The Master Party Planning Checklist for a Perfect Party

A superbly planned party begins with a great party planning checklist. Whether you are whipping up a Mexican dinner party for 10 close friends or a themed bridal shower for 100 guests, a master list, detailing every aspect of your party's construction, takes little time to create and will ensure that you are ready for almost any complication that may arise.

What to include
A good master list covers both the general and specific details that will make your party a hit or a miss; an estimated timeline, approximate setup time, serving times for various courses, special-component timing (such as opening gifts at a shower) and clean-up.

Before you begin your master list, envision your party. Imagine how wonderful it will be, get a feel for the tone you want to set and select a theme, venue and guest list. This creative aspect of party planning comes naturally to most of us and is the area in which we are usually most successful.

Where many of our parties turn from triumphs to tragedies is in the details. We bring out a delectable dessert, only to realize that we don't have an appropriate serving item and we're running short on clean plates. Then we find out that there are diabetics in attendance at the party, and we haven't provided a sugar-free alternative to our masterfully sweet dessert creation. Guests soon become somewhat restless and impatient; those who can't partake of the treat we've lovingly made feel left out. Our party has lost its joyful tone, instantly.

Here's where the master list comes in. Like my mother did when packing, begin at the beginning, and systematically walk through every aspect of your party, before it happens.

Start by looking at your venue. Is the number of guests that you've selected realistic? For example, you may be able to accommodate 30 guests at a backyard BBQ, but will your living room hold the crowd comfortably, should the weather turn threatening?

Once you've decided on a realistic number of guests, note the anticipated attendance figure at the top of your master list.

Now turn to how you'll accommodate your guests' needs. Count how many chairs, table-trays, etc., you'll need. Be sure that the accommodations you are planning will suit the type of guests you'll be inviting. If children or the elderly are in attendance, a buffet alone without some table seating may not work well. Be sure that you can make arrangements that will give everyone an opportunity to eat and mingle comfortably.

Next, figure out dishware. Will you be using casual paper goods or formal china? Do you have enough of either to accommodate everyone? When using disposable goods, consider that most people will use extra cups, napkins and plates. Nondisposable items pose a challenge in terms of dishwashing; be sure that you'll have enough clean items ready for each course you'll be serving. Don't forget serving utensils. Inventory all utensils, dishware and serving items on your master list.

Will all the food you're planning to provide fit on the tables from which it will be served? Lay out all of your proposed serving trays on the space where you plan to use them. Once you've gotten them to fit the way you'd like, sketch out a map of the buffet or dining table to use as a placement guide on the day of your event. Don't forget beverages; be sure you have appropriate vessels (coolers, coffee tureens, etc.) from which to serve drinks and decide on a logical location from which to offer beverages.

Food preparation is a key component of the master list. If you're cooking yourself, be sure that you've accounted for all necessary reheating times, and that the serving pieces you've selected are safe to use in the manner that you're planning. Is the casserole pan you plan to reheat in the microwave really microwave-safe? If your event will be catered, be sure that delivery is scheduled for an appropriate time, allowing extra time for mistakes or mishaps. Perhaps you are having the event catered locally from an establishment that doesn't deliver, or maybe you'll be serving an ice cream cake that will need to be picked up. Be sure that a willing volunteer will be able to acquire the items needed at the appropriate time during the party. You should never leave a party that you're hosting to pick up last-minute items.

Account for cleanup and safety items on your master list. Be sure that you'll have enough trash bags, ashtrays and paper towels available. Include a reminder to charge up the spot-scrubber ahead of time so that you can easily remove that not-yet-set stain from your white carpeting. Check outdoor areas for adequate lighting and insect deterrents. Make a note to be sure that your kitchen fire extinguisher hasn't expired and will be easily accessible during the party.

Finally, and perhaps most important, double-back and check every aspect of your master list, asking yourself one key question: "Have I made all necessary accommodations for guest comfort?"

If you're serving quiche and a crisp, baby-green salad, but five small children will be in attendance, better plan on preparing some chicken fingers and peanut butter sandwiches in addition to your grownup gourmet fare.

Elderly guests or those with special medical needs must be considered too. Be sure to inquire as to whether any of your guests are on low-fat, low-sodium, alcohol-free or sugar-restricted diets, and accommodate those special needs with an alternate dish or two.

Likewise, be sure that bathrooms, eating and mingling areas will be physically accessible for all guests; don't leave Cousin Millie stuck on the patio alone because she's allergic to your house cat or can't manage the steps into your living room. If you can't accommodate every guest's needs, be sure that you make party-goers aware of potentially problematic situations well in advance of their arrival at your event.

If you plan to have overnight guests, be sure that you inventory linens, toiletries and sleeping arrangements on your master list as well. When entertaining at your own home, always have a Plan B ready for sleeping that guest who may have had too much to drink or is simply too tired to drive home safely.

Voila! Your master list is complete, and you've "experienced" every aspect of your party before it's happened. Now you'll be ready to meet each challenge that may arise with aplomb, not to mention a spot scrubber. With your master list in hand, you'll be able to relax and enjoy spending quality time with your very happy guests at any affair.

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