Lauren’s first birthday party last year, was my first really big party. It was a lot of work, but it definitely got me hooked on planning and styling parties. You’d think that each subsequent party would become easier to pull off, and in some ways they have, but at the same time they each seem to have their own challenges (like say a blizzard resulting in no electricity). There are a few things I’ve learned from my own experience that I think are helpful.
1. Get Organized
It’s no secret. I love organizing and being organized. So the first thing I do when I start planning a party is set up my “party planning notebook.” Like the teacher that I am, I use a three-ring binder to corral all my ideas, plans, and lists.
To be organized you have to KEEP IT ALL TOGETHER. Everything party related is in one place which saves time and eliminates clutter. (This is also especially helpful on shopping trips or when out running errands.) I put a copy of the invitation on the cover and I use dividers to breakdown the different aspects of planning (Guest List, Menu, Set-Up/Decor, To-Do List, Shopping Lists). A pouch in the front of the binder holds the essentials: Post-Its, a tiny tape measure, fabric samples, and of course pencils. Page protectors in the back can hold extra labels, craft store coupons and other party supplies.
2. Make a Plan & a Schedule (ahead of time)
I’ve also learned that I really love logistics. I love making and having a plan. Like being organized, it helps me to feel in control and avoid feeling overwhelmed. When it comes to party set-up, think about where things will go and which serving pieces you’ll use. Do a trial run well in advance of the party to make sure everything fits and looks the way you imagined. Then take pictures to help you remember. Time goes really fast on party day and you’ll be glad you did. A detailed set of instructions for day-off tasks is also helpful when you have other people helping you out.
Here’s a page of set-up instruction from the Rock Around the Clock Party. I included pictures to show how tables should be set up.
For me planning also often means creating a timeline of things that need to be done in the weeks, days, and hours prior to the party. Putting it down on paper relieves stress and helps ensure no detail is left out.
3. Confirm EVERYTHING
I’m proud to say I did not learn this lesson the hard way. Bakeries, florists, and other businesses get busy. Orders can easily be misread or misplaced. First, keep a record of who you worked with when placing the order as well as the specific order details. Then, always play it safe and TAKE IT UPON YOURSELF to call and confirm the DETAILS of anything your order for a party. Had I not made confirmation calls in advance of the last party we would not have had a cake and we would have a had a birthday girl leaving the spa way too early. A few quick phone calls saved me lots of stress on party day.
4. Be polite
I’m not trying to sound like your mother. This really goes along with #3. In the instances where things were on the wrong track with party vendors, I kept my cool and tried to be kind and understanding. People are always much more willing to work with you that way. My polite attitude really paid off when it came to the day spa we sent my mother-in-law to. They ended up giving her a complementary massage to make up for their initial booking error. Not only was my plan saved, but Debbie got some much deserved extra pampering!
A bit more relfection…
While it didn’t take me long to realize that I love planning and party set up, it has taken me a few parties to realize that I don’t love (personally) doing some aspects of parties quite as much.
I love to plan the perfect menu, and ordinarily, I do love to cook and bake, but on party day having to do too much of that really stresses me out. In a perfect world I’d love to hire a caterer to do the food at all my parties. Until I can afford to do that, I’m working on simple menus that contain at least some make-ahead dishes.
Photography is another area where I’d really love to call in a professional. While we’re lucky enough to own a great camera, carefully photographing all the little details that make a party special (and the party fun itself) is often something that gets done hastily, or not at all. There are aspects from all my parties that we haven’t gotten great photos of or that we’ve forgotten to take pictures of altogether. It’s always disappointing, but it’s motivation to work on my photography skills. If time (and budgets) allow I’d like to look into hiring a photographer for Lauren’s next birthday party.
That being said, if any caterers or photographers are reading this and want to work out some type of trade-off let me know.
Help me out. What are your tips for planning and pulling off parties?