Deciding to throw a party is always fun, but when it comes to the actual planning, giddiness is often replaced by, “What was I thinking?” Help is on the way. Whether your upcoming fête is a large-scale event or an intimate dinner, these plan-ahead steps — which take delayed delivery times and supply-chain issues into account — will help you enjoy your event as much as your guests.
One Month Before
Create your guest list.
Order and then mail invitations.
Finish those minor repairs and decorating projects you’ve been putting off.
Three Weeks Before
If the party is themed, buy any specialty items you’ll need — decorations, koozies, napkins, piñatas, etc.
Order rental glassware. It saves cleanup and is surprisingly affordable.
Line up bartenders, a post-party cleaning crew, or any other help you might need.
Two Weeks Before
Schedule yard maintenance for the morning of the event.
Plan menu; order any catered food you’ll be serving. If you need a specific cut of meat or specialty item, begin searching for it. It can always go in the freezer.
Check your supply of candles, guest towels, paper towels, mixers, hand soap, and other staples.
One Week Before
Make sure table linens are ironed and stain-free. For a sit-down dinner, be sure to have wine coasters for the table and linen cocktail napkins.
Pull together your music playlists.
Three Days Before
Give your house a good cleaning. Pay special attention to cluttered spaces that you’ve forgotten exist, like a pretty bowl that’s now filled with old mail and vitamins on the kitchen counter.
Clear out your fridge, then pick up groceries, alcohol, and ice.
Plan the serving dishes you’ll be using and label each with what will go in it.
Decide where the bar will be.
Buy and arrange flowers — they’ll need a few days to open into full bloom. Just remember to keep them watered!
One Day Before
Mix up dips, salad dressings, sauces.
If you’re holding a seated dinner, set the table.
Go through your menu and set an alarm on your phone when each item needs to go into the oven and when it needs to come out. It’s a good idea to write out the list as well and place it somewhere it won’t get lost. The cutlery drawer is a good spot.
Let your neighbors know you’re having guests.
Prep as much food as you can.
Slice crudites, fruit, and drink garnishes.
Unwrap what you can. No need to be wrestling with cheese packaging 30 minutes before your guests arrive.
Chop tomatoes, herbs, and other salad additions and place into individual bags.
Put butter for bread on the table.
Transfer cold dips to their serving dishes, veggies and fruits to platters, and cover with plastic.
Prepare salad greens and place in the salad bowl; cover with plastic.
If needed, get out a carving board and serving platter. If you’re serving biscuits or bread, have a basket or bowl ready with a napkin.
Now you can do a final cleanup on the house and yard. Don’t forget to wipe mirrors, faucets, and other shiny surfaces; put extra toilet paper, fresh soap, and hand towels in the bathroom. Stash your coffee maker, toaster, and other small appliances. In the yard, check for pine cones, sweep the front stoop, shake out the welcome mat, and wipe off the porch lights.
Rearrange furniture as needed — remove chairs from around dining room table and create space for mingling if other rooms have too much sitting furniture.
Put out glasses and cocktail napkins.
Check thermostat for any adjustments.
2 Hours Before
Crackers, nuts, and drink garnishes can go out; preheat oven for hot dishes.
Open wine, prepare batched cocktails, and check your ice supply.
If you’re having a DIY bar, fill vessels with drinks and ice them down.
Place batched drinks in pitchers.
Empty the dishwasher and the trash in the kitchen and bathrooms.
Whip cream if needed for dessert — it will hold until after dinner.
Don’t forget to get yourself ready!
Hide a mirror and lipstick somewhere in the kitchen for quick touch-ups; have an apron ready to slip on for last minute cooking duties.
1 Hour Before
Place ice in ice buckets.
Set out cold or room temperature finger food.
30 Minutes Before
Set up lighting — dim overheads, turn on outside lighting and a lamp in each room, light candles.
Turn on music.
Set out hot appetizers.
Place a bottle or two of open chilled wine on the bar.
Give yourself a final check, pour yourself a glass of wine, and wait for your guests to arrive. Voilà!