Holiday Party Planning Tips

Monday I gave you some tips for holiday organizing. Today I'll give you some tips for if you're throwing a holiday soiree. These are broken down into two categories - prep and planning and the day of .

Event Prep and Planning


  • First things first, set your budget. Don't wait to "see what things cost" unless you don't care how much money you spend.
  • Allocate funds across the different facets of your event so you don't overspend in one area and have to sacrifice in another to make up for it.


  • Pick a theme and represent it through every element of your party. It can be a specific theme like "Winter Wonderland" or it can be a color story like cobalt blue, silver and white.
  • Create a sense of drama while planning your decorations and think about exciting all the senses throughout your party. How can you surprise and delight through touch, sight, taste, sound, and atmosphere?


  • Create your guest list and order invitations.
  • Whenever possible (which is most of the time) use real invitations that reflect the theme of your party. Invitations set the tone.


  • Think of how you want your party to move and flow then determine room set up based on that.
  • Draw up a floor plan. Seem like overkill? If friends are helping you set up, you can show them the floor plan so as to not waste precious set up time and ensure that everyone is on the same page.


  • Have fun with linens. Linen rental is an easy way to do a dramatic transformation of your tables as well as just about anything else. Something ugly or doesn't fit in with the party theme? Cover it up! 
  • Create drama with your centerpieces. I like to do a lot of something small that is very precisely laid out or do one thing that's really big. Also, don't forget to play around with different heights to create visual interest.


  • Don't forget the "sound" portion of the senses. You can use an iPod, favorite CD's or the holiday channel on your cable or satellite system. If you've got the space for it, hiring a jazz trio or other live musicians is unexpected and adds a fantastic layer to your party.


  • When planning your menu, think about balance of flavors so not too much of a particular type of thing. I like to see a few types of protein, a couple of vegetarian options and a delicious cheese tray. Also think about what your guests are doing. If it's a cocktail party, then have a variety of appetizers that can easily be eaten with one hand as a guest passes the table or they can make a plate for something more hearty.
  • Think about how your food is presented. We eat with our eyes first and you want your food to be pleasing to the eye and palate. As with the decor, use a variety of heights to add drama to your food presentation.
  • Beverages - You have four options to choose from: no alcohol, beer and wine, beer, wine and a specialty cocktail or full bar. For parties in the home, my preference is beer, wine and a specialty cocktail. The specialty cocktail adds a luxurious touch to the party and is perfect for reflecting your theme.


  • Here's my rule on favors - make it edible and/or useful. Otherwise, don't do it. Are you doing a special recipe at your party? Send guests home with the recipe and some or all of the ingredients so they can recreate it in their own kitchen.

Day of the Event


  • Create a timeline of everything that needs to be done and when it will happen. The timeline is a super-handy piece of information to have. Make sure when planning out your set-up schedule to give yourself plenty of buffer room to account for things going awry. Also, have everything ready at least 30 minutes prior to the event, in the event of last minute glitches. Don't forget to schedule in time for you to get ready!

Show Time

  • If necessary, hire a helper to make sure food gets refreshed and trash gets picked up.
  • Most important thing to do once your party starts - relax and enjoy yourself! Guests will take their cues from you and when you're relaxed, they'll be relaxed as well.

What are your favorite tips to make holiday party planning go easier?