How to: Plan a Holiday Party

How to plan a holiday party - A Side of Fabulous blog

Welcome back to our week of planning and organizing to make the holiday season easier!

The schedule:

Today I'm dusting off my event planner hat to help those who are planning a party. Parties often have a number of moving parts, but by being organized, you can pull it off a fabulous soiree for everyone to enjoy!

Planning your Party


First things first, set your budget. How much money do you want to spend?


Pro tip: Don't wait to "see what things cost" unless you don't care how much money you spend.


Allocate funds across the different parts of your event. This is so you don't accidentally overspend in one area and end up sacrificing in another to make up for it. (Example - spending too much money on decor and only being able to afford a cheese and veggie tray for food instead of the full spread that was planned.)

How to:

  • Make a list or spreadsheet with the items needed for the party: decorations, food, alcohol, entertainment, etc.
  • Next to each section, determine what percentage of your budget will go to that portion of the party.
  • Then write down what the dollar amount for that percentage.

Et voila! How much money you're spending for each part of your party available at a glance.


Pro tip: set up the spreadsheet in something like Google Drive or a place where you can access it from your phone. Then you'll have the info handy if you happen to come across something while you're out and about.



Pick a theme and represent it through every element of your party.


Pro tip: It can be a specific theme like "Winter Wonderland" or it can be a color story like cobalt blue, silver and white.

I like using color stories because it's easy to tie everything together and make a bold statement for minimal effort.


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.

If possible, 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, which will save 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!

Don't want to rent linens? Gift wrap everything! Buy some really pretty gift wrap and wrap the tops of the tables (and anything else you want to cover.) Fabulous thing about doing this is it makes clean-up a snap after the party is over.

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.


Pro tip: if you're having a seated meal, centerpieces need to be either under 1 ft or over 1 1/2 feet so that guests can see across the table.



Don't forget the "sound" portion of the senses. You can use an iPod, favorite CD's (if you still use those) or the holiday channel on your cable, satellite, spotify, Google Play Music, or music provider of choice.

If you have the space for it, hire live musicians. It's unexpected, and adds a fantastic layer to your party that you can't achieve with canned music.


Best rule of thumb for favors: make them edible and/or useful. Otherwise, don't do it. Most get thrown away otherwise.

Are you doing a special recipe at your party? Send guests home with the recipe and some or all the ingredients so they can recreate it in their own kitchen. I once spoke to a luncheon at a steakhouse. One of the sides was an amazing sweet potato dish. The guests were sent home with the sweet potato recipe and a mason jar of the crumble topping. Everyone loved it.

Day of the party


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 case there are any last minute glitches.

Don't forget to schedule in time for you to get ready too!

Show Time

I highly recommend hiring a helper to make sure food gets refreshed and trash gets picked up. This isn't necessary, but can be a significantly worthwhile investment. A great professional will save you set-up and clean-up time, as well as allow you to enjoy your own party. 

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.

And tomorrow we talk food for your party! 

What are your favorite tips to make holiday party planning go easier? Share with us in the comments below!

Melinda Massie - A Side of Fabulous

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