Planning & Budget

Complete party prep checklist

Illustration of person writing down to-dos.

Prepping for a party doesn’t have to be a pain. Follow these essential party prep tips to get set for your next celebration. We even made a cheat-sheet free printable you can print out to keep on hand while you prep!

2 weeks before:

  • Set the menu. Don’t try to make food on the fly—plan your menu well in advance, then write out a detailed shopping list. Pick dishes that can be prepared ahead of time and only require warming and assembling on the day of the party so you can keep out of the kitchen and spend more time with guests. If you’re not confident in your cooking skills—or you don’t want to spend time slaving over the stove—buy prepared foods, order in or call a caterer (make your reservation now).
  • Plan your party decorations. Turn run-of-the-mill dinner or drinks into something special by doing it up with decorations. Shop for decorations online to save time or get crafty and do it yourself. Even a simple printable banner to celebrate a special occasion or a table runner and candles can be enough to dress things up.

1 week before:

  • Get groceries. Preparing for party guests requires more than your weekly grocery store run. If you have a large guest list, buy the basics in bulk so you won’t run out. Go shopping at least a week in advance to purchase all your drinks and nonperishable foods.
  • Stock the bar. You could just buy a couple of cases of beer or a few bottles of wine and call it a day, but to go the extra mile, give guests the option to create their own cocktails. If you want to offer a full bar, stock up on liquor, including vodka, tequila, rum and gin, and nonalcoholic mixers, including tonic water, juice and soda. If it’s a small get-together, don’t feel you have to buy out the liquor store; just offer enough to mix a signature drink or two. You’ll want to keep both alcoholic and nonalcoholic choices in the mix so you have a little something for everyone. Chill beverages beforehand—and don’t forget the ice.
  • Declutter. Now’s the time to go through (or stash, no judgments here) that stack of mail piled up on your dining room table and put away the sneakers you left in the living room. While you’re at it, make room for food and drink in your fridge by tossing anything past its expiration date and reorganizing what’s left.
  • Plan out party activities. Turning down the lights and turning up the music for dancing takes cocktails from drab to fab; a round of Celebrity after dessert keeps a dinner party going. Prep your playlist (disco ball optional) or get enough pencils and paper together for everyone now.
  • Create a playlist. Make a playlist using a music streaming service so you don’t have to play DJ all night. Select songs that fit the occasion and appeal to a variety of tastes. For instance, a swanky cocktail party might call for jazz, while a blowout birthday bash may be better suited for contemporary chart-toppers.

2 days before:

  • Make your place look spick-and-span. Put your best foot forward by making sure your space is clean—guests should feel their arrival has been anticipated, not as if they walked in unannounced on your day-to-day life. Sweep and mop the floors, vacuum the carpets, dust the furniture, clean the counters and appliances, then tackle the bathrooms. If you just can’t deal, consider hiring a cleaning service to do the dirty work for you. Don’t be afraid to give specific instructions about what you want to have cleaned or ask that they use your own cleaning products.
  • Get serveware ready. Select a variety of platters and serving stands to add visual interest, make room for dishes and give guests easy access to sips and eats. Don’t waste time on the day of digging for dishes buried in the back of your cabinets—get them out ahead of time and then, if you’re feeling fancy, clean and polish platters, plates, silverware and stemware. If you’re using a tablecloth and/or cloth napkins, make sure they’re washed and pressed.
  • Pick out your outfit. Save yourself the stress of deciding what to wear last-minute by laying out your outfit beforehand. That way, you can ensure your clothes will be clean, pressed and ready-to-wear, not crumpled in the corner of your closet. Don’t forget shoes and/or jewelry to match.

1 day before:

  • Rearrange furniture. If you’re hosting more than a handful of guests, you may want to rearrange furniture to maximize your party space and ensure guests will be able to move around with ease. In addition to setting up a space for eats, decide where you’ll set out drinks and/or dessert. Store valuables and breakables out of sight to avoid any mishaps and plan a place where they can keep their purses and coats.
  • Decorate. Now’s the time to set out the candles and a vase or two of flowers and/or hang a banner.
  • Make the food. Prep everything you can the day before, then keep dishes in the fridge overnight so all you have to do on the day of is heat and serve. Wash everything now to ensure anything you may need tomorrow will be clean. That way you’ll also have plenty of room in your dishwasher or dish rack for more dishes tomorrow.

Day of:

  • Do any last-minute food prep. Prep drink garnishes, cut fruit for a salad, etc. — anything you couldn’t do ahead.
  • Set out serveware and/or food and drink. Before guests arrive, set up tables with napkins, dishes, beverages and/or food.
  • Set the mood. Light the candles, put on your playlist and pour yourself a drink: You’re ready to party!

Start inviting friends to your next get-together by sending one of our dinner party invitations or cocktail party invitations.

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