Party planning checklist: the ultimate guide to pulling off a successful event

We take you through every step of organising a fun and successful party

Updated on 21 April 2021

Party planning checklist: the ultimate guide to pulling off a successful event

Whether you are a seasoned professional or a total novice, there is a lot that goes into event planning. Planning a party takes time, money and a whole host of organisational skills. You will need to decide on the best venue for your party, put together a guest list, establish a sensible budget and sort out food, drinks and entertainment. Now, while this all may sound rather daunting, don’t let yourself be put off by the thought of unhappy guests or running out of money.

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Like most things in life, planning a successful party or event is much simpler and more manageable if you just take it step by step. To help you navigate the often chaotic world of event planning, we have put together a helpful party planning checklist, which you can use to guide you through each and every step of the party planning process. Think of it as a customisable party planning template which will ensure that the big day or night goes off without a hitch.

To stop the planning from becoming too overwhelming (and to keep you accountable), we have also divided up each step of the process by how far in advance you need to have it sorted. So, that means big steps like choosing a venue and booking entertainment come first, while finishing touches such as decorations and party favours can come a little later. You might normally associate this level of organisation with the professional events industry or your office manager who is always in charge of the Christmas party, but our party planning checklist is just as useful for smaller, more casual gatherings too, such as birthday parties, engagement dinners or even random ‘because it’s a Tuesday parties’.

You can find all of our best party planning tips and tricks below and don’t forget the number one rule - enjoy yourself and have fun!

At least one month before

Decide on a date and time

Before deciding on a date for your event, it is important to remember that you need to be flexible and make sure it’s a date that works for the majority of people, especially the guests that you view as the most important. Have a date in mind, but don’t limit yourself to just one particular day. If you have a preferred venue you’d like to use, we would also recommend checking with them beforehand what their availability is on your preferred date.

Plan your guestlist

Decide who you want to be at your party, but remember that it is likely not everyone will be able to make it. This is particularly true of corporate events, where the turnout usually accounts for only 70-80% of the people who were actually invited.

Choose your theme

A dedicated theme or colour scheme is a great way to make your event one to remember, so think about this carefully. Keep in mind that you will need to source a venue which fits with your theme, or is a blank canvas space which can be decorated to your taste.

Set a budget

When planning a party, it’s important to remember that costs can quickly mount up. Be realistic with your budget and always include a small contingency fund to account for any unexpected costs.

Pick your venue or host it yourself

Choosing a venue for your party will largely depend on the number of guests and the type of event you are planning. If you are hosting a birthday dinner with six friends, you might prefer to host the party yourself in your home, whereas if you are in charge of planning the office Christmas do, you will want to source an external location. You can use our free venue-finding service and the expertise of our SquareMeal Concierge team to find a venue that’s perfect for you.

Book the entertainment and suppliers

One way to make your event stand out is to include live music and entertainment, or other fun extras such as photo booths. These added touches will help to create memories for your guests and ensure they have a good time. If you’re hosting your party at a hired venue, just always make sure to check with the venue manager in advance that all of your plans are ok.

Organise the food

For smaller parties, it might be best to cook the food yourself or with the help of some friends - just make sure to plan a menu that is easy to prepare or which can be mostly finished in advance, so that you have time to spend with your guests. For larger events, you will need to hire external caterers, who can provide everything from casual buffets to fine-dining banquets. Make sure to find out whether any of your guests have special dietary requirements before settling on a menu.

Sort the drinks

You should plan for your guests to have between one to two drinks for every hour of the party and you will need to make sure the bar is well stocked with ice too. If you are hosting at home, you could always encourage a BYO policy to cut down on costs.

Invite your guests

Once you have figured out the main elements of your party, it is time to send out invitations. Online invitations are popular nowadays, but paper invites can feel special and more personal, so think about the vibe you want to give off. Your invitation should include the date and time, dress code and party theme. You could also set up an event page on a social media platform such as Facebook, or create a website where guests can ask any questions they might have.

Source help for the big day

For most parties, a little bit of help is required to ensure things run smoothly. If you have hired a venue, find out how many staff will be available to help you on the day and what each of them do. If you are hosting at home, see if you can rope in a few friends to help you out.

Three weeks before

Focus on the details

Now is the time to start bringing your ideas to life. To help you with your theme, explore social media sites such as Instagram and Pinterest, or find inspiration from magazines and blogs.

Create a schedule for your event

It is wise to come up with a rough plan for the timings of your event and how you see the day or evening playing out. Make sure you have enough activities or food and drink to fill the time and think about any elements of the event that are time sensitive.

Place your orders

Now that you have a venue and entertainment sorted, it is time to focus on the smaller things which really make a difference. This could include a celebration cake, decorations or party favours.

Devise a seating plan (if needed)

Casual events typically don’t have seating plans, but we would recommend implementing one if you are planning on having more than 50 guests. It is always fun to seat people with a mixture of people they know and don’t know to encourage interesting conversation and remember to account for any personal grievances or office politics, so that no one feels uncomfortable with where they are sat.

A week before

Follow up

Call or email guests who have not yet responded to your invite, so that you have a clear picture of how many guests you can expect.

Finish DIY projects

If you have any DIY tasks to complete, such as making your own decorations or stuffing goodie bags, now is the time to do it.

Create a party playlist

Music is one of the best ways to create an electric atmosphere at your party. You want your playlist to encourage people to get out on the dancefloor, but you also don’t want to play the best tracks too early, so think carefully about how you want the playlist to progress throughout the event.

Confirm all deliveries and pickups

Double check that you have ordered everything you need and that it will arrive in plenty of time before the big day.

Speak to your neighbours

If you are hosting a party at home, it is always a good idea to inform your neighbours that a party will be taking place and to give them a rough idea of when the event will finish. Be sensitive to any requests they might have and if you have a good relationship, there is no harm in extending the invitation to them too.

The day before

Pick up any rental items or other bits

Collect your orders such as party props and flowers and make sure they are ready for your event.

Shop for last-minute items

Now is your last chance to buy anything that you have forgotten, so read over your list and make sure everything is sorted. If not, it’s time to hit the shops!

Charge your devices

It’s important to make sure your phone, camera and any other required devices are fully charged before your event, so that you can capture all of the best moments on film and get in touch with anyone you need to.

Check your party schedule and checklist to tie up any loose ends

It’s perfectly normal to forget something along the way during the long process of planning a party, so double-check your list and complete any small tasks that might be left over.

On the day

Create a buzz

On the day itself, get guests excited for what’s coming by sending out some teasers or previously unknown details of the party - perhaps a sneak peek of the decorations or a clue about the band that is performing? This will encourage guests to turn up excited and with the best possible attitude.

Decorate the space

Now is the time to bring your vision to life by decorating the space. Make sure different areas of the space (such as the dancefloor and serving areas) are clearly marked out and remember the importance of timings. For example, if you blow up your balloons first thing in the morning, they may well have deflated by the time your party starts!

Queue up your music

Make sure that your party playlist is ready to go and do a few practice runs with the DJ or entertainment before guests arrive, to avoid any awkward moments.

Welcome your guests

Set the tone for the night by welcoming your guests with a big smile and open arms. Also be sure to answer any of their questions and if you have time, guide them through the space so they know what to expect from the evening.

Encourage people to mingle

It can be tempting at parties to only talk to people you already know, so as the host it is your job to connect people. Introduce people to each other and find common ground between them, which will create a relaxed atmosphere and stop people from feeling awkward.

Relax and enjoy yourself!

If you are able to afford a party planner, you can leave most things up to them, but even if you don’t have professional help, following all of our steps above should ensure your party or event runs smoothly. You will no doubt have worked very hard to pull off this event, so now is the time to relax and enjoy yourself - you’ve earned it!

After the party and the next day

Cleanup

If you have hired a venue, you will need to make sure you have fully cleaned the space and left it as you found it, although some venues do offer a clean up service. If you have hosted a party at your home, you will also want to make sure you tidy up the space.

Thank yous

Make sure to thank your venue, helpers and guests. If you want to send out thank you notes, make sure to order them in advance so that you can post them the very next day.

Check your camera

Look through all of the photos and videos you took during the party and send them to your guests as a memory. You can even create a hashtag on social media, which all of your party guests can look through to see the collective photos taken.

In charge of your company’s Christmas festivities? Check out our ultimate planning guide to the office Christmas party.