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How to Plan a Large Birthday Party or Any Type of Party for 50 or More Guests
Planning a party, whether it's an intimate gathering or a blowout bash, can be stressful. From choosing a venue, to planning/purchasing/cooking the food, to decorating, all while maintaining a budget, there's a lot to consider. Coordinating a party with a guest list totaling 50 or more can be especially overwhelming.
For anyone thinking about hosting a large party, here are a few tips to help reduce stress and stay sane during the process.
The Planning Phase
• Don't delay this stage. Waiting until the last minute to plan your celebration will only cause more stress later on. Start planning at least two to three months in advance. Make a list of the different elements - invitees, food, decorations, venue, etc. - and set a deadline to complete each one. The venue and time of the party will obviously need to be decided first, in order to include that information on the invitations. If there is a theme, go ahead and plan that out so you can notify guests in their invitations as far as what to expect, what to wear, etc.
• When selecting a venue, ask questions until you can think of no more to ask. How many hours will you have the room, does that include prep time and clean up, is cleaning service provided or will you be responsible for part or all of that, what items are provided (I had to bring my own trash bags for a recent party I hosted at the fellowship hall of a local church), if there is a kitchen, will you have full access, do all the appliances work and will the refrigerator be cleaned out before the party so you have ample room to store food. If reality doesn't measure up to what was promised, call the person in charge and let them know. I was told the refrigerator would be cleaned out prior to my party, but fortunately, I arrived at the venue for a second look about a week in advance, and the fridge was jam packed and reeked of leftovers. I contacted the person in charge and she had it cleaned out the next day, and we had plenty of space the day of the party.
• Brainstorm about creative ways to use supplies you already have on hand. For my mother's 70th surprise birthday party, we used mason jars as candle holders. We placed sand in the jar to hold the candle steady, tied sheer ribbon around the jar mouths and placed them on mirror tiles as table décor. Simple, cheap and beautiful!
• Clip coupons, hunt for bargains and figure out how to save money any way you can while still hosting a classy event. Know what you'll serve and how you'll decorate plenty of time in advance so you can be on the lookout for deals. We did a photo montage of my mother throughout her life for just the cost of poster board and wall putty. The 4X6 photos were offered free from CVS in exchange signing up as a member on the store's website. Two family members signed up and got a total of 50 photos for free. People loved laughing at my mom's 60s-era beehive and her bathing suit shots!
• Accept help if it's offered, and don't be afraid to ask if it's not. This is tough to do sometimes, but planning and executing a large party takes work, and it's more than one person can do. Once family and friends receive invites, at least a few are likely to offer to help plan, set up or bring food and drinks. Don't feel guilty about saying, 'Yes, thank you, I'd love to have your help.' If they didn't want to, they wouldn't ask!
• Set an ideal budget and an absolute maximum budget. Try to stay within the ideal and do not go over the maximum under any circumstances. If you're near to crossing that line, find areas you can cut back on or substitute cheaper alternatives.
• Don't forget your gift if you're giving one. This seems like a no-brainer, but it's very easy to get caught up in all the planning and forget the basic stuff.
The Big Day
• Get there early. Very early. Better to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. When I arrived for my mom's party, two men were in the venue installing an electrical wire in the kitchen. That wasn't part of the plan. It turned out alright, but by arriving early I alerted them that they'd need to be out very quickly and assured that we'd have enough set up time.
• Take cleaning supplies, including dish rags and dish soap. It's easier and less messy to clean at the site than hauling dirty dishes home. Take glass cleaner and other generic cleaners as well, just in case you walk into a mess. Even if the venue manager has promised things will be in order, if it's just a room you're renting and there's no one on site that day - for example, at the fellowship hall of a church on a Saturday - you could get stuck with a messy room and no way to clean it. Be prepared and arrive early, so you'll have time to spruce things up.
• Take storage containers for leftover food. This is one step i forgot, and I wound up having to throw away a lot of perfectly good food. The guest of honor and those who helped host and set up the party should get first dibs on leftovers.
• Have a plan as to when to cut the cake, open gifts, play games, etc. It's easy for time to get away from you when you're chatting with everyone. if you're too busy as the hostess to keep track of the hour, designate a timekeeper to notify everyone when the next phase of the party is beginning.
• Don't give in to others' demands. If guests are rushing you to get the cake cut because they have somewhere to be, for example, politely inform them that it's not time to do that yet. They can set the schedule when they throw a party, but they have no right to dictate how you run things.
• Accept that things will not be perfect, whatever your version of perfect may be. Perfection does not exist in this world. Have an ideal and aim for it, but know that there will be mishaps and unexpected obstacles to overcome. Aim for an enjoyable day, and focus on how the day met that expectation, versus how it fell short of your fantasy.
• Finally, take time to breathe and absorb the atmosphere, even if only for a moment. Spend a few moments with the guest of honor. This is his or her day. It's easy to lose site of that, especially when you're focused on making sure everything is in order. Don't waste all that planning by missing out on the actual event!
© 2012 Crystal Tatum