Your Secret to the Perfect Party Revealed!



Yeah, okay, not exactly a big secret, right? But I lost track of how many people said ‘I don’t know how you did it’ or something similar at or after the Halloween party. Because, yes, when the dining room table is fully extended and still barely contains everything, it does look like a lot of work.


That’s roughly 24 square feet of deliciousness.

So the “secret” is organization, and the strategy is divide and conquer.

Food is always a big part of all my parties. If you leave my house hungry, it’s your own damn fault. I like there to be a good variety and enough so that I don’t have to worry about running out of food before the fun is done. But it’s true that time is of the essence, so being organized to a fault is a plus and being reasonable with my expectations. Once I figure our what I’m making, I put it in order of what holds best on down to what must be made just before serving and then I start making 1-3 things a night for the week leading up to the party.

But what to make and how much of it? Catering math is the completion of the party-planning trifecta.

Catering math involves 3 variables and simple multiplication (yes, you can use a calculator if you need to).

  • How many people do you expect?
  • How long will the party last?
  • Will dinner be served?

If you’re serving nibbles before a dinner, you don’t need as many hors d’oeuvres otherwise your guests will be too full to enjoy the meal. But if all you’re serving is cocktail food (especially if it’s during the main lunch or dinner window) you need to have enough to serve as the meal. So for a party with both snacks and dinner, it’s 5 pieces per person per hour. Without a dinner planned it’s 10 pieces per person per hour. Simple as that!

Catering math made simple.

Catering math made simple.

For the Halloween party I figured on around 25 people for 5 hours or so with no separate meal served, which means I needed somewhere in the vicinity of 1250 (25x5x10) pieces for the evening.

1250 pieces sounds like a lot, but when you figure that–for instance–each veggie on a veggie tray, each meatball, each little cookie counts as a piece (and a bigger cookie counts as a 2 or 3 pieces), the numbers start adding up quickly. And if you’re serving things that a little bigger, you can fudge those numbers even more. So as I add things to my party menu, I note how many pieces I’m expecting out of each and I can keep a running total as I build it out. The number is a guide, though, and you have to know your guests and adjust accordingly.

I also make my shopping list, prep schedule, and plan for serving pieces while I make the menu: a one stop planning doc!

I also make my shopping list, prep schedule, and plan for serving pieces while I make the menu: a one stop planning doc!

Something else I do as I make my menu is to categorize the dishes by content, texture, and temperature as well as taste. Having a balance between sweet and savory is often as far as a lot of hosts go, but I like to make sure I plan options that are both crunchy and creamy, hot and cold, plus a good mix of vegetarian options among the more carnivore-friendly. It’s all about the mix, just like the mix of people you invite over!

Preparing for this year’s party was surprisingly chill. I kept up with my prep schedule and Todd and I kept everything moving so that on the day of the party there was no last minute rush before the guests arrived and we were able to greet our guests as calm and collected hosts. I hope these tips help you navigate your next party in similar form!

Thinking Our Way Through the Day

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

Back in high school I had the opportunity to intern with some local event planners and get a behind-the-scenes look at some amazing, large-scale events. I also spent a lot of time reading back issues of Special Events magazine and reading books on running your own catering business, and one of the best pieces of advice I read, one that I’ve used with every party I’ve every hosted or helped with, is to do a mental walk-through of the event from the perspective of the guest to make sure you don’t forget anything.

Depending on how much help you have planning your wedding, you may not need to do such a thorough session yourself, but it never hurts to figure out what questions to ask.

Since a Day-Of Coordinator came with our venue rental, I don’t have to worry about where the garbage cans will be/where discarded plates will go, but I still do this sort of run-through so I can better communicate to her what I see for our day. Since the DoC is there to fulfill our wishes, and knowing we have a few different ideas of how we’d like things to go, it’s up to us to know what we want.

As far as the timeline goes (aka the first hurdle to jump), we worked backwards from “the main event” aka the ceremony at 11:45am to figure out the earlier events. To give the guests time to arrive and us some time to mingle, we decided to start “cocktail” hour 10:30am and start herding guests to the opposite side of the fountain for the ceremony and then process in a somewhat orderly fashion to the reception venue just to the right.

Or, for the more visually minded among us:

HLP Mock-Up

On our last visit there I was happy to see that yes, really, the “front” of the circular drive is deeper than the “back” and that the right offshoot opens up to the driveway which will help channel our guests one way rather than encourage then to wander higglety pigglety hither and yon.

This also tells us that with cocktail hour starting at 10:30, the photographer doesn’t have to arrive until 9:30 or 9:45, which means we Road Trips can actually sleep in til 7 or so before I have to stumble off to the showers to start getting pretty. (Mr. Road Trip, like most grooms, is much more low-maintenance. If it takes him more than 30 minutes to get ready I’ll be shocked!) We’ll technically have our photographer 8 hours, so if we wanted to traipse around for more photographs after the reception we still have that option (though I suspect we’ll be on emotional overload by the time our guests start to leave and want nothing more than some peace and quiet).

Since we’re providing the music ourselves, this also tells us how long our playlists for each portion of the wedding need to be, which our DoC will be pressing play and pause on (one less thing to assign a friend to be in charge of).

And with that done, now it was time to start drilling-down into the details of each part of the day.