Basic Event Planning Checklist

If you follow our party planning checklist, we promise you won't be vacuuming the living room and defrosting appetizers as the first guests arrive.

So, you're hosting a 40th birthday bash ... or a bridal shower ... or an anniversary party for your parents. It isn't a huge, life-changing event like a wedding, where you'd have to start planning a year ahead of time and work with multiple vendors -- and lose your mind -- to make everything note-perfect. This party will probably be a pretty DIY affair: It'll be held at your home, with homemade food, and you're not expecting an enormous crowd.

But it's not a toddler's birthday, either -- it's a grownup party, and to get it right, you'll be doing a fair amount of planning. So, where (and when) do you start? When do you shop and cook? How much wine should you buy? And -- perhaps most importantly -- how do you avoid the dreaded scenario of opening the door to your first guests while still in your robe and slippers?


This handy-dandy checklist will erase a lot of the stress from the party-planning process. If you follow these simple steps, we promise you won't be scrambling to vacuum the living room and defrost appetizers as the doorbell rings. You'll be able to mix, mingle and enjoy your festive creation.

We'll start about a month before party day. The first thing you should do is...


Three to Four Weeks Out

  • Set the date.
  • Decide on a theme. Think about what food, music and decorations you might need.
  • Figure out a budget. The second part of this task -- sticking to that budget -- will probably be harder.
  • Nail down a venue if you're not hosting at home.
  • Hire a caterer and/or a bartender, if you're using them. Enlist help, if needed, for party setup, passing appetizers and cleaning up.
  • Rent any equipment you might need.
  • Finalize the guest list and send invitations. Depending on the formality of your party, you might have the invitations professionally printed, or you could go the handwritten or e-mail route. All are perfectly acceptable.
  • Plan the menu -- start making a grocery list and figuring out a timeline for when all the dishes will be prepared. Don't forget to consider any of your guests' food allergies or sensitivities.


One to Two Weeks Out

man buying wine
Buy all of your wine and liquor a few weeks ahead of time -- and have three bottles of wine for every four guests.
  • Buy wine and liquor. As a rule of thumb, you should have three bottles of wine for every four guests and plan on people having three to four drinks over the course of a two- to three-hour party.
  • Take an inventory of your dishes, platters, utensils, glasses, serving pieces and table linens. Do you have enough or will you have to buy more, rent or borrow anything? Actually setting the table might help you figure it out. Use Post-Its to label things so you'll remember what you intended to use them for.
  • Make a music playlist. Keep a close eye on running time -- you don't want to have to repeat any tunes.
  • Order a cake if you need one.
  • Buy nonperishable foods and drinks.
  • Do a major cleaning (or hire professional cleaners) closer to the one-week mark. That way, you'll just have to keep things tidy in the final days instead of scrambling to vacuum the living room or scrub the powder-room sink.
  • About a week beforehand, call or e-mail anyone on the invite list who hasn't RSVP'd yet.
  • If you'll be serving anything that can be frozen, make it around a week ahead of time.


One to Three Days Out

  • Finalize the party setup. Keep crowd flow in mind when you're arranging furniture, and remove anything that clutters a room or might get broken. Have a decent amount of seating available, but not so much that everyone will sit down and forget to mingle.
  • Stock the bar and refrigerate drinks.
  • Wash glasses, dishes, serving pieces and flatware.
  • Iron table linens and napkins.
  • Buy perishable food except meat and seafood two days ahead. Get meat and seafood one day ahead.
  • Do a quick (but thorough!) once-over of the house. Tidy up and make sure you have enough toilet paper and hand towels.
  • The day before, prepare any foods that can be refrigerated. Do as much prep work as you can for anything that you'll have to make the day of.
  • Decorate and figure out lighting. You might need to change bulbs if certain rooms seem like they'll be too light or dark during the party.


The Day Of

setting table
Leave the last minute items, like setting the table, chilling the wine and final food prep for the day of the party.
  • A few hours beforehand, finish up with the cooking. If you've planned ahead, this should be a pretty minimal amount of work.
  • Buy and arrange fresh flowers and balloons.
  • Set up tables and the bar.
  • Pick up ice and pre-made platters.
  • Get dressed about two hours before starting time. You might be tempted to leave this until the last minute, but you could easily get caught up in party prep and end up greeting your guests with wet hair, in a robe and slippers.
  • Chill wine.
  • Remember to wear an apron if you need to!
  • Set out plastic-wrapped, non-spoiling appetizers and dips a couple of hours beforehand, and take off the plastic wrap as the first guests arrive.
  • About an hour ahead of time, reheat any frozen dishes.
  • About 15 minutes before the first guests are due to arrive, light candles and start music.
  • Grab a cocktail, sit back, relax and enjoy yourself!

For more information about party planning, take a look at the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Evite. "Cocktail Party Checklist." (March 5, 2012)
  • Martha Stewart. "Party-Planning Guide." (March 5, 2012)
  • Real Simple. "Party Planning Checklist." (March 5, 2012)