How to Prepare for a Party in Less Than a Day

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Maybe the the stars align and all your friends happen to be available on the same night, so you decide to throw a party at the last minute. Or maybe you scheduled a big shindig weeks ago, but didn't exactly jump on the actual preparations. Either way, it's panic time.

To the rescue: a timeline to help you get through the day with as little stress as possible, so you'll still have plenty of party mojo left over to enjoy yourself once the guests roll in.

Morning

Make a game plan

Rule #1 here is cook what you know — there’s no reason to make life more difficult by trying a new recipe. And consider making it an interactive meal, like a taco or burger bar, where the guests take over some of the work.

Decide on a signature drink or limit bar options so you don’t need tons of garnishes and mixers on hand.

Empty the dishwasher and make room in the fridge

When you get back from the store, you’ll be ready to put groceries away and get to work without a lot of drama.

Hit the grocery store and liquor store

This one is the key: Get all your errands out of the way in the morning.

Prep food

Chop veggies, make dessert, measure out ingredients, and marinate meat.

Afternoon

Lay out serving ware and utensils

Add sticky notes to each dish so you know what’s going where. This might seem like overkill, but it's extra helpful if you want to put a buddy to work setting stuff up later on.

Set the table and arrange seating

Don’t worry if you don’t have enough seats for everyone. Keeping people up and mingling actually helps the vibe.

Designate a bar area

Whether it’s the kitchen counter or a side table, make this spot accessible so guests can help themselves and you don’t have to play bartender all night. Remember that you'll need a trash can and a recycling bin nearby.

Wash dishes and run the dishwasher

Kind of obvious, but you DON'T want to realize the dishwasher is full in the middle of the festivities.

Tidy the house

Pro tip: Focus only on the rooms your guests will see. No one has to know about the rest. Make sure there’s plenty of toilet paper in the bathroom.

Two hours out

Get yourself ready

Classic crisis: You're sure you'll have time to get ready once everything is done, and you end up hosting in your cooked-in jeans and an apron. A better plan: shower up and get dressed ahead, so you can enjoy looking glam for the party.

One hour out

Warm up the oven

Aim to have hot appetizers coming out of the oven about 15 minutes after the party is supposed to start, since most people will arrive fashionably late. Set a timer in case you're busy chatting and forget to keep your eyes on the clock.

Do a last-minute once-over of the house

This is your last chance to hide things in closets and off-limits bedrooms!

30 minutes out

Set out appetizers and snacks

At this point, anything that doesn’t need to be chilled can be put on the table. It’s always a nice idea to place a few bowls of nibbles around the house too for easy snacking and mingling.

Put drinks on ice

Use large containers filled with ice for bottles of wine and beers so your guests don’t have to keep opening your fridge.

Start up the tunes

Choose something low and mellow at first. As more guests arrive, you can pick up the pace and crank up the volume. Ask a friend or two to man the music during the party.

Light candles

A few candles or tea lights really set the mood. (Just avoid lighting too many different scented ones!)

5 minutes out

Pour yourself a drink and relax

You did it! Cheers! Now go enjoy your friends and the fruits of your labor.

Bonus Tips!

Forgot ice? Pour out the contents of your ice maker into a container in the freezer so it starts making more. This is a smart idea even if you remembered to buy ice, because you can never have too much ice at a party.

Forgot flowers? Take a few cuttings from trees or bushes in your yard and place them in glassware for a bit of greenery on the table.

Forgot something else? Chances are nobody is going to notice, so go easy on yourself and leave it forgotten.

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