Party planning is in my blood. My maternal grandma threw notoriously epic parties in the 50s & 60s. These parties were often written about in our local newspaper, they were so fabulous! Needless to say I have some big shoes to fill. I didn't tap into this part of my DNA until about a decade ago, and I didn't start hitting my stride until a few years ago. I have planned parties of all sizes and learned a lot through trial and error along the way. But I truly love planning and attending parties. My idea of a perfect party is an impeccable blend of my guests enjoying the party, as well as myself enjoying and participating in the party.
I tried to keep this part of me dormant because we are currently living in such a small space, but I couldn't do it. So this past weekend I hosted my first NYC soiree: a cookie swap. I want to share with you the six steps I followed to ensure that this party went off without a hitch.
First, decide what kind of party you are throwing. Cocktail or dinner. At your home, an event space or a restaurant. If that has you stumped, ask yourself what kind of party you prefer going to. You will have a lot more fun at your own party if it is the kind of party you enjoy going to. I prefer parties at my home. I am more relaxed and there isn't as much pressure for the party to end as when you are at an event space or restaurant.
Second, hash out your guest list. Having an idea of how many people you would like to come helps tremendously in the rest of the planning process. I love parties of all sizes, but I have learned that I thrive as a host when there are 30 or fewer guests. I enjoy being able to have a conversation with everyone that attends during the course of the party. So when there are more than 30 people, I have a harder time balancing it all and remaining calm.
Third, set a budget for yourself. I will admit that this step is often one that I skip because I convince myself that I can throw a fabulous party without spending a ton of money. But almost every time, I am wrong. I end up spending far too much money which leaves me and R stressed out in the days leading up to and after the party. Your budget will depend entirely upon you and how much you can comfortably spend without risking being homeless in the months to come. I suggest coming up with a number that doesn't break your bank and then halving it. That way if you spend a little more, you'll still be within your original budget.
Fourth, pick a venue. By now you should know how many people you are inviting and how much you can afford to spend, so picking a venue should be less of a challenge. If home is where the party is and it can hold your guests comfortably then you're all set! If the party is a bit bigger or you would like to take some of the planning pressure off your own shoulders, then an event space or restaurant might be a good option. I suggest using Google or Yelp to help you find the venue that has the perfect atmosphere for your soiree. While I mostly prefer parties at my home, there are a few times where I have opted for a restaurant. In those cases I chose the cuisine I wanted to enjoy first and then based my Google and Yelp searches on that.
Fifth, plan your menu. Planning the menu, in my opinion, is the most important step in the whole process and it is my favorite part. I can get lost on Pinterest for hours searching for delectable new recipes that no one has tried before. If you have decided to party in a restaurant, then you can probably skip this step.
For cocktail parties, I pick three to five hors d'oeuvres, depending on how many guests are coming. For dinner parties, I prepare three hors d'oeuvres, two to three side dishes, and one main course.
Pro tip: Be sure to choose an array of dishes that will cover all your guests dietary needs. There are delicious recipes out there for your vegan guests, your carnivorous guests and everyone in between. Another rule of thumb I live by is choosing dishes that can be made ahead of time, or at least be prepped ahead of time. If I can be out mingling with my guests more than I am in the kitchen, I have hosted a successful party!
And don't forget about the booze! For cocktail and dinner parties, we usually serve a red & white wine, a bubbly wine/prosecco/champagne, and a signature cocktail. We also ensure that we have a well stocked bar in case anyone wants to try their hand at bartending.
Here's a look at the menu I prepared for my cookie swap:
- Cranberry Brie Bites
- Vegan Sweet Potato Avocado Bites
- My go to party dip: a block of cream cheese with Hot Pepper Jelly (found at Trader Joe's) spread on top and served with water crackers.
- Milk (to go with the cookies)
- Rosemary Butter Cookie
Sixth, plan the execution. To make sure that everything runs smoothly the day of the party, make lists of what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and who should be in charge of doing it ahead of time. If at all possible, go shopping a few days prior to the party, prep the food and set up the decorations the day before. Aim to have your day of to do list be as short as possible. We use Google Shopping Express (for non perishable items) and Fresh Direct (for almost everything else) to help with our prep.
I picked up a tip from R the first time we coordinated a dinner party together and it has really helped us with parties we have hosted together since. He calls them our recipe worksheets. We combine all the recipes that need to be made into one long list complete with times, down to the minute, of when things need to be done. This helps us multitask without missing a step, or overcooking anything. We've become much more efficient during our cooking and prep phases, and its allowed both of us to mingle with our guests without one of us having to be in the kitchen.
And with those six steps you can host the party of the century, every time! But do keep in mind that no matter how much you plan there will always be a few hiccups. I've forgotten to turn the oven on, been finishing my makeup as guests arrived, and forgot to put out an appetizer we had spent the whole day before making. Learn to let these little hiccups roll off your back, smile and keep the party going!