Checklist for meal planning a party

This is a guest post by Briohny, from Plan Eat Play

Hosting a party can be a nerve racking adventure. One thing people will always comment on is the food; good or bad, every guest will have a lasting memory, and opinion.

My dad reminded me of this when he asked me if I could host his and mum’s 60th birthday celebrations. Sure, why not? I love a good challenge, I thought as I gulped down the rising panic. He then informed me that he had invited 134 people!

Let me state the obvious right here, organisation is the key if you are thinking of hosting a ‘do’.

Included is a planning package you can download. It contains:

  • Menu
  • 4-week plan
  • Preparation strategy, ingredient list and instructions for the menu
  • Shopping list

The goal is to help you play host rather than Heston.


4 weeks until party day

  • Create your invitation and RSVP list and group people into how you know them, for example, Mum and Dad’s invitation list included:

o   Current work friends

o   Previous work friends

o   Family

  • I used a free online invitation generator. Saved the file as a j.peg and went to Kmart to print out the invitations. They cost me 9c each.
  • Send out the invitations (post or email). Include a screen snip from Google Maps and information about parking. Reserve spaces for those requiring disabled facilities, this was our driveway for mum and dad’s party.
  • Guests were also asked to BYO chairs and drinks but no presents. Decide what non-food items you want guests to bring.
  • Have planned in your head what you want people to bring – they will ask you. I’m better at savoury cooking so I asked people to bring a desert. The Cheesecake Shop is a saviour. Remember those who have food sensitivities. I asked a friend to make her divine Gluten Free Chocolate Brownie Slice.
  • Highlight ‘no’ in orange and ‘yes’ in green on your RSVP list. This will help you keep track of numbers. I also split the RSVP list into children and adults to assist with catering.
  • Keep the RSVP contact details together should something, such as venue, change. I created two folders in my inbox called ‘RSVP yes’ ‘RSPVP no’ and kept all text messages. Next to the person’s name on the invite list I wrote an ‘e’ for email RSVP or a ‘txt’ for text RSVP.
  • Do you need a wet weather contingency? If so, decide ahead of time where it’s going to be and how are you going to communicate this to your guests.
  • If you are at a park, consider providing information about the facilities that may be there. This includes wheelchair access and recreational facilities such as skate-ramps, swings, scooter tracks and grassed areas.
  • Start thinking about what kinds of food you want to serve, hot, cold or both, finger food or a sit down meal.
  • Scan Pinterest for some great ideas. Create boards to save your ideas to. Start each board with the same title to keep them together, for example, ‘60th – decorations’, ‘60th – snacks’.
  • Organise additional refrigeration for drinks and salads. I borrowed two big camping eskies that housed the salads, cold meats and additional milk for tea and coffee.

3 weeks party day


  • Dedicate a folder on your computer or purchase an exercise book to keep your planning together. Put your rough menu ideas together.
  • Sort it in to ‘definite foods’ and ‘possible foods’ – be prepared to cut out some items that you really want; they just may not be a practical option for large numbers.
  • The smaller the numbers the more fancy you can get with your food options. The larger the crowd the simpler the food needs to be.
  • You are better off having more of the same items rather than many options. Do you really need 10 different salads or will 5 big ones be more manageable?
  • Develop a ‘to-do list’. These are items outside the grocery/food list. Include items such as:

o   Organise a house-cleaner to clean your house the day before. I needed to do this as both my husband and I work full time and between the kids and our after school commitments, there was no way my hubby and I had time or the energy to clean the house and the yard.

o   Buy party decoration supplies. The ‘cheap shops’ sell a great range of party supplies that are affordable and do the job well. You don’t want to spend a fortune on decorations that are going to end up damaged or in the bin

o   Tables, chairs, plates, bowls, glasses, cutlery…

o   Shade cloths

o   Table cloths

o   Photographer

  • Continue to check off acceptances and declines on the RSVP list
  • Determine if you are eating off plastic or china plates. We chose china plates and purchased packs of cheap ones from department stores.
  • The same goes for glasses. Are you using glass or plastic? Where are you going to get your glasses from? Again, we purchased cheap ones from department stores. These were packed away in boxes at the end and are now stored in a cupboard until the next gathering.
  • Organise cutlery. We borrowed additional cutlery from my parent’s and my aunty. We had plastic back-ups just in case.
  • Do you have pets? Do you need to organise a spot for them to go on the day? While you may love your furry friend, other people may not. Consider allergies, fear and just them being underfoot.
  • Are many children attending? Do you need to consider entertainment for them? We were fortunate that the park we were at had swings and a scooter track. I also had bubbles, play-doh, colouring in and bouncy balls for the younger ones. The teens were happy with skateboards, a basketball and a deck of cards.

 2 weeks until party day


  • Create a hashtag for Instagram where people can add any photos they take on the day or leading up to the event. Keep this handy. Take a photo of your planning to get the ball rolling.
  • Create a courtesy note for your neighbours and those in nearby streets to let them know that you are having a party. Provide the time people will be arriving and what time you expect it will go to. Let them know if there is going to be a band or music playing. Also consider if street parking will affect them.
  • Finalise your menu and create a shopping list. Organise your shopping list into sections within the grocery store. Ensure you do a shopping list just for party items, don’t include your own personal groceries on it. Remember to add toilet paper, tissues and hand soap! I also purchased a scented reed jar for the toilet and Woodwick candles for the house.
  • Remember to add decaffeinated and herbal options to your tea and coffee as well as additional milk (full cream, skim and soy).
  • Write your items and your list of ingredients required for each item on a large piece of paper. Organise how many food platters, salad bowls and servers you will need for your menu.
  • Start collecting everything you will be using on the day and allocate a section in the house where these can stay. This means getting all your platters, serving implements, bowls, plates, glasses, table cloths, serviettes, salt and pepper and so on together and in one spot. This was the coffee table and couch for us.

 1 week until party day / week of the party


  • Do your first grocery shop at the start of the week. This is for items that don’t need to be refrigerated.
  • The day or two before do the rest of the grocery shop. This is for items that need refrigeration. Just make sure you have considered fridge space to accommodate the additional items.
  • Place a post-it note on the platters and bowls so you have an idea as to what food item is going on what platter.
  • As best as you can, keep the food items that belong to the one recipe together. You may even like to place the non-perishable items on the platter or in the bowl that will be being used for that item.
  • Enlist your ‘support crew’. Check what time they are arriving, what they will be bringing and what jobs you want them to help you with on the day. It is very difficult on the day to provide an on-the-spot response when people ask ‘what do you want me to do?’ Consider:

o   Setting up tables, chairs, shade cloths, decorations

o   Cutting and buttering bread / rolls

o   Slicing and dicing

o   Greeting guests and organising space for any items they bring

o   Present table

o   Music and playlists

o   Re-directors – this job is really important and will save your sanity. This job is about moving people on who like to hover, criticise, offer ‘advice’ or pick at the food in the kitchen)

o   Someone to collect bags of ice

o   Someone to collect fresh bread early in the morning

o   Photographer

  • Create a sign that has the Instagram hashtag on it for people to use
  • Create a reservation sign and place it in a frame
  • Ensure your family understands what is going to be happening on party day so the kids don’t freak out by the number of people around or the organised chaos that may be ensuing. I had to give my 12 year old ‘important’ jobs to do for the day. Every kid loves blowing up balloons and making signs. The older kids decided they’d stand at the end of the street and direct people where to go.
  • Decide the order that you are cooking and preparing the food in for party day. Is there anything that you can do the night before to save time on party day? Remember storage space for whatever you pre-prepare, 80 boiled potatoes take up a lot of fridge space!

Party Day

  • Have a good breakfast or pre-party meal. You are going to be of no use to anyone if you are running around crazy and on an empty stomach.
  • Have your support crew job list ready. When people asked how they could help I either said, ‘check the list and see if there is something there you’d like to do’ or ‘not a thing except go and enjoy yourself’. It may seem a little OCD but it will help.
  • Put the reservation sign wherever it needs to go.
  • Clear the kitchen benches and surrounding spaces of ‘stuff’. You want as much work space as possible.
  • Light mosquito coils or citronella candles on your window ledges. Those flies will find you and love the feast you are providing.
  • Start the set-up first. This may include shade cloths, tables, chairs, decorations, plates, drinks and so on.
  • Once this is underway, let someone else take-over and begin organising the cooking and preparing of the food based on the order that you have planned.
  • Get the nibbles out not long after people start arriving.
  • Attach your food and salad item list to the fridge or cupboard as a quick reference as to what you need for each menu item. It also acts as a central reference point if people are helping you.
  • Have plenty of bins for people to access. Keep one out in the kitchen – you don’t want to be constantly opening and closing cupboard doors. Have a bin for recycling and a bin for general rubbish both where your guests are gathered and where you are working.
  • Remember to eat or nibble as you are preparing the food.
  • Remain calm, take a few deep breaths, some time-out if needed and be proud of what you have done.

What would I do differently next time?

  • Not sit down for half an hour catching up with friends or budget ‘catch-up’ time. While time with friends is important, I underestimated how much I needed those 30 minutes for salad preparation.
  • Don’t be afraid to trust others to construct a salad. I’m a bit of a control freak in the kitchen and it was really hard to let my cousins take over the making of a few salads.
  • Not offer to make tea and coffee at the end. That was a disaster! I couldn’t keep up with demand. Next time, I’d say ‘help y
  • ourself to tea and coffee’.
  • Not wear a maxi dress. It’s silly I know, but while it was super comfy it kept getting in the way and getting caught on things. I’d go for pants of some sort and a loose top.

After it was all done and dusted, people did comment on how lovely the food was – that was nice. Do you know what was better? The relatives, old friends and good friends people got to spend time with all while enjoying good food, good wine and good company.

Thank you to Briony for making all this information available in an easy download, available here


Grocery List

What’s your best party planning tip?

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A place where I can help you organise one very simple but very time-consuming part of your day – meal planning. The resources and assistance you can access from ‘Plan Eat Play’ will make things easier when it comes to ways to sneak a few more minutes into your day.

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As a popular blogger, influencer, and author, I draw from my expertise in home organisation, cleaning, and meal planning to offer practical tips and heartfelt encouragement to my audience.