Ultimate party planning checklist: how to plan a party in 19 steps

Reading time: 9 minutes

It doesn’t matter if you’re organizing a birthday, graduation, housewarming, office party, baby shower or business launch, you are going to have a long to do list. Get organized, stay on top and make a success of your event with our cover-all-bases party planning checklist.

In this party planning guide, we’ll walk you through the entire process, while laying out all of the party essentials and supplies you’ll need, depending on the party’s size, theme and goals. Before you get started, download our free party planning checklist, then just work your way through, step by step.

Table of contents

custom cocktail napkins

Source: Custom cocktail napkins via VistaPrint

Download the ultimate party planning checklist

Step 1: Answer the big-picture questions

Before you start buying party supplies and booking vendors, consider these big-picture questions:

  • What are you celebrating?
  • When are you celebrating it?
  • What is your budget?
  • Where will the party take place?
  • Roughly how many people will you invite?
  • What do you want the party to achieve?

For example, you might determine that you’re going to celebrate your daughter’s high school graduation in July, your budget is $1,500, you’ll invite around 40 people and hire a private room. The party’s goal is probably to recognize her achievement before she heads to college.

Graduation banner

Source: Graduation banner via VistaPrint

Step 2: Start thinking about numbers

Once you’ve answered these questions, create a rough guest list. You’ll likely edit this list before invitations go out, so for now, just get an idea of approximately how many people you plan to invite and a tentative list of who they are, including any plus ones.

Dinner party invitation

Source: Dinner party invitation via VistaPrint

Step 3: Work out what the goal is

As you plan your party, focus on your ultimate goal: a successful celebration. What does a successful party look like to you? Having a vision of your ideal party will guide your decisions as you work through the party planning process.

Step 4: Download a party planning checklist

A clear vision alone isn’t enough to pull off a successful party, you also need to be organized. Staying organized with a party planning checklist can help you avoid last-minute surprises, save money by locking in deals early on and keep the process streamlined, ultimately making the process less stressful and more enjoyable.

Download our free party planning checklist and make sure your party runs as smoothly as possible.

Custom coasters

Source: Custom coasters via VistaPrint

Party essentials and supplies list

Step 5: List the supplies you’ll need

Before you finalize your guest list or start making arrangements with vendors, list all the party supplies and essentials you’ll need. These include, but may not be limited to:

  • Invitations
  • Decorations (be specific about which types of decorations you need e.g. balloons or posters)
  • Linens, including custom tablecloths
  • Signage
  • Furniture (tables and chairs—does the venue provide these?)
  • Food and drink
  • Glassware, plates and cutlery (if the caterer doesn’t provide these—be sure to clarify with them!)

Depending on your plans, party essentials may also include:

Step 6: Customize your party essentials

Customize your party to make it truly feel like “you” or more importantly, the guest of honor. There are lots of fun, creative ways to do this, from linens in favorite colors to monogrammed cocktail napkins, photo backdrops and personalized glassware.

Custom wine glasses

Source: Custom wine glasses via VistaPrint

Months before the party

Although this stage could refer to any number of months, when you’re planning a party, a general guideline is that the bigger the party, the longer your planning timeline should be.

At least two months before the party (longer if you have a large guest list or a lot of “moving parts”) you should:

  • Print the downloadable checklist. This will be your go-to document until the day of the party
  • Choose the party’s theme, aesthetic or color palette
  • Determine a more detailed budget
  • Decide on the exact location and venue
  • Lock-in the date
  • Finalize the guest list and send out invites
  • Know which entertainment and other vendors you’ll book

Step 7: Pick a theme

Now for the fun part: picking the perfect party theme! The theme will play a big role in a lot of your later decisions, like choosing the venue decor and which vendors you’ll book. A theme can be specific like the 1920s, or it can be more of a general aesthetic like a black-tie cocktail party.

Custom bar menu

Source: Custom bar menu via VistaPrint

Step 8: Choose and book the venue

With a theme in mind, it’s now time to choose the ideal party venue. If you decide to hire a space rather than have the party at home, you’ll need to ensure it’s available for the date you want—at this step, it’s usually helpful to be flexible about dates. Once you’ve paid a deposit and locked it in, you’re free to start making decisions that can’t be made until you know when and where the party will be, like which vendors you can book, based on their availability.

Step 9: Finalize the guest list and order invites

When it comes to your guest list, it’s usually wise to invite about 20% more people than the venue can fit, because on average, only 70-80% of those guests attend. However, you know your circle best, so adjust this number accordingly. 

Once your guest list is finalized, design and order custom invitations. Choose a design that suits your party’s theme and customize it with embossed gold or silver foil for an extra special touch.

Baby shower invitation

Source: Baby shower invitation via VistaPrint

Step 10: Research vendors

This is also the point where you research vendors and compile a list to reach out to. You don’t need to book them just yet, but have a list at the ready for available vendors who provide the services you need, such as a DJ, florist, caterer or photographer, and their rates for a party of your size.

One month before the party

Step 11: Send out the invites

Send out your invitations. The further in advance invites go out, the more likely guests are to attend. Make sure the RSVP deadline and details are prominent on the page. As you receive the RSVPs, keep an updated list of responses so you can accurately gauge numbers and order an appropriate amount of food, drinks, favors and other party essentials for attendees.

Step 12: Book vendors

This is also the stage where you book your vendors, after having done all the research and made all the decisions. Pay any necessary deposits to contract them for the party. You should also finalize any specifics regarding the vendors’ services, like the food menu with the caterer or the flower choices with the florist.

Illustrated drink menu

Source: Illustrated drink menu by green in blue via 99designs by Vista

Step 13: Decide on decor

With everything booked and the RSVPs continuing to trickle in, it’s time to finalize the list of party supplies. For example, if you’re having a sit-down meal you might want to order custom place cards so you can engineer the seating plan.

Depending on your budget and creative vision, order or DIY everything you’ll need to decorate the venue. Now is a good time to determine which pieces of decor you’re buying, customizing, making and renting. 

Custom party place cards

Source: Custom party place cards via VistaPrint

Step 14: Finalize the entertainment

It’s now time to finalize the entertainment aspect of the party, like the DJ’s playlist. Part of this step is determining the general flow of the party schedule, like what time you’ll be serving food, when the entertainment will happen and at what point any announcements or speeches will be made.

One week before the party

Step 15: Follow up on RSVPs

The week before the party, you’re primarily going to be tying up loose ends and finalizing plans. One of these loose ends is following up with guests who haven’t RSVP’d. Whether you accept RSVPs after the deadline is up to you and depends on whether you have already made orders for a certain number of people.

Party invitation design with QR code

Source: Invitation design by Butryk via 99designs by Vista

Step 16: Day-of logistics and last-minute orders

Have conversations with the vendors to make sure everybody’s on the same page regarding day-of logistics, including load-in, setup and load-out.

Take inventory of your party supplies list and, if you need to, order any last-minute items as well as any non-perishable food and drinks, like chips and liquor. This is also a good point to gather your party favors, separating them into custom paper bags for each guest.

The day before (and the day of) the party

Today is the day! After just a few last-minute steps, it’s time to party!

Step 17: Decorate and set up the venue

One of these last-minute steps is decorating and setting up the venue. You might have started this a few days earlier, especially if your home is the venue or if your decor is made from paper. If perishable decor is part of your setup, like fresh flower arrangements or a balloon arch, hold off until the day itself.

Balloon and party setup

Source: kids party table with a photo balloon via VistaPrint

It’s also time to buy any perishable items you’ll need for the party, like ice. If you’re making any of the food yourself, today is the day for last-minute food prep.

Step 18: Pay everyone

Finally, make any outstanding payments to vendors. Typically, vendors have payment timelines in their contracts and, in many cases, the final installment is due the day of the party. Set this money aside and get it to your vendors promptly so you can relax and enjoy the celebration.

Birthday party thank you note

Source: Birthday party thank you note via VistaPrint

After the party

Step 19: Send thank you notes

Let your guests know just how grateful you are to them for celebrating this occasion with you by sending a heartfelt thank you note. Take your gratitude to the next level and customize your very own thank you cards.

Order your party essentials with VistaPrint

Planning a party is rarely easy, but staying organized throughout the process makes it a lot easier. Download our free party planning checklist to keep yourself on track and avoid forgetting any party planning essentials, like custom invitations or getting deposits to vendors in time.