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My Party System

I received a huge compliment this weekend.  A married man in his twenties said to me, “I want to entertain just like you when I grow up.”  He absolutely made my day.

This weekend, we threw an Engagement Party for Brett and Mason. It was tons of fun with friends and family.  Plus we got to meet some of Mason’s family we hadn’t met before.

Engagement Party Cake

We’re pretty good at throwing parties at this point.  We were expecting between 100 – 200 people on Sunday at 1:00.  Saturday night after we closed the farm store, we brought tables and chairs from the Sweet Shop back to the house.  We had already done all the food shopping we needed (thanks Poppy!) and the house was relatively clean.

We started making the food around 8:30 Sunday morning and were finishing up right around 12:45 when the first guests started arriving.  I knew we could do it and I wasn’t stressed and yelling at people.  I even had time to shower with my favorite soap around 11 am!

Those of you who have been following me for a while, know that I’m a huge believer in systems and their power to make the complex efficient, and the chaotic orderly.  Party planning can be both complex and chaotic, so of course, we have a party system in place.

The trick I’ve found is to keep your parties fairly standard no matter how many guests you are expecting.  We always put drinks and desserts in the same place.  We always set up the tables and chairs the same way.  And we have our favorite recipes that we always make for parties.  They are straight forward and easy and our guests really enjoy them.

Party Drink Station

So, here’s what we’ve done to create our system.

Create a Google Drive spreadsheet. (Kind of like the one for the packing system.)  Create a tab that you call ‘ingredients’.  Then create a tab that you call ‘shopping list’.

Determine how many guests each recipe serves.  This is the hardest field to guess correctly if you haven’t thrown many parties because you don’t know what is going to be the popular food item.  I also estimate differently based on how much my children like that particular leftover.  The more they like it, the fewer number of people the recipe serves (so I make more of it).  Also – base your numbers on the fact that your guests have lots of options to choose from and won’t eat just this one food.  If this is your first party you’re prepping for, just take your best guess and then adjust as you have more parties!

Enter ingredients on the ‘ingredients’ tab.  We title each recipe and then list the ingredients as we would buy them.  The trick is to make sure that all your individual ingredients (e.g. mayo) use the same unit measurement (volume or weight).  So if you are using sour cream in multiple recipes, you need to decide whether you are measuring in cups or oz.  You don’t want to go back and forth.  So it would look something like this:

Spinach Dip Number of People Served: 25
Quantity Ingredient Size
1 Sour cream 16 oz
1 Frozen chopped spinach 8 oz
1 Mayonaise 1/2 cup
2 Bread 1 loaf

Create your shopping list formulas.  This is what takes the longest to setup the first time, but once you have it done correctly, you don’t have to do it again!  Go to the ‘shopping list’ tab.  At the top of the page write, “Number of Guests Expected”.  You have to decide if you want to estimate low or high.  I always estimate high because I hate running out of food and I have lots of children who will eat leftovers.  I also have lots of friends that I enjoy sending the leftovers home with.  But if you don’t want any leftovers, you might want to estimate low.

Now start listing the ingredients that make up your shopping list.  Once you have the ingredients listed, you need to work some spreadsheet magic.  If you’re not familiar with spreadsheets, this may be confusing.  But it will look something like this (not actual fields because you have to go back and forth between tabs):

A1 is the field showing the number of guests expected. (200)
A2 is the number of people served by your spinach dip recipe. (25)
A3 is the quantity of mayo you need for spinach dip. (1)
A4 is the size of mayo you need for spinach dip. (1/2)
A5 is the number of people served by your corn dip recipe. (20)
A6 is the quantity of mayo you need for corn dip. (1)
A7 is the size of mayo you need for corn dip. (2)

In order to calculate on your shopping list how much mayo you need to buy, the equation is: =(A1/A2*A3*A4) + (A1/A5*A6*A7) = (200/25*1*.5) + (200/20*1*2) = 4 + 20 = 24 cups.

Make sense?  I’m sorry if it doesn’t.  Just leave a comment with where you are confused and I’ll try to explain it better.

Please note that if you don’t want to make a particular recipe for this party, just change the number of people served by that recipe to zero.  Do not delete it (you’ll regret losing all that work).  We have all our recipes that we ever make for parties on this spreadsheet and we just change the number of guests served (but write it down elsewhere so you don’t forget) based on how many different kinds of food we want to make.

Party People

Finish your shopping list.  Don’t forget to list things on your shopping list such as napkins, utensils, plates, spoons, garbage bags, and drinks.  If you think you’ll be sending leftover food home with friends, you also may want to add some disposable tupperware to this list.

Enter recipes.  Once you have your shopping list finished, it’s a nice backup to have all your recipes on the Google Drive spreadsheet as well.  We keep ours printed out in a recipe notebook, but I always prefer to have digital backups.  If I ever change a recipe (add or delete an ingredient), it’s then a quick fix.  I like to create tabs for all the individual recipes so I can flip to each one and print out a backup copy if I need it.

That’s it!  Again, it’s a lot of upfront work, but once you have that work done, it’s a huge stress relief.  All I do is look at the recipes and change to zero the recipes I don’t want to make.  I then change the number of guests expected and print out the shopping list.  I take that shopping list to the pantry and see what I can cross off (or reduce) because I already have it available.

I’m hoping that made some sort of sense to everyone.  Let me know if it doesn’t.  My next post will be about why I think it’s important to show hospitality and how I’ve always done it even when we were broke!  So if something doesn’t make sense, I can follow-up.

What about you?  Do you throw parties?  Do they stress you out?