This handy guide organizes a typical party planning timeline--tweak it to suit your event.

Dill Dip III
Dill Dip III | Photo by KGora

How to Use This Guide

  • Start at four weeks ahead if your party falls around major holidays or if you need equipment rentals.
  • Start at two weeks if your plans are more casual.
  • You can even start at one week or less if you're having your pals over for potluck. Just review the list to see if there's anything you should include on your simplified plan.
  • Note: not everything on this list will relate to your particular party. Polish the silver? Are you kidding me? But it might be nice to remind yourself to charge up your camera and buy ice.

Four Weeks Ahead

  • Create a budget.
  • Write a guest list.
  • Choose a location.
  • Decide on a menu: appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, desserts, beverages.
  • Send invitations (four weeks ahead for major holidays).
  • If you're cooking, make as much as you can ahead of time to minimize kitchen time on party day. Make a timeline for cooking, freezing, thawing, reheating, etc.
  • If it's potluck, assign the dishes.
  • Birthday party? Order the cake if you're not baking it yourself.
  • Need Rentals? Book 'em: plates, cups, glassware, coffee urns, tables, chairs, table linens, serving pieces, etc. (It's especially important to book early for busy holiday seasons.) Arrange for early delivery on party day.
  • Large group? Hire help for kitchen, serving, or bartending.

Two Weeks Ahead

  • Follow the checklist for Four Weeks Ahead
  • Assess serving pieces and utensils if you're not renting.
  • Assemble party favors, if desired.
  • Start compiling party music, games, and other entertainment.

One Week Ahead

  • Review menu preparation timeline: are you on target with make-ahead dishes?
  • Purchase non-perishable food items and candles, firewood, etc.
  • Finalize RSVPs.

Two Days Ahead

  • Clean house.
  • Purchase perishables such as meat, dairy, and produce.
  • Make sure camera is charged and ready.
  • Wash wine glasses and other glassware if you're not renting.
  • Polish silver. (Optional, of course.)

One Day Ahead

  • Clean and press table linens if you're using your own. Tip: To prevent creases, drape pressed linens on the table instead of folding them.
  • Set table, decorate buffet, set up the bar.
  • Purchase and arrange flowers and/or decorations.

Party Day

  • Purchase fresh seafood.
  • Buy party ice.
  • Take delivery of rented equipment.
  • Chill beer and wine (if necessary), make punch.
  • Garnish party platters with fresh herbs, edible flowers, and fruit.
  • Eat something light before guests arrive.
  • Relax. Seriously. A relaxed host makes for happy guests.
  • Spin the tunes and greet your guests.

Ready to plan your party?