Countdown: One Month
Who and How many are coming, and what’s the ex- cuse for getting together: A prosecco tasting? A “We’re heating the pool!” bacchanal? “Whenever I plan a party, I fully envision the day—guests, menu, drinks, plating, decor,” says caterer Deborah Caponetta. “I make a complete list and worksheet for planning and prepping as much as I can in advance.” Limit the guest list to a single social net- working circle to avoid those “Saw the posted pics— hope the mojitos went down well!” e-mails from over- looked friends. Unless it’s a wedding invitation, one month is more than enough notice. If the party’s before eight, people expect food, so decide on the menu (or- dering to-go platters from a favorite restaurant is less work and not that expen- sive). For a fun splurge, hire a photographer who sets up a professional backdrop for fashion-spread-like por- traits (it’s a trend; check out laphotoparty.com).
Countdown: One Week
Confirm your guest list, special orders ,and rentals. Remember to keep appetizers small, since “no one looks sexy devouring a lamb chop while standing and talking,” says event planner Shay Watson. “I also stay away from items that may have seeds or too much spice and garlic, as you wouldn’t want to offend any of your guests with bad breath or something sticking in your teeth.” Purchase nonperishables, including plates, napkins, and decorative items. It’s a good idea to evaluate your inventory of plates and serving pieces to see if you’ve got enough: Go to thrift and dollar stores for tableware that’s practical and pretty or to Craigslist for bulk decorative goods (100 parasols, anyone?). Labeling the serving platters “makes last-minute plating much easier,” says Caponetta. Buy your spirits now, too; consider consulting with a wineshop owner for a smart selection.
Countdown: One Day
Find your camera, download whatever you’ve left on there, and charge it. Hose down the patio furniture and the deck to give them time to dry. Buy the flowers to allow them a day to open up. If it’s a sit-down affair, set the tables and don’t forget place cards. Having a seating chart, says Mary Payne Moran of Hail Mary’s Boutique Catering, “makes it so much easier for guests.” For disposables, invest in two attractive trash cans—one for garbage and one for recycling. They’ll come in handy all year. Create a custom play mix for your iPod (putting your existing library on “shuffle” is a terrible idea that may leave guests dancing to Radiohead one minute and a Bill Maher podcast the next). To ensure the indoor tunes are reaching the yard, spring for outdoor speakers, and don’t skimp on price. Go online and find a pair (the ones molded like rocks are cool) for about $250.
Countdown: One Hour
Don’t just think about setting up the appetizers —jump ahead to dessert. Preparing the coffeemaker and the cookie trays saves time when the party’s in full swing. Always have at least one empty, oversize plastic storage tub on hand to make that frantic “hiding all my crap” exercise go quickly; you can sort out the debris later. Do not decide that today is a good day to catch up on laundry—just tightly close the closet doors. Empty the kitchen trash can (no matter how many cans you deploy, guests gravitate to the one in the kitchen). If you forgot something, call on a close friend who’s coming to make the emergency ice run or to pick up the ice cream cake (a crowd pleaser at summer parties). Ideally, says party planner J. Ben Bourgeois, “take a bubble bath, and have a glass of champagne.” In other words, relax and enjoy.
Illustrations by Jude Buffum