’ll need a few basics: a guest list, a budget list, and an ever-evolving to-do list that you will no doubt happily burn once the party is over.
Begin at the beginning
Get your basics sorted first. It may seem silly, but ask yourself a few simple key questions before you bury your nose in the fancy notebook you bought specifically to house your party planning notes (a necessary purchase for the truly organised amongst us). You need to consider three main questions: who the party is for, what they like, and if they’re going to want all the things you want. It’s easy, as a first time party planner, to forget that this party isn’t actually for you. If you’re organising a party for your great aunt Josephine’s 70th birthday, it might be a good idea to take a step back and consider your key questions: does she share your passion for 80s hair metal? No, she doesn’t. It’s a good thing you double checked that before you hired in the Poison tribute act. No matter what the occasion is, the party recipient is the most important person to consider.
Once you’ve cemented who the party is for, you can pencil in a date and a time. Parties thrown during the week will definitely work out cheaper for you, but your guests will most likely need to be up in the morning for work, so they won’t be able to overindulge or stay too late. Maybe this suits the type of party you’re trying to throw. If it does, good news – if it doesn’t, then you need to rethink your dates. For first time party organisers, beware the coin-toss that is a Friday night party. It can go two ways: either your guests show up ready to have a good time after the stress of the working week, or absolutely wrecked from the culmination of five days hard labour.
Time becomes a key player in party planning – more so than you’d probably think. It plays a huge role in both your food and entertainment choices. If you’re holding a party that starts at 6pm then you better feed your guests something decent, but if it’s an 8-til-late soirée then finger food will probably suffice. Chances are you don’t want a party DJ at a lunch time birthday party, and a balloon modeller probably won’t hold much attention by 11 o’clock on a Saturday night at your staff party. Once you have your date and time sorted you can move onto the real numbers game: your guest list.
Having a solid guest number is integral to choosing a venue, as well as being an easy way to separate out your budget. You need to take some time to sort out your guests – take out that new special notebook you bought and make your first big list. Start off with your absolute must haves, and then go on from there until you have everyone you want to invite. As a first time party planner, chances are you’ve accidentally created an encyclopaedia of everyone you’ve ever met on your first go, so read through it a few more times to shave off a few non-essentials. Once you’ve got your list down to a reasonable level, make sure you contact your non-essentials straight away to make sure they’re available. If they can’t make it, and you can’t make it a party without them, then you may have to reschedule. Send your guests a quick text to let them know the party’s happening and it has a provisional date. Remind them later by email, or set up an event on social media to make sure they know about it. A good idea is to keep your finalised guest list with you, and update it when people contact you with their RSVP information, as well as other little details like food allergies or issues like epilepsy which could be an issue.
Pick a Price and a Place
Now that you have your guest list, you can sort out your budget. You’ve probably balked at the idea of setting a budget previously – you’re an adult, you live within your means, you’re not going to blow through money on a party! You’ve got more sense than that! Well, to put bluntly, you are. You’re a first time party planner, and you’re very much are going to lose track of yourself when you see all the amazing things they make for parties these days. If you don’t set a budget, stick to it, and studiously write down everything you buy, you will get carried away and bankrupt yourself. Poor self control in the presence of Really Cool Stuff is just human nature, and as such you need to sort out exactly what you need, and how much you’re willing to spend. Set your overarching budget first, and work downwards from there.
Having set a budget that you’re definitely going to stick to, and a definite guest list, you can now start having a real think about a venue. If your party is small enough to hold at home, or if you’re lucky enough to have a party room in your house (which is, apparently, a thing that people literally have), you’re sorted. It may seem the easiest option but once again you have to ask yourself some questions: have you got enough chairs? Enough space? Enough patience to clean up after your guests the next day?
If your guest list is big, but not huge, consider a room in a restaurant or bar. But, if you’re planning a really big shindig, a venue room is probably the best way to go. If you’re going for a venue, make sure it’s a venue that everyone can enjoy Is it wheelchair accessible? Is it close enough to the city for people to actually find? How are they going to get home? Seasoned party planners know you never trust the pictures online when it comes to venue booking, so make sure you get a real life view of your venue before you make anything final. The quality of a venue can really make or break the party – you can have the nicest canapés in the world, but if the toilets are grotty people will still focus on that.
Food and Drink
Whilst it’s tempting to try and get food and drink knocked off the list early, you’re flirting with disaster if you try and sort it before you’ve got guest numbers and a time for your party. Food and drink need to match up with your guests, both in numbers and needs. If your event is around dinner time, sink a chunk of the budget into putting on a proper meal, lest you have hangry (that’s hungry and angry) friends, family, or colleagues leaving early in search of real food. A later evening party is likely to get a bit boozy, so bring out the real greasy crowd pleasing nibbles. For a party during the day fresh veggies with tasty dips can be a good choice. Regardless of time, venue, or anything else, make sure you have at least three bowls of crisps circulating at any one time. Trust us.
When it comes to alcohol, if you’ve picked a venue with a working bar, there’s not much you have to do. If not, you need to put a little bit of thought into what you’re providing. Will it be self serve from drinks you’ve provided? Bring your own? A mixture of both? If you’re putting on the liquid spread yourself, make sure you provide ice, as well as non-alcoholic options for those guests who prefer to keep a clear head.
You need to book entertainment well in advance if you want to have options. Venue and guest list play a big role here, and by now you’re no doubt about either. If you have a big venue, and best guest list, then the next logical step is big entertainment. Since this is your first time planning a party, chances are it’s your first time sorting out entertainment on a large scale. Long gone are the days of the iPod disco, even for those of us with the excuse of being first time party planners.
If venue size permits and you need music that lasts the whole party, the easiest option is to hire yourself a DJ. For a musical showpiece, a live band is sure to impress guests. If you’re organising a smaller soirée, however, it’s possible to maintain the atmosphere that live music gives by hiring out a duo or trio to perform. It may not seem like much, but it really goes a long way and leaves a lasting impression, both of the party and of you as a now-experienced party planner.
Remember however that entertainment doesn’t live and die with live music – consider hiring out other event services, or an excellent idea for either a venue or an at-home party is the addition of a fun casino night. Casino hire is popular enough that people aren’t going to be perplexed when it arrives, but still uncommon enough that it hasn’t become cheesy or overdone.
Mix and mingle might be enough to keep your party afloat, but why take that chance? You can have a chat and a few drinks any night, and providing entertainment for your guests is an easy way to make sure everyone gets in the party mood from the outset. For a house party, set piece entertainment should be enough to keep everyone lively, but for bigger venues you’re probably going to want to hire something that’ll last you all night, or a few smaller pieces dotted throughout the evening. Don’t count out party games like twister, or plugging in a dance mat – they’re going to take everyone back to the excitement of those childhood birthday parties, and they’re not mandatory for those who’d rather sit them out. You’re a first time party planner, so no doubt the reams of results that your search engine threw back at you is seems insurmountable. Don’t be afraid to reach out to an entertainment booking website, they’re big, experienced, and there to help.
The key for any first time party planner is not to stress too much. Start your planning early, and make sure you stay organised and on top of things. Chances are this party is for someone you care it about, be it family member, friend, or colleagues, and they’re going to be pleased with the amount of effort you put in and appreciate it was all for them. Make sure when you’re endlessly planning that you plan to have everything sorted an hour before the party so you have time to unwind and enjoy the fruits of your labour. It’s tempting to go over elaborate with your first party, but remember – it’s about fun, not finances. People will come to a party you’ve organised because they want to, so they’re already looking forward to it no matter what you’re doing! Do the hard work in advance and don’t absolutely lose it over disasters – you need to be involved and present at the party, not crying in the kitchen because you’ve burned the sausage rolls. If you take your time, follow our guide, and stop for breath every now and again, your guests will remember your first ever party for all the right reasons.