– 5 Tips for planning the perfect party –
By Kelly Ragan
When we think Roaring Twenties, we think of outrageous outfits, speakeasies full of illegal booze and dirty jazz in the background. But they were also an outsized expression of frustration and the freedom that followed.
The country had just emerged from the 1918 pandemic, big personalities dominated politics, and clashes erupted over who should be allowed to shape the culture. And so they turned to parties.
Just a bit more than 100 years later, Taylor Strope with Mountainside Events of Fort Collins anticipates a big 2023. She’s an event—aka party—planner, and she sees a lot of pent-up demand from COVID-19 as well as our divided landscape. Folks want to reconnect, engage and just have a good time.
“With COVID, we had a lot of cancelations and postponements,” Strope says, and this year is all about catching up. “Honestly, this year has been crazy.”
Kimberly Ponce, owner and manager of Kimberly’s Event Center and Lounge in Greeley, says she also enjoyed a surge in parties and events this year.
“I think people are ready to get out and see each other,” she says. “I think people are happy to be out.”
If you’re planning to host a party in the next few months—be it a holiday party, a birthday party, house party, or a just-because party—we have tips for you from experts in getting down.
1. Set a budget
It doesn’t matter if you’re hosting a small group for a classy wine and cheese dinner party or throwing a corporate party for hundreds—the experts agree setting a budget is one of the first things you should do.
“That will tell you how many people you can have, what venue you can use, and what other amenities you can add,” Strope says.
Ponce likes to sit down with clients and get a sense of what decor people want, what venue they’re working with and the experience they want to give their guests. When clients think about the cake, the food and the entertainment, for example, that helps to highlight budget priorities.
“If the cake is very important, you’ll know that more of your budget will go to the cake,” she says. “You’ll trade off things and compromise to stay in budget. But once you know your budget, you aren’t going in and blindly picking and choosing.”
2. Establish a theme
Once you have a handle on your budget parameters, establishing a theme will help you focus your efforts even more.
Once you have a theme, you can get creative with decor and entertainment, Strope says.
A couple of years ago, Strope helped plan a fun company holiday party that involved a bar crawl.
“There was someone dressed as The Grinch and Buddy the Elf,” she says. “Everyone had a blast.”
Heather McClain is the owner of Magical Moments in Greeley. It specializes in costume character entertainment for children—think princesses, superheroes and other fictional characters played by actors.
For the adults, McClain says, they also do cabaret-style performances, magic shows and bingo.
When it comes to establishing a theme, McClain says it’s important to know your audience.
“If they aren’t going to be open to having a drag queen there, don’t have a drag queen there,” she says.
3. Provide food and beverages
Figuring out your budget and your theme will make it easier to pick out the food and drink you provide.
If you have a big budget and you want to have a classic, upscale party, Strope says she recommends working with a caterer. The food is usually terrific, and you won’t have to cook or clean up.
Those who don’t want to pay for a caterer have many options, too, that can look classy. Charcuterie boards are on trend. Pronounced “shahr-ku-tuh-ree,” the word refers to the art of preparing and assembling cured meats, often displayed with a smattering of cheeses, artisan bread, olives, fruits and nuts.
“If you want something more individual, I’ve seen little charcuterie cups,” Strope says. “They are so cute, and it’s nice because with COVID, people have been more wary of having finger foods.”
It’s important to know your audience here, too. If pizza will go over better with your crowd than dill pickles, prosciutto and gorgonzola, don’t force the fancy on them. Go for the pizza.
The key is to give guests something to munch on, whether it’s a full-spread, light snacks or tasty desserts, and to have enough for everyone, Ponce says.
As beverages go, Strope says she recommends offering non-alcoholic options in addition to adult drinks. The presentation can range from as casual as having something in your refrigerator, a cooler, or, if your budget allows, a hosted bar.
4. Plan activities and time to mingle
Having a couple of activities planned can be the difference between an awkward, stiff get-together and a fun time. The key to pulling it off is balance.
“You should have an itinerary, but don’t micromanage the event,” Ponce says. “Let everything flow. Sometimes people try to do too much and (the party) turns into something they don’t enjoy.”
If you want people to mingle, Ponce says to set up places and spaces for games and interactions. When you do, she recommends you keep it simple. Karaoke, cookie making contests, scavenger hunts and ugly Christmas sweater contests tend to be crowd pleasers, Strope says.
Having activities ready to go is especially important if kids are in the mix.
McClain says when she’s performing at kids’ parties, she integrates many different activities to keep them engaged and laughing.
“You have to be able to roll with the punches and have a backup plan if things go awry,” she says.
5. Don’t stress
The days of virtual happy hours and drive by birthday celebrations are behind us—for now—but it’s still a good idea to be flexible. COVID-19, after all, isn’t the only thing that can hamper a party. Weather can still be tricky, Strope says. Unexpected snow or rain can change party plans.
Regular human error can cause hiccups and bumps along the way too. Ponce said she can’t count the number of times there’s been a party where someone forgot the candles or even the knife to cut the wedding cake.
“Remind yourself it’s a party, it’s not life or death,” Ponce says. “If something happens, it will be OK. Someday you will laugh at what happened.”
If you find yourself overwhelmed with the idea of planning and decorating, but you want to do something, party planners are there to help, McClain says.
“Don’t be afraid to have someone who knows what they’re doing come and plan your event,” she says.
Fast Tips for Hosting at Home
Ice is easy to forget, and most guests won’t think to bring any. Pick it up from the store early to elevate the guest experience.
You want to be remembered for the right reasons. Running out of toilet paper is not one of those reasons. While you’re at it, make sure you have enough paper towels and napkins to go around.
Trash piles up at parties. It’s good practice to have a couple different trash bins spread out across the party premise so garbage doesn’t pile up in one spot, like the kitchen. Keep an eye on the trash bins and swap out bags when needed.
Make a playlist
Ideally, you should craft a playlist before the party. The music, after all, sets the vibe. Do you want people to feel cozy and relaxed? Excited and ready to dance? Classy and elegant? Channel that energy in your playlist.
Include a vegan and gluten-free dish
You probably won’t know everyone’s dietary restrictions off-hand. That’s okay. Including a variety of options will help you make sure everyone has something to nosh on.
Turn the heat down
A couple hours before the party starts, turn the heat down. It may be chilly now, but as guests begin to arrive, the temperature will climb.
People will be fashionably late
This is especially true if you’re throwing a large party, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. Don’t be surprised if most guests arrive from 30 minutes to an hour after the official start time. Generally speaking, the smaller the party, the more important it is for guests to arrive on time.
Have a place for guests to put bags and coats. This will help keep the party zone free and clear of clutter. The last thing you want is for someone to trip over a purse and spill wine all over someone’s new coat. Make sure you have enough hangers if you plan to use a closet. If you plan to use a bedroom, make sure to clean the space up before the party starts.
Think through your seating plan. Is the party based around an event (think Super Bowl, election night watch party, classic Christmas movie)? If so, ample comfy seating makes sense. If you want to encourage conversation and mingling, make seating options limited to keep people moving.
Parties are all about connection. You will earn major host points if you can bring people together. If you know guests have something in common, start that conversation and let them run with it.
Kelly Ragan is a writer based in Greeley with bylines in The Colorado Sun, USA Today, The Greeley Tribune and the NoCo Optimist. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her on a hike or with her nose in a book.