Hosting a holiday party doesn't have to be stressful if you plan it well and share the work. Here are some ideas for simplifying your party planning.
1) Print invitations: If you are planning on having more then just a few close friends over for cocktails make up a paper invitation. Many photo sites have easy to follow formats which literally take minutes to layout an invitation that they will mail out for you. I've used Shutterfly for years and their prints are good quality and their prices are competitive.
Include in the invitation exact information: time, place, dress, and a specific date for an RSVP. Try to invite people for a fancier affair 1 month in advance, for a more causal event 2 weeks in advance. If you invite people too early they will forget,... too late, they are more likely to have other plans.
2) Get commitments and remind people. It is important to send a physical invitation that friends can put up on their fridge or bulletin board to remind them about the party. People get very busy this time of year. Unfortunately, people have gotten very bad about RSVPing, but if you put a specific date to RSVP by on the invitation, you can feel comfortable contacting them after it.
3) Write out a party plan: Write out a shopping list for your party and plan a menu and or theme for the food. The more you visualize your party beforehand the less likely you will forget important items. You can create a template check list to use for all of your parties. The more you are willing to note what things you needed more or less of after a party, the easier it will be to plan your next event.
4) Accept contributions: When friends RSVP and offer to bring something have a list of items ready that you can assign them. Don't say, "Bring anything." if you get an offer of food. You know what you want to make yourself. Let your friends fill in the extras like: a cheese plate, crudités, or a vegetable side dish etc. Your friends will appreciate you narrowing down their cooking options. Give non cooks items to get like paper goods or beverages. If you have a friend who is really into music, let him make a play list. Delegate, delegate, delegate... just check up on them and remind people of their commitments a week before your event.
5) Beverages are more important than food. Worry more about having enough to drink, then having a lot of food. For a small get together a few appetizers and 1 to 2 desserts are plenty. People don't eat a ton at parties because they are talking, and they don't want to look like a pig gobbling food in front of other guests.
6) Decorate with flow in mind. However you plan to decorate make sure you hide away any furniture etc. that is overly big and or will block the flow of people from one area to another.
7) DO NOT have enough seats for everyone. You want people to move around and talk to each other, you don't want them to plop down in a chair and check out.
8) Spread out food and drink. Think about were you want your guests to congregate. If you want to get them out of the kitchen and into your beautifully decorated living room. Set the bar up in the living room. Put some trays of food out in the rooms you want people to hang out in... guests are like dogs they migrate to were the treats are.
9) Aid conversation. Most likely you are the only person who knows everyone in the room, so when you introduce guests to each other include some information about them that will help spark conversation such as: "Jack is really into tennis also." "Jill loves to garden too." or "Helen is the person who baked the cookies you were just raving about."
10) Winding down the party and cleaning up. When you want to wind down the party get a pot of coffee brewing and start cleaning up... always say yes, when someone asked to help. If you are close to guests assigning clean up tasks. People want to help because they are grateful for your hospitality. You don't need to be overly exhausted trying to be the "super host" who makes all the refreshments and does all of the clean up. Accept help so you can enjoy the party too.
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