On Saturday, we had about 80 people over for a birthday party for our kids. We have parties that big or bigger a few times a year. And we frequently have over 20 people rock up for an event. We love people, and we love parties.
But parties are a lot of work. Here’s how we do this without breaking our backs (or the bank):
1. Find your buddy. There are two of us, so the cleaning, set-up, and cooking gets shared.
2. Get more help. See #1 and share the load with a wider team. This time, we had help from Chrissy’s brother, my sister, my parents, and a handful of people we easily arm-twisted into helping when they showed up at the party.
3. Find your space. When you are familiar with a location, your brain develops a mental checklist of what needs to happen. You walk through and know what to do with minimal strain on your brain.
4. Move it out. We intentionally bought a house that wasn’t very big but has a big yard. So six months of the year, we can have big parties outside. This makes a huge difference in clean-up and also minimizes the stress of making the house look great beforehand. Mow your lawn at least a couple days before the party. We’ve added a fire pit, chicken coop, basketball hoop, garden, walking path, tireswing, and treehouse for a carnival feel. Next on my list is a Tilt-a-Whirl.
5. Give it a good name. A couple of ours in the last couple years have been Chicken Booyah, The Party of Biblical Proportions, and The Publication Celebration. With a fun name, it sticks in people’s brains and intrigues them.
6. Invite thoughtfully. What group(s) of your friends are you going to invite? Who do you want to meet whom? What would be really fun connections to form? Help those happen by inviting the right people, then introducing them with tidbits of helpful information.
7. Stop caring. Or to put it another way, start caring about the right things. This is a big one—if you want your party to be perfect for everyone, you will have a terrible time. Trust that people can take care of themselves, find the taco dip, and make connections with one another. The important thing is to draw people together. And lighten up. We recently found a little girl had pooped on our bathroom floor. Such things happen.
8. Consider your timing carefully. Party at 1:00 on a Saturday? People are unsure about whether to eat beforehand. The party we just had was 2-4 pm, a great window that says, “We are not providing a meal,” comfortably and easily setting expectations.
9. Make it a potluck. Why cook for 80 people when you can have 80 people cook for you? If you go for a meal time for an epic party, have people bring something to share. This can be around a theme, like how we recently had a fancy cheese/crackers and pie potluck for Chrissy’s birthday. Other good options include blue foods, pirate foods, fried foods, or dessert-for-dinner, a longstanding birthday tradition for me. Last year, we even did a zucchini night where everyone showed up and cooked our garden overflow! And on our “someday” list are a kiddie swimming pool full of pudding dip, a pig slaughter/roast (starting with a live pig), and a garlic mustard pull.
10. Have your go-to recipes. You inevitably have to contribute something, even to a potluck, and it’s good to have a big dish that’s delicious and easy to anchor the meal. Chili, casseroles (or “hot dish” for the Minnesotans), sloppy joes, lasagna, or something on the grill all fit the bill.
11. You never have too many chairs. We have seating for 24 when you take some patio furniture, cheapo plastic ones that remind us of years in the majority world, camp chairs, and our mismatched dining room chairs. It’s still not enough.
12. Buy cheap, reusable plastic dishes. This will help on the clean-up, and keeps another bucketful of trash out of the landfills. Make sure they stack well.
13. Get a big Igloo drink jug, like they use to dump Gatorade on winning football coaches. Drinks can end up as the most expensive part of a party, or one of the least. You can ask folks to bring some or provide some juice in one of these bad boys. And if you live in Wisconsin, brewing your own beer could save you 30% of your party budget, and earn major points with your beer nerd friends.
14. Empty the dishwasher before the party. Some kind guest will inevitably carry a stack of plates to the kitchen, rinse them, and fill it for you. Awesome!
15. Start walking around while brushing your teeth. This will indicate to everyone that your epic party is winding down. They’ll laugh, grab their stuff, and roll out, having had a great time.
What other tips do you have for throwing great parties?