As the temperature drops, and the days get shorter, we can’t help but think about the holiday season. Halloween is sort of a mini kickoff; it gets our gears turning for fall and winter festivities. And what’s a holiday season without hosting a party or two?
You don’t have to be a professional event planner to get the party started. But we did ask Lindsay Longacre, founder and CEO of LVL Events, a thriving wedding and events planning company based in California, for her tips. Here’s a checklist of essential dos and don’ts to keep in mind for your Halloween soiree or any upcoming shindig.
DO . . .
01. Be Specific About Your Guest List
Guests are everything when it comes to a party. Before you start thinking about decor or food, decide on the type of guest list. Is it an adults-only party? Or is it for friends and families, kids included? Hashing this out will set the tone for every detail that comes afterward.
Creating a menu, for example, becomes easier. An all-ages party calls for a wider variety of food. Kids won’t rush toward a table full of quinoa- and kale-stuffed peppers. And adults will raise an eyebrow toward a chicken finger and french fry buffet. Play it safe by incorporating bright colors, quirky themes, or characters to your menu. The same goes with decor. Though adults may appreciate a spookier vibe, be conscious of traumatizing the children. If kids are on the guest list, keep it playful and fun.
02. Be Flexible About Scheduling
When planning your party, look at dates or times surrounding and leading up to a holiday. On Halloween, some guests prefer traditional celebrations and activities, especially those with children.
It’s not uncommon to throw a Halloween party a week or two before the actual holiday. An early celebration is great for getting people revved up for the holiday. Plus, competition for guests’ time won’t be as fierce if you pick an off-holiday day.
If you’d like to host a party the day of, remember that Halloween is a big day for young people. Consider a casual day party for families to attend before trick-or-treating. You can even turn your party into a trick-or-treating entourage around your neighborhood. If you’re throwing an adults-only party, schedule the gathering around 8 p.m. or so. This will give parents enough time to supervise before a night out.
03. Add ‘Please Bring’ to the Invite
Make the party a team effort by adding a “please bring” line to the invite. This will give you a chance to request specific items, such as paper plates or condiments. “This helps minimize turning you into a full-service caterer,” Lindsay says. “It also spreads out some of the ‘day of’ duties.”
Open communication is key. To keep your guests in the know, provide a list of things you intend to supply. This will give them an idea of how they can best contribute. Basically, help your guests help you.
If you’re using virtual invitations, encourage guests to share what they plan to bring. It can be accessible to other guests and prevent doubles (or triples) of items.
04. Select a Theme
There’s something so fun about curating a party to create a certain atmosphere. While it isn’t necessary, it can make menu planning and decor shopping a breeze. “Themes also bring a cohesive energy to a party,” Lindsay says. “It is not only a talking point for guests, but it’s also something that brings everyone together.”
Having a theme also sets guidelines for specific colors and elements, making it easier to decide what to buy. This way, you’re less likely to throw together a hodgepodge of random styles and pieces.
Themes can be even more entertaining around Halloween when costumes are usually involved. A theme will help guests dress in a way that adds even more to that cohesive energy. “It also makes everyone feel like a kid again,” Lindsay shares.
05. Serve a Simple Specialty Cocktail
To add personality, consider inventing or putting a twist on a cocktail. Incorporate the theme through color, ingredients, or garnishes.
Of course, alcoholic cocktails will be for adults only. So don’t forget to provide a nonalcoholic choice for teetotalers or guests younger than 21.
06. Make a Shopping List
. . . and stick to it. A set list will give you a clear vision of what to buy. And it will ease stress at the store.
“Make a list of things you need to do about a month leading up to your big party,” Lindsay recommends. “This way, you can be cool and calm before the event.” This will also give you an idea of how much time you’ll need to gather and prepare everything.
A solid shopping list helps ensure that you get enough of each ingredient. Worried about not having enough food? Add some freezer items that you can pop in the oven and serve as appetizers in a pinch. And if there are leftovers? Send them home with your guests!
DON’T . . .
01. Send Invites Too Late
A large part of a party’s success depends on attendance. Lindsay suggests the following as must-haves on an invite: the host, date, time, location, RSVP date, attire information, and what to bring. “It’s all in the details,” she says.
Sending timely invites is crucial. Remember, everyone experiences this crazy thing known as life. We all have many obligations. In the interest of respecting your guests’ time and planning needs, send invites at least two weeks before the party.
A longer time frame allows room for one of the best things about Halloween: the costumes. Curating an outfit for any party can take time, but putting together a Halloween ensemble needs extra thought.
Potluck parties in particular need timely invitations. It gives guests leeway to coordinate with other guests, decide on a dish, and prepare the actual meal.
02. Put Off Shopping Until the Last Minute
Timeliness is everything when it comes to planning a party. As soon as you’ve solidified a theme and menu, hit the store ASAP.
Like sending out invites, errands and shopping can be daunting. But think of it this way: The earlier you shop, the more freedom you’ll have. It will give you enough time to be picky and find what you want (and need) to make an awesome party happen.
You’ll have time to scope out the best deals instead of grabbing whatever you see first. You can also browse the Web, which happens to be an amazing source for anything party-related. Just be sure to allow ample time for shipping.
03. Ignore Dietary Restrictions
As with any social gathering, the safety of your guests is the biggest priority. According to Food Allergy Research & Education, about fifteen million people in the U.S. have food allergies. FARE also states that one in every thirteen children has food allergies. The decor and costumes won’t matter if a guest has an allergic reaction. This can be easily avoided with open communication.
Ask guests to specify dietary restrictions from the get-go. If you’re sending physical invites, add a note to contact you about specific allergies. By getting to know your guests’ allergies, you can be more cognizant of how you select and prepare foods, including making a different, smaller version of a dish to avoid allergens.
Offering alternatives makes a big difference in everyone’s enjoyment. Offer at least one vegetarian option. If you’re serving coffee, consider having both dairy and nondairy creamers on hand. Not only will guests appreciate these small moves, but it’ll also cut the risk of guests going home with a bag of tricks rather than treats.
04. Underestimate the Internet
When it comes to party planning, the Internet is an amazing source of inspiration. Lindsay’s platform of choice? Pinterest, of course! “It won’t just help you brainstorm decor ideas, but it can help you put together a complementary menu as well,” she says.
Lindsay warns not to go crazy with the ideas. With so much on the Web, it can be easy to get sucked into a whirlwind of recipes and projects. “Keep it simple with just one or two ideas,” Lindsay advises. You’ll thank yourself later.
05. Overthink It
The worst thing you can do is expect too much of yourself. No one expects you to host a red-carpet affair on a budget. People will show up to your party because they enjoy the company more than the hors d’oeuvres. So focus on one or two highlights instead of trying to make every single detail the main event.
If you’re going all out on decor, go easy on the menu. Stick to heavy appetizers and finger foods rather than serving a six-course meal. But if the food will be the star of the show, you can get away with a low-key strewing of tea lights and mini pumpkins around the room.
06. Forget to Ask for Help
Calling for backup has been many a hostess’s downfall. Planning and throwing a party is overwhelming. Luckily, the social aspect of a party isn’t limited to the actual event. To keep your head on straight, ask two or three people you’ve been able to rely on in the past to lend a hand.
Aim to start prepping five to six hours before the festivities begin. Take into consideration any food prep, and kindly assign tasks. It doesn’t hurt to ask a few people to help clean up during and after the party, too. And if you can’t recruit volunteers? “If you can’t rally one of your family members or friends, consider hiring someone to help you set and clean up,” Lindsay says. “We love using Task Rabbit for reliable local help.”
Asking for backup isn’t a bad thing. It’s one of the best ways to respect your own time and efforts. Besides, party prepping with someone is a social activity in itself. Aside from taking some stress off your shoulders, you’ll be more likely to enjoy the party you worked so hard on.
Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to a stress-free Halloween party. Apply these tips to any event, from weddings to birthdays. It all comes down to mindful planning, keeping it simple, and letting yourself have a good time.