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party timeline

party bar

Throwing a party is very intimidating for some. For others it seems to come naturally.

I remember the first “adult” party I planned and held. It was a baby shower for a work friend. I was a 17-year-old junior in high school at the time and living at home with my parents. The mother-to-be was about five years older than me and we were close work friends. She had no family in town, so of course, I just had to be the one to throw the shower for her!


The guest of honor was decorating her nursery with Winnie the Pooh, so that was the party theme. Winnie the Pooh invites, napkins, paper plates and decor. I cringe now to think how tacky it was, at least by the party standards I have today. But at the time, at least as I recall, it was a fabulous, highly praised, fun and very chic affair! Maybe that is where and how I was first instilled with the “entertaining confidence” I have always had. Thanks, Pooh Bear!


I mention my party standards, because those have changed considerably in the many decades since that first baby shower. I rarely use paper plates, unless it’s a picnic or pool party. But, when I’m invited to a party with paper plates, I honestly do not even notice. It’s just one of the standards I set for myself. Plus, I have the storage space needed for all sorts of party supplies, and I know that is a true luxury. My Dad had a stag party in Bratislava once and he said it was one of the best nights out, we’re trying to re-create that atmosphere for an amazing night at home.


And when I say, I know, I really do know!

Our first home was a townhouse with less than 900 square feet. We lived there for seven years and threw more parties than I can count. Wedding and baby showers for friends. New Year’s Eve dinners, Marissa’s baptism, and her first birthday party. Every holiday from Easter and 4th of July to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Plus dozens of dinner parties and even a Murder Mystery Costume Party. That was great, my friend bought Custom Koozies for the cans and it was fantastic!

mother's day cake

We were living paycheck to paycheck for the better part of those years. Actually living on credit cards and using one credit card to pay off another – during some particularly difficult times. This was before grocery stores even began accepting credit cards. Do you remember back that far?

But entertaining and being with family and friends was, and always has been, a priority for us, so we made it work.

My point is that life, and things in general, don’t have to be picture perfect to entertain.


Yes, I live in a large lovely home now and I am blessed in many ways. Still, I don’t stress about making things perfect. Point in case – three years ago I fired my “every other week” cleaning person. Why? Because I honestly could not stand to have even one more thing in my house broken, chipped or cracked by someone who was careless or feeling rushed.


The trade-off … my house isn’t as clean as it used to be. I keep the kitchen spotless… because it’s my work space, my office, my sanctuary.

But the rest of the house… it’s much dustier and a little more cluttered then it used to be. The one time that it’s guaranteed to be dusted and “picked up” is when I’m having people over.

So, yes, entertaining helps me keep my house clean too.

bday flowers

So… do not let excuses like, “I don’t have enough room, or enough stuff, or enough money” (there’s always pot-luck and BYOB!) or enough “whatever” prevent you from entertaining your loved ones.

Just do it!

Jewel Ball o6 (56)

Here is my “One Month Before” Party Timeline. It is for very special occasions – the big party. This can be scaled down to a “one day before” timeline for when, on a Thursday afternoon, you invited your best friends over for cocktails and appetizers on Friday night.

Party Timeline


  • Decide what type of party you intend to throw – a sit-down dinner, a buffet, cocktails and appetizer, lunch or brunch.
  • Next decide how many guests you’ll invite and make your guest list.
  • Consider how you’ll set up your house for the event. For instance, plan to situate the bar away from the buffet stations to create a free and easy flow.
  • Choose a color scheme to carry through in your invitations, linens, flowers and decor.
  • Make a budget for invites, food, drinks, tableware, flowers, rentals and decor.
  • Send out your invitations. Include an RSVP date that falls at least 4 work days before your event.
  • If you are not cooking the meal yourself, book a caterer and meet with them to discuss the menu and staffing needs. (if the party is during the holidays, this step needs to be done at least 2 or 3 months in advance.)
  • Even if you are making all the food yourself, consider hiring a bartender and/or servers for a large party, especially a large sit-down dinner party. And hiring can mean having your teenager and his/her friends help and paying them with a pizza party and sleepover. Just be sure to give them exact and detailed instructions. Such as, serve from the left, clear from the right. And, these items must be hand-washed and these can go in the dishwasher, etc.
  • For a large party, you may need to rent or borrow tables and chairs and other items such as linens, plates, cutlery, glassware, platters, flatware, etc. Make those arrangements now.


  • Design your food and beverage menu, if you’re not hiring a caterer. Get all your recipes together and make one grand grocery list.
  • If you are planning on giving party favors; plan, make or buy those now.
  • Decide on your music playlist. Burn CDs, hire a DJ, or make a playlist on your iPod. If you’re having a lot of guests, or perhaps just love music, playing music on bookshelf speakers might be a suitable way for your guests to hear the playlist you have selected. If you don’t have a pair of decent speakers, now’s the time to get a pair. You can take a look at this site to see which speakers are best. They’re certainly an investment piece and once you have a pair, it’s unlikely you’ll have to replace them any time soon so you can have them for every party you throw.


  • Decide on flower arrangements and candles. Purchase items needed for each, except the fresh flowers, hold off on those. Or order arrangements from a florist.
  • If you haven’t already done so, plan your party outfit.
  • Review and revise your grocery lists, if needed. I say lists because I always end up going to the grocery store, Trader Joe’s and Costco for any and all entertaining I do.
  • Clean out your refrigerator.
  • Iron the linens, or take to the dry-cleaners.


  • Clean your house or schedule your house cleaner for this day. Prep your spare bedroom and bath with fresh sheets and towels in case anyone needs to stay overnight.
  • Go through your RSVP list. Call or email anyone who has not yet responded.
  • Purchase all alcohol and non-alcoholic beverages, plus mixers, olives, limes, lemons, etc.
  • Do the grocery shopping.
  • Begin cooking items that can be done in advance.


  • Confirm timing with your caterer, servers or bartender.
  • Continue cooking items in advance.


  • Keep on cooking and preparing your day of mise en place.
  • Purchase flowers and make your arrangements or have the florist deliver arrangements.
  • Have rental items delivered and set them up.
  • De-clutter your house. Store the clutter in closets or cabinets. Or do as I do and toss it all in the garage. Heck, I’ve even thrown the party day’s mail and other assorted papers in the dryer, at the last minute!
  • If you’re entertaining outdoors, clean off all surfaces. In Arizona, there is a layer a dust 12 hours after you’ve wiped it down. Still, get it as clean as possible so that a quick swipe will be enough before the party.
  • Set the table(s). Place any platters and flatware on the buffet with identifying post-it notes to make sure everything fits and looks presentable.
  • Set out all glassware on the bar and place olives, cut limes and lemons, etc. in attractive bowls, cover and refrigerate.
  • Before you go to bed, run the dishwasher.


  • Empty the dishwasher.
  • Chill white wine, water, beer, etc.
  • Finish cooking.
  • Give the outdoor furniture and the bathrooms another quick wipe-down. Check to be sure there are empty trash cans and fresh rolls of toilet paper in each.
  • Clean the kitchen one final time and empty the kitchen trash.


  • Make yourself a cocktail or pour yourself a glass of wine (limit it to one!) then take a nice shower or bath and get dressed.


  • Light candles and dim the lights.
  • Start the music. (mine will have been blasting all day!)
  • Fill ice buckets.
  • Set out appetizers and the cocktail garnishes.
  • Open the wine.
  • Remind yourself to relax and enjoy the party. Your family and friends love you and are happy to be welcomed into your home. Also, curse yourself for not using Peerspace Seattle party rentals to find a bigger venue to make it so much easier (too late for that!).


  • Whether it’s filling water glasses or opening wine, if you don’t have time to do it, ask for help.
  • If you haven’t hired servers, ask a friend or family member, ahead of time, to help you clear between courses for a sit down or to help keep and eye on and refill dishes on a buffet.
  • If you’re plating the dishes in the kitchen between courses, enlist another person or two to help plate and serve.
  • My #1 “helping” rule – It’s fine to have others help clear, rinse, and stack. But there is no loading the dishwasher or washing dishes or general cleaning of the kitchen during the party! There is no better way to say “the party if over” than to let that happen!

real flowers

Now, I’m off to plan my next “big party” – a baby shower (ironic, I know) for my dear sweet friend, Tram, who is expecting twins in March. Trust me, it will be much closer to “my standards” then that Winnie the Pooh baby shower was nearly 35 years ago!

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1 Tram Mai { 11.26.13 at 8:22 AM }

I CAN’T WAIT!!!!! Although there will be no Winnie the Pooh at my “babies” shower- I’m sure the party you threw was the BEST Pooh party there was!! xoxo

2 Lisa { 11.26.13 at 3:24 PM }

You are so good; I can plan events for many but events at my home can be interesting–I’ve been known to be in the shower 30 minutes before go time;)

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