I like to throw a fair number of social gatherings throughout the year. We do extended family dinners, holiday shindigs, birthday celebrations, friend get-togethers. . . but nothing compares to the annual pancake fest. Traditionally - for the past eight years - we've done it on Shrove Tuesday itself, but this year we're moving it to the Saturday prior. It's a little easier for people to travel on the weekend, if they're coming from out of town, and it's a lot easier on us, particularly as Al teaches on Tuesday night.
(The last time that happened was seven years ago, when I widely invited my fellow graduate students, but assumed that few people would show. I didn't think it would be a big deal to make pancakes for a few friends and the kids and told him not to worry. Al came home to me scrambling in the kitchen while forty or so people mingled around the apartment.)
Since I'm less than two weeks away, I need to get out my list and see where I'm at. And since it's reasonable to assume that everyone, at some point, has to plan a gathering, I thought I'd share my process with you.
1. Determine the size, scope, theme, etc.
Because I'm basically throwing the same party year after year, I don't really think about this too much. I know I'll have about 40 people, and it will be food-driven. But because we changed the date, I can anticipate a few differences. First, I'll plan on more people because the weekend makes it easier for people to show up. While this generally lasts a few hours, the weekend date may make it more likely that people will stick around. Which means more beer. The configuration of our house this year means that it's possible to have live music, so we'll make room for that. This is also the point where we discuss the budget. We had a family chat about this around Christmas, so we're set.
2. Send out invitations
This is a casual open house, so I generally invite people through facebook. The format is helpful for allowing my teenage kids the ability to invite their own friends. I also need to make a few hard copy invites to hand out to people I want to invite but who aren't on facebook. I generally like to carry these around with me for a couple of weeks, so I need to get that done today.
3. Create the master prep lists
This is especially important this year because we're planning to rent a car to do some of the running around and I need to be as organized as I possibly can. I keep lists for what we need to acquire (food, drink, decorations, etc.), and what we need to do (everything from inviting people to salting the walk the day of. This year, because we're in a new place, we'll have to figure out furniture arrangement too.
4. Work out who will do what the day of
The first year we had a pancake thing, it was a small dinner party. The second year was what I assumed would be a slightly larger thing and turned into a crazy madhouse. Subsequent years have been much smoother because we divided the hosting tasks ahead of time. Kids do all of the door opening, for example, and take away all of the coats. We work shifts to flip pancakes and clean up. Someone is always in charge of being the host on the floor. This year - with a dishwasher! - the clean up should be easier to manage.
This might seem like a lot to think about, but I find a lot of upfront prep increases the chance that I'll get to talk to people (and eat some pancakes!) on the day of the party itself.