How to: Plan the perfect holiday party

How to: Plan the perfect holiday party

How to: Plan the perfect holiday party Author: Style At Home


How to: Plan the perfect holiday party

Whether it's an ugly sweater office party or your annual turkey curry buffet, every savvy hostess knows that planning ahead is the key to a successful holiday party. Use the handy to-do list below to stay organized.

1 Make a party planner timeline

One month before
Make master list of everything that needs to be done before the party
Pick, purchase and post invitations
Hire any caterers and bartenders

Two weeks before
Plan menu
Write out grocery lists
Make sure you have all necessary dishware, glassware and servingware

Seven days before
Pick up liquor
Rent or borrow any dishware

Three or four days before

Grocery shop (except for meat, fish and other perishables that need to remain fresh)

One or two days before
Clean house
Purchase and set out flowers

One day before
Make list of what you’re cooking, breaking every dish down into specific tasks
Grocery shop for meat, fish and other perishables
Do any advance cooking and food prep, like baking make-ahead desserts
Set table

Day of
Cook meal
Tidy up any small last-minute messes

2 What's your budget

HIGH: Caterer
Have a caterer prep and serve the food to cut out a major source of the work.

Budget tip: Just have the caterer drop off the food and serve it yourself.

MEDIUM: Bartenders and Servers
Do the cooking and prep work yourself, and then have someone serve the food and drinks and clear the dirty dishes.

Budget tip: Pay a young family member or neighbour to help serve.

LOW: Dish rentals
Cut down on cleanup duty by renting dishware. Plus, you won't have to worry about running out of glassware or cutlery.

3 Calculate quantities

ALCOHOL: 1 drink per person per hour
Look online for a calculator to figure out the percentages of beer, wine or spirits you’ll need.

HORS D’OEUVRES: 3 per person per hour
Have a mix of sweet and savoury, and keep it simple.

ICE: 1 pound per guest
Set out tubs of ice and bottled drinks so guests can help themselves.

BARTENDERS: 1 per 50 people
Paying for a bartender is worth it. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck mixing drinks all night.

SERVERS: 1 per 15 guests
Ask the servers to dress in a way that suits the event – they should blend into the party.

4 Clean the house


  • Don’t have a lot of time? Focus on cleaning only places that will be visible to guests.
  • Remove any valuable rugs and furniture that you don’t want to risk getting stained.
  • Empty the dishwasher so you can pop in dishes all evening and avoid counter clutter.
  • Put decorative coasters on coffee tables and side tables to avoid water rings.
  • Line your kitchen trash with two bags so you don’t have to get out another bag.


  • Contain the mess of dirty dishes in a dedicated area that isn’t visible to guests.
  • Snap up dirty plates every time you return to the kitchen.


  • Give away or refrigerate leftover food immediately and collect all recyclables.
  • Fill the dishwasher completely and run it. Soak remaining dishes in water overnight.

For more fab holiday hosting tips, check out our Ultimate savvy hostess guide!


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How to: Plan the perfect holiday party