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How-tos for hosts: tips to make party planning a piece of cake 

How to cut down on costs (and stress)

click to enlarge Serving dinner buffet-style is one way to simplify party prep.

Serving dinner buffet-style is one way to simplify party prep.

What makes a party memorable? Whether it's for a birthday, a holiday or just to show off some culinary or mixology skills, event planners and hosts agree that the three components to a successful soiree are food, beverages and entertainment. Equally important for a host is setting a budget and sticking to it. There are several ways to cut down on costs (and stress) during the planning process so a host can enjoy the shindig as much as the guests.

 Christina Chapuis, marketing and business development manager at Wink Design & Events, says planning the budget for a do-it-yourself gathering is among the most important items on a get-together to-do list. "Set a budget ahead of time," she says, "and make a list of what's non-negotiable."

 She says music to set the mood is important, but if there's no budget for a live band or a DJ, a solid, crowd-pleasing playlist works.

 "Entertainment is a big thing because that's what makes or breaks [the party]," Chapuis says. "A good location is (another) key. You definitely want to consider parking, and if there's going to be drinking, think ahead and make sure your guests can get home safely." If there's enough money in the budget, she suggests hosts offer credits on ride-sharing services.

 Some hobbyist party planners love to stick to a theme to create cohesiveness. Eve Crawford Peyton, a mother of two young daughters and a teenage stepson, has found that allowing her kids to choose a theme for their own birthday parties has streamlined the whole process.

 "Everything is easier if you have a theme," she says. "I've saved a lot of money by ordering printable DIY party packages. ... Many designers are more than happy to work with you to custom-design a package with everything you need — from the invitation to the thank-you note and everything in between, which keeps all your materials looking consistent."

 Don't overlook decor, whether or not the party has a theme. Some easy, cost-effective ways to spruce up the venue or your home include purchasing fresh flowers or candles or hanging simple decorative items like streamers.

 "Lighting is also important," Chapuis says. She suggests a programmable, multicolored light or a disco ball as an inexpensive way to add sparkle to a room.

 Stephanie Stromath, a local party enthusiast who frequently hosts gatherings in her own home, says having a party theme allows her to have fun with the planning.

 She hosted a fiesta-themed engagement party recently. Decor was easy to find, and she prepared a few Mexican foods in advance of the party. She also made margaritas by the pitcher, which she considered her biggest success of the night.

 "A big-batch margarita was super easy to make, and kept (drinks) flowing throughout the evening," she says. "I would definitely recommend any party planner to have a themed drink or punch for a themed party. It keeps costs down and you are better able to control the alcohol content."

 Enlist the help of others to make a party sail smoothly. During the early stages of the planning process for the engagement party, Stromath got a few of the couple's friends to co-host and help plan the guest list. They also donated a few bucks and helped set up her kitchen and backyard the day of the event.

 Peyton also suggests collaborative planning. For her 5-year-old daughter's recent birthday party, which was insect-themed and held at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, she teamed up with another mom whose daughter also was celebrating a birthday.

 "We were able to divide and conquer, which saved us both time and money," Peyton says.

 Consider the space of the party. Move furniture around if needed, and set up a focal point. For Stromath's fiesta bash, most of the guests lingered in her backyard and the food was set up buffet-style in her kitchen so guests could go in and out seamlessly.

 Cleanup likely isn't the best part of a soiree, but it doesn't have to be taxing, especially if there are co-hosts involved. Stromath's strategy is to avoid procrastination at the end of the night. Once guests depart, she gets to work.

 "Do dishes and clean up as best you can after the party," she says. "[There's] nothing worse than waking up tired, and maybe with a slight hangover, to a messy house."

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