Throw a Stress-Free Party

Party-planning stress got you down? Avoid last-minute chaos and panic with these easy tips

Photo Arts by Janna
Forget hours of cooking. Serve up quick and easy party pleasers such as these Cambozola Canapes. Get the recipe here.

Everybody loves a party! But throwing a party, no matter how big or small, can be a daunting affair. “It’s easy to be overwhelmed when planning a party: Organizing the event, cooking and then the clean up after the event,” comments Jose Martignon, general/catering manager at Sacks Café in Anchorage. “But, this does not have to be the case if planned properly.”

If you dread planning parties because of the anxiety it causes, check out the following tips for stress-free party planning.

Plan while you can

One of the easiest ways to avoid a lot of stress while planning a party is to make lists. Create lists for items you need to buy, things you need to do, people you want to invite, etc. Staying organized is a sure way to not get stressed out as the party draws near. The same goes for your menu planning. Write down what you’re serving – from appetizers to drinks and desserts – and list which ingredients you’ll need next to each menu item.

To help with planning organization, Erin Chalstrom, owner of the Fairbanks-based Your Story Event Planning, suggests making an “event bible” or a file folder on your computer where the vendor contact info, budgets, receipts, replies, menus and decoration ideas can be stashed for easy reference. She shares this trick of her trade: “Envision how you want the event to go and mentally walk through every minute of the event, from set-up to break down. While doing this, keep the perspective of your guests in mind. You’ll be surprised how many last-minute tasks you catch.”

Inviting greatness

From the moment you invite guests to your shindig, you are setting a mood for an enjoyable event. Fun invitations that include clear directions and information are a must, whether electronic or paper. If you require an RSVP then make it simple for guests to reply because knowing how many will attend reduces planning worries. Mail or email your invitations at least three weeks before your party. You want to give your guests plenty of notice so they can plan for it.

Chalstrom recommends ensuring the highest reply rate by “providing a deadline…a Friday rather than a Monday. People tend to do better with deadlines when it is towards the end of the week.” She adds that providing a phone number where guests can text their reply is modernly convenient. You don’t need to feel pushy placing a follow-up phone call to non-responders. Just make sure to say “Looking forward to seeing you if you can make it” instead of asking “Are you coming?”

Get a head start

Cut stress by getting more of your to-dos done before the day of the party. Rather than whizzing around the kitchen like a headless turkey on the morning of your event, save your sanity by selecting dishes that can be prepared at least a day in advance. To cut down on last-minute scrambling, avoid heating, constructing or garnishing on the day of the event - just serving. Think antipasto, hummus and pita, cheese, fruit and vegetable platters, a variety of finger sandwiches, mini quiches, empanadas, spinach or crab dips with crackers – many of these can be ordered ahead from a caterer or deli, or put together with minimal effort. Also, setting the table the day before can save you much needed time and unnecessary stress on the day of the party.

Clean the house, but don’t obsess. Focus on the rooms where the party will be: Why expend the same amount of effort for areas of your home that no one would ever see? Just make sure the primary areas of the party are neat and clean.

Share the load

Sure, we all know you can probably pull this off on your own. But why run around in a frazzle when capable hands are nearby? Keep stress to a minimum by taking on a few happy helpers to share your work load. Divvy up the responsibility where you can. If your partner isn’t great in the kitchen, perhaps he or she can help you clean up the house instead. If your friends want to come over early, let them! Pour a glass of wine and put them to work.

If you can’t stand the heat…bring in a caterer! “Ordering food to be picked up will take the pressure off if there is a not time for preparing all of the food yourself,” says Martignon. And, let someone else (besides you) bar tend. You’ll have more time to enjoy the event. Remember, delegation is a good thing.

Recipe for success

Consider your guests when menu planning. Whether you’re serving a five-course meal or putting a bunch of snacks out, be sure to take into consideration the guests who are coming. Ask if any of your guests have dietary concerns such as lactose intolerance, diabetes, vegetarian, nut allergies, etc. (Plus, it’s just a classy thing to do.)

Stick with what you know: It can be tempting to try a new recipe for your party, but it’s probably best to resist this urge unless you have time to perfect the new process. After all, you don’t want to serve your guests a botched dish. Plus, making something new can be stressful.

Consider having your guests each bring a dish. Not only does it take some of the burden off you, it helps ensure they will have at least one thing there that they really like.

Deck the halls

The décor can go a long way in setting a playful, beautiful or cozy tone to your party. “The decorations are what make people ‘feel’ like they have been transported to the time and space of your theme,” says Christina Lien, co-owner of La Boum Events in Anchorage. Focus decorations on the high-traffic areas: “food and drink tables, sitting areas, entry way.”

Less is more when it comes to party décor. Choose a few items to be your focal points (like a banner and/or centerpieces) and skip the extra frills. This will save you quite a bit of time when setting up. Simple things can add a lot of ambience, like strings of white lights, satin streamers, flowers or bowls of candy and/or fruit. Save yourself some cash and opt for inexpensive garnishes to dress up your food platters. For example, tie fresh sprigs of rosemary and thyme to the handle of your chopping board to be used as a serving platter for bread rolls and butter.

Keep in mind that some décor and many party supplies can be rented from party stores – everything from popcorn machines to chocolate fountains, silver punch bowls to champagne flutes by the case, and bouncy houses for the kids to tables of all sizes – some vendors will even deliver, set up and take down for you, too.

Let there be music

Music plays a huge role in setting the tone of a party, so make a playlist that matches the theme ahead of time and enjoy it yourself while you prepare, getting yourself in the mood to be the consummate host. “Music creates the energy of a party,” says Lien, adding that if the party could use some energy, push back the sofa, “turn the music up and get people dancing!”

Be prepared for kids

If you’re allowing kids at your party, be prepared to keep them happy. Provide kid-friendly foods and drinks. If your party is inside, keep them busy with crayons and board games. If it’s outside, they’ll have a little more room to run and for some more energetic activities.

Everything doesn’t have to be perfect

And what if something goes wrong at the party? So what. Laugh it off.

The bottom line when throwing a party? It’s about everyone having a great time – including the host. “Always remind yourself that it’s a party and don’t let the stress keep you from having fun,” says Lien. So go ahead: Let loose, relax and enjoy the party. After all that work, you deserve it.

Sarah Gonzales contributed to this story