You look in the magazines and web sites for ideas but the date for that party you are planning is closing in and you have yet to decide where to begin. Don't panic! The first step to a successful party isn't the grocery store or that kitchy little party supply place, it is your calendar! Throwing a party is easy if you plan ahead.
Be realistic about how much time you really have to plan for your party. If your time is limited, consider having your guests bring an appetizer of their choice. People love to "showcase" their favorite recipes, so don't hesitate to give them the opportunity.
3 to 4 weeks ahead: Decide what kind of party you want to throw and how big of an event it's going to be. Map out the guest list and decide if it's going to be a standing or seated affair. Also, send out your invitations at this point -- you'll want ample time for their delivery and also you want to make sure people have enough time between receiving the invitation and when your party is so they can make room in their schedules.
1 to 2 weeks ahead: Plan the party and menu and gather any special equipment that you may need. Purchase any paper or plastic items and buy the needed beverages since they can be bought ahead of time without going bad. This is also a good time to clean and press the tablecloth and/or cloth napkins.
3 to 5 days ahead: Clean the house. This endeavor can take several hours in itself so leave a large chunk of time for this part of your planning.
3 days ahead: Prepare your grocery shopping list and go shopping. Leave extremely perishable items for the last minute, but gather everything else at this point.
1 to 3 days ahead: Prepare any make-ahead recipes and store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
1 day ahead: Set up your bar/beverage area and prepare garnishes. If you're having a buffet, set out all the serving pieces. Check on the decorations.
Day of party: Prepare the remaining recipes, and add finishing touches to your dishes that you made ahead of time. Be sure you have plenty of ice on hand as well as have the beverages cooling in the refrigerator. Take a last look through the house, take a deep breath, and remember to enjoy the festivities!
If you want to leave your guests with a parting gift from your event, find out how to make creative goodie bags on the next page.