In my family, planning a party is a serious matter. I think this can largely be attributed to my grandmothers. My Grandma Gerry (my mom’s mom) was a florist, and as such, my mom’s family was frequently involved in setting up for weddings and other special occasions. My Grandma Louise (my dad’s mom) moved to the United States from Ireland, eventually became the Head-of-Household for a prominent American family, and later owned a series of popular bars in Chicago. She instilled in my father the importance of properly setting a table, and providing an entertaining and engaging environment for your guests.
It is no surprise then that despite never having the opportunity to meet my grandmothers (they both passed away before I was born) their views have impacted the way I approach party planning. Additionally, having the opportunity to attend and help my parents host numerous holiday, special occasion, business, and charitable events provided me with insight into what makes an enjoyable party or event.
So with all this talk of why I have the views I do, you may be wondering, “Well, what are your views after all?!” So to address that pressing question, I present Mamasaurus Rex’s Unwritten Rules of Party Planning:
1. Know your guests.
This is probably my key rule. So often people plan events around their, or a guest of honor’s, preferences. However, a great party isn’t about the hosts, or even the guest of honor; rather, it’s about the guests! “Hold up,” you say, “how is a birthday party, retirement party, or wedding not about the guest(s) of honor?!” Let me explain. When a party is being thrown in honor of a personal or life achievement, it should certainly reflect the guest of honor and the relevant achievement; however, the focus on the guest of honor should not be at the expense of the guests’ enjoyment.
For example: if you are throwing a graduation party for Johnny, who happens to be a rap enthusiast, but your guest list largely consists of older aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, etc., playing an all-rap playlist is likely not the best choice if you want your guests to enjoy themselves. Likewise, if you are throwing a birthday party for Lindsay, who loves all things peanut butter, but you know three of her family members (and guests) have severe peanut allergies, it would be unwise to have a peanut-tastic menu. Nobody enjoys a party that involves allergic reactions and ambulances.
In short: themes or elements that reflect a host or guest of honor are fine, but make sure the themes or elements you choose will be appreciated by the guests in attendance as well.
2. Pick an appropriate venue.
Make sure wherever you choose to host the party can accommodate the amount of guests you will have. Don’t just think about capacity, but also crowd flow. You want a space where guests can comfortably maneuver, sit, and have access to adequate restroom facilities.
If you will be hosting the party at a party room, or event space, go visit the space in person prior to the event. It isn’t fun to show up on the day-of only to find that the room wasn’t what you envisioned. Furthermore, if the party will be at a restaurant, check reviews from others who have hosted events there to ensure the restaurant can adequately handle your crowd. I’m a big fan of checking reviews for any rented space, but it is particularly important when dealing with restaurant spaces that may not be experienced in dealing with non-staggered orders (orders that need to be delivered for a large group at the same time), or will have to accommodate both your party and regular diners simultaneously.
3. Do a mental walk-through.
As I mentioned above, creating an enjoyable experience for your guests is essential (see #1). In order to ensure you have provided for everything necessary, it is helpful to place yourself in the guests’ shoes.
Picture yourself arriving, parking, entering, and so on. Is it clear where your guests may park? Where they should go once they arrive? Is there a place to put coats/bags? If there are seating assignments, are they easily visible/accessible to the guests? Are the restrooms easily located? Have you made accommodations for your guests who have walkers/wheelchairs? Asking yourself these types of questions in a chronological order may also trigger other thoughts on what still needs to be done, like provide a caterer with your final number or order the cake.
4. Incorporate a consistent theme or décor.
This one is short. When it comes to décor, a certain level of consistency is helpful. Incorporate a theme throughout if appropriate, but if it is not a theme event, pick a color scheme to work with. Throwing a party for your uncle that loves fishing? Find a fun way to tie a fisherman theme into your décor through centerpieces, cake, etc. Hosting a 50th wedding anniversary, but don’t want a bunch of “50” décor all over? That’s fine, pick a few colors (perhaps gold and crème/white) to work with.
Incorporating a level of consistency can make a party look well-planned, regardless of your budget for decorations.
5. Have (at least) one unique aspect.
If you want to ensure your party is memorable, work in a “wow” factor. “Wow” doesn’t have to mean “ka-ching”. Cost is irrelevant. There may be parties where expensive “wow” factors are appropriate, but a “wow” factor can be anything that is out of the ordinary or unique. If you are hosting a small Thanksgiving dinner for the family, give that turkey-shaped fruit display you’ve been eyeing on Pinterest a go! Throwing a surprise party for your friend? Set up a do-it-yourself photo booth! Hosting a higher-budget event? Perhaps incorporating a performance or ice-sculpture is more what you’re looking for.
Whatever the size of your party, put some thought into something unique that your guests will like and incorporate it! They’ll love the extra thought and effort, and you’ll feel proud and accomplished!
BONUS RULE: Be a gracious host.
Without this bonus rule, all the other rules are obsolete. Be kind, welcoming, and gracious. Your guests may not remember all the details of your party 10 years from now, but they will remember you. Make sure that memory is a positive one.
*Editing by: Melisa Carroll