November 9, 2009

Event Designer Marla Brown’s Party Checklist

Hosting a party? Follow these expert suggestions for preparing your next get-together.

Toronto event planner Marla Brown offers these step-by-step tips to help you get ready to entertain guests at home.


  • Decide what type of party you want to have – a sit-down dinner, stand-up cocktail, lunch or brunch – and how many guests you’ll invite.
  • Consider how you’ll set up your house for the event. Plan to situate the bar away from the buffet stations to create an easy flow of people around the party.
  • Pick a colour scheme to carry through in your invitations, linens, napkins, flowers and decor.
  • Decide how much you want to spend on your party and plan a budget for food, drink, tableware, and decor.
  • Send out your invitations. Include an RSVP date that falls at least 3 days before your event.
  • Book a caterer if necessary and meet with them to discuss the menu and any staffing needs.
  • For groups of more than twenty, make arrangements to rent tables and chairs and other items such as linens, plates, cutlery, glassware, platters, serveware, ice bins, punch bowls, martini shakers, bottle openers, etc.
  • Order any monogrammed paper cocktail napkins and paper hand towels for the bathroom.


  • Design your menu if you’re not hiring a caterer. Talk to your favourite restaurant to find out if they can make a few main courses or appetizers.
  • If you have a fireplace, get it cleaned.
  • Organize giveaways or in lieu of a gift, think about making a charitable donation in honour of your guests.
  • Decide on your music playlist. Music should play in the background at a low level. Enlist the help of a music-loving friend to burn a CD or bring their iPod if you are not up to the task.


  • Clean your house or hire a cleaning service to do the job.
  • Go through your RSVP list. Call anyone who has not yet responded.
  • Order taxi chits to offer guests who need a ride home.
  • Prep your spare bedroom with fresh sheets and towels in case anyone needs to stay overnight after the party.
  • Clean out your refrigerator.
  • Iron or have pressed any tablecloths and linen napkins.
  • Plan a signature cocktail drink. Consider coordinating it with your colour scheme and decor.
  • Purchase all alcohol and non-alcoholic beverages, plus limes and lemons. Ask a sales person at the liquor store to help you calculate how much you’ll need.
  • Pick up candles and votive holders and be sure to have a barbecue lighter on hand for lighting candles.
  • Call your favourite florist to order flowers that will work with your colour palette. For a sit-down dinner, lunch or brunch, you’ll need an arrangement for the dining room table, while you’ll want something taller for a buffet. Select white scented flowers for the bathroom or use a lightly scented candle instead (and be prepared to check on it throughout the evening).
  • Plan your outfit for the party.


  • Confirm timing with your caterer, servers or bartender.
  • Go grocery shopping.


  • Pick up flowers and vases to make your own displays or have your florist deliver arrangements.
  • Have rental items delivered.
  • Drop off rental platters to any restaurants that are providing food.
  • De-clutter your house. Store knickknacks the basement or in a cabinet. Replace empty spaces with votive candles.
  • Arrange your furniture. If you are having a large number of guests, move pieces to create a sense of flow in the main sitting room. For an intimate party, arrange the furniture to make the room more cozy and conversational.
  • Set your table. Place any platters and serveware on the buffet with identifying sticky notes to make sure everything fits.
  • For more tips on setting your table, watch our Online TV segment for DIY Napkin Folding Ideas.


  • Prep your menu items or pick up any food you’ve ordered from restaurants or caterers.
  • Run and empty your dishwasher.
  • Set out all glassware on the bar and place cut limes and lemons in attractive bowls.


  • Light candles and dim the lights.
  • Start the music.
  • Fill ice buckets and chill white wine.
  • Remind yourself to relax and enjoy the evening.