How to plan a party like a pro
In early September, Rich and I hosted our engagement party at his parents house in Melbourne, Australia. It was such a great event and a fantastic opportunity to catch up with friends and family. Although it might have looked seamless on the night, there was plenty of hard work that went into organizing the party! As we live in Hong Kong and needed coordination help on the ground in Melbourne, Rich's incredibly generous parents and siblings all pitched in to make the night a huge success. For our party, we decided to DIY as much as possible to save on venue hire and naturally, it made me think about event planning tips that I could share with you!
START WITH A SPREADSHEET
Being in the field of project management, naturally the first thing I did to start planning was open an excel spreadsheet and check out the online templates. There are plenty of great free ones to choose from, or if create your own to track all of your expenses, activities, guests, hire items, and other items for the event.
If you prefer to manage the old fashioned way with good ol' paper and pen, remember to create a checklist of everything you need to manage in the lead up to the event and make copies - just in case!
PICK A THEME
Similar to a wedding, it helps to pick an overall theme for your event. For example, rustic / modern / casual / formal or a set of colours to work with. This can help to narrow down choices for food, drinks, decorations and the overall vibe of your event. We went with laid-back, garden party chic.
CHOOSE A LOCATION
For Rich and I the venue was always going to be his parents place. Being the family home it is such an inviting space filled with wonderful memories, and additionally it's a tried and tested venue for house parties! We thought it would be great to have a marquee in the backyard filled with fairy lights, with various seating areas both indoors and outdoors, and cocktail tables placed under the marquee. We hired plenty of heaters and a bar so that everyone could head to one place for drinks and refills, and additionally we arranged roaming waiters to top up glasses with champagne throughout the night. The house was perfect, as it created a natural flow of people through the space, with enough seating, standing, indoor and outdoor areas to cater for everyone. There is a magnificent tree in the backyard that we covered in fairy lights which looked brilliant at night time!
If hiring a venue is the best option, then be sure to check it out in person before committing to the venue. See how you and your guests would move through the venue on the night, and how food and drinks would naturally be served to guests. The number of guests will likely determine the venue and required size, so do your research and find the best space that works for you and your event.
PLAN YOUR GUEST LIST
I would suggest inviting at least 20% more people than you think will accept and ultimately attend, as there will always be last minute cancellations. It's inevitable that some guests won't be able to attend due to prior or emergency commitments, so try to send out your invites with as much notice as possible to book the date in everyone's calendar. If you've ever planned an event or a wedding it can be incredibly difficult to trim down a guest list to a particular number, but go with your gut and remember to consult family during the process. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently offend relatives by not inviting them to your event.
FIND A HIRE SUPPLIER
Given it was Spring, the weather was expected to be a mild (i.e: cold) 10 degrees on the night of the event and we had to plan for undercover areas in case it rained on the night. Being in Melbourne meant we had to expect at least 3 of the 4 seasons on the day, although if you live elsewhere this might not be necessary. I would always recommend having a wet weather back up plan, just in case!
We used Harts Party Hire, and booked a marquee, heaters, cocktail tables, stools, crockery, glasses a bar and plenty of seating. I'm sure most would agree there is nothing worse than having to stand in heels (or no heels too) all night without an opportunity to sit down. We also hired lighting, and portable toilets which were easily accessible for our guests. The hire team were fantastic and absolutely seamless in setting up and packing down. Our hire items arrived the day before the event on the Friday and were picked up on the Monday and the only thing we had to prepare for pick up was to rinse out the glasses and pack them into their designated boxes - easy peasy.
BOOK A CATERER
We were incredibly fortunate to have a family friend who is a professional caterer, and Richie's mum Desma prepare food for the night which was much easier and less stressful than having to prepare all of the food ourselves. It is easy to underestimate the time needed to food prep, as originally I was planning on making cupcakes but realized I would have limited time to arrange decorations, get my hair done, do my makeup (etc etc) and look after family that were arriving earlier on the night.
We decided on a selection of canapes that included spinach and cheese triangles, Des's famous home-made sausage rolls (YUMMM), veggie sticks with hummus, peking duck rolls and a few other options. For mains served a buffet of lamb from the spit, a whole ham, mixed salads, dips, antipasto and breads, which made it easy for the guests to choose their own meal and go back for seconds! For dessert we served mini cannoli filled with vanilla cream, strawberry tarts, cheese platters and of course the stunning naked cake made by the wonderful Jessica at Bake & Co. The cake was almost too pretty to eat, the chocolate layers with vanilla buttercream was an absolute hit with our guests. I lusted over so many cake designs on Pinterest for months and decided I couldn't wait until the wedding to pick one!
BYO DRINKS (IF YOU CAN)
In the end we saved thousands of dollars by supplying drinks for our guests rather than providing them as a per head cost through a catering package at a venue. To estimate the number of drinks per person, we used the Dan Murphy's online party planner (https://www.danmurphys.com.au/party-planner) which ended up being quite accurate with the exception of around 7 additional cases of beer and wine. Thankfully we were able to return the unused cases, which honestly made all the difference and also ensured we would be a repeat customers. In all cases with drinks (and food) I would recommend over catering rather than under catering as it would be rather inconvenient to arrange a liquor store visit in the middle of the party your hosting, and particularly when you want to relax and enjoy yourself. After how much planning you put in, you deserve to enjoy your own party.
DIY decorating is all the rage these days, and with good reason as it certainly saves plenty of your hard earned cash in the process. In preparation I visited Kmart to pick up small geometric candle holders ($4AUD each), LED candles ($6AUD for a set of 6), colour themed napkins, outdoor cushions, and Bunnings for festoon and fairy lights (both between $45-70AUD) to hang in the yard. Rather than hiring all of our lighting, we bought some as they are still strung up in the large tree in the yard which are now blending into early Christmas decorations.
DRESS TO IMPRESS
Or don't... its your choice! For my dress I couldn't go past Rachel Gilbert who is one of my all time favourite Australian designers, and I decided on the Phoebe dress. It was a sleek white neoprene dress that I hired for the night from Your Secret Closet in Hampton, Melbourne. My pink heels were from Dune London, and I had a second pair of pink shoes as back up from Wittner. I did my own makeup for the night, and had my hair done at a local salon.
ENJOY THE PROCESS, AND THE PARTY
Last but certainly not least, with all of the preparation you put in before hand remember to take time to enjoy yourself in the lead up and on the night. Try to relax and not have hang ups about the little things, as you will likely be the only remembers minute details or notices anything that doesn't go to plan. After all, it's a party so have fun!