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The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Killer Party

Your partying days started young—really young. You were a tender tot of three the first time you threw your first big event. It was a tea party and the scones weren’t real, but oh, how real were the good times. A decade later, you were the life of all the mitzvahs, bar and bat. And you’ve been chasing the good times ever since.

 

But the scene has changed since then. Facebook events with punny caps-locked names addled by asterisks are a dime a dozen. You can do better than that. Your standards are nothing short of Gatsbian, and you won’t settle for throwing anything Fitzgerald himself wouldn’t have attended. So whether it’s a champagne flute affair or a red cup rager, start your planning here, get inspired, and put your party dress on, Daisy.

Pick a theme

A party without a theme is a person without a name: it’s anonymous. It has no identity. A party is defined straight away by the tone you set in declaring its theme. “Red Carpet Glam” proclaims something quite a bit different than “I Dream of Genie”–(unless you’re Elena Lenina)–and creating the perfect thematic atmosphere is paramount in setting your event apart from the nameless masses.

Feeling uninspired? Try one of these themes:

South Pacific Luau:

You’re a real-life hula doll and this party is your dashboard. Create a Polynesian playground in suburbia (if only for a night).

  • Lei every one of your guests upon arrival, and toss a grass skirt at girls and guys alike.
  • Assemble a makeshift tiki bar and serve tropical cocktails out of coconut halves, offering coconut water for the non-drinkers.
  • Keep the mosquitoes at bay with citronella candles in standing bamboo torches.
  • Channel some of that voodoo magic with a drum-heavy playlist or a set of cheap bongos for any and all guests to pound out their drunken original beats.
  • Forgo the standard drinking games for a bamboo stick limbo challenge or a speed round of “Pass the Coconut” in the style of hot potato. You know the deal: the loser drinks.
  • Start with this 8tracks playlist.

The Old South:

You’re Scarlett O’Hara and every man at your party is a potential Rhett Butler. It’s your home, just on the range.

  • Have guests choose an era of the South and dress accordingly, be it a gingham gown or head-to-toe plaid and denim.
  • Ask your friend’s country band to play a short set late in the night and turn your bash into a raucous hoedown.
  • Hang so many patio lanterns you can hardly see the sky.
  • Light a bonfire (if your property allows it) and buy marshmallows and hot dogs in bulk to roast on skewers.
  • Buy some cheap harmonica party favors for guests to play around the flames.
  • Serve lemonade from a pitcher for the non-drinkers and whiskey sours for those looking for something a tad stronger.
  • Start with this 8tracks playlist.

 

Beach Blanket Bingo:

It’s 1965 and you’re hosting the neighborhood teens for the raddest pool party in the suburb.

  • Host during the day and instruct guests to B.Y.O.B(athing suit).
  • If you don’t have a pool, hook up a sprinkler to your outdoor hose or challenge guests to an ultimate water balloon fight.
  • Set up a giant game of Twister or beach ball beer pong, replacing red solo cups with buckets and ping pong balls with giant inflatable ones. (Disclaimer: do not fill the buckets with beer! Stick to the standard beverage volume.)
  • Hang colorful pennant flag banners for decor and set up a makeshift photo booth with beachy props and a disposable camera at the ready for you to develop post-party.
  • Think All-American Coca-Cola for those not drinking, and mix in a little rum for those who are.
  • Start with this 8tracks playlist.

Fleet Week:

Months after its official date, Fleet Week has hit suburbia and sailors have their sea legs on for your nautical bash.

  • Offer a free shot of whiskey upon entry to everyone who dons the Breton stripe and a sailor’s hat: ahoy, spirit points.
  • Assemble an extra-long table and split the party into two teams for the ultimate flip cup boat race.
  • Keep a whistle on a lanyard around your neck throughout the night; when you blow it, those participating must finish their drinks.
  • Decorate in nautical themes; think stripes, navy, ropes, anchors, flags!
  • Send guests on a scavenger hunt around your property to retrieve clues leading to a prize bottle of rum—and it better be Captain Morgan.
  • Start with this 8tracks playlist.

 

Woodstock ’69:

Your inner hippie has been waiting 43 years to go full bohemian like this again.

  • Decorate with bouquets of wild flowers.
  • Stick giant bubble wands in buckets of soap and water and let your guests play.
  • Feed the hippies hot dogs like the original Woodstock vendors.
  • Advocate for the ‘60s costume cause and demand a look of bohemian or bust (avoid complete and utter nudity, if possible).
  • Light the party boundaries with candles or even lava lamps (if you can find some!).
  • Set out body paint and let the artists of the party go wild on faces and bodies alike.
  • Start with this 8tracks playlist.

Make a guest list

The only rule when it comes to a guest list is that you absolutely must have one. Your aim should be to strike the perfect balance between that friendly inclusiveness that makes people feel welcome and that intimate exclusivity that makes those invited feel as though their presence is personally desired. There’s no bigger turnoff than the “I just invited everyone on my friends list” approach.

Decide what your guest maximum is based on available party space and then narrow down the number based on how intimate you want the event to be. Not sure where to cap the head count? Take a look at this numbers chart:

10-20 people:

Not a party as much as a “gathering.” Depending on the size of your place, 10 to 20 people will comfortably fill all the available seats in your living area, roughly. If you’re looking to host a fun evening with enough people to create a “mingling” atmosphere, but not so many that you branch outside your inner circle, this is the number to strike.

20-40 people:

At this number, you’ll have a nice little party going. You’ve probably branched a little ways outside your tightest group of friends, and because of that, you will have to play hostess a little more. At 40 people, your party has the potential to get pretty wild, so bear in mind that you will definitely be spending more time making the rounds keeping people in check. That being said, 40 people will definitely get the party started, to quote the immortal P!nk. P.S. Don’t play that song though, for the sake of your party.
 

40-60 people:

This number may not seem large, but it is. You’ll get the killer party you want, but bear in mind the amount of drinks 60 people can spill, antique vases 60 people can break, wood floors 60 drunken girls in stilettos can scratch, etc. However, 60 people will make for quite the soirée, so if it’s a big bash you’re looking for, a big bash you shall receive.

60+ people:

Okay, so you’ve decided to throw a big party. Some people invite fewer guests to their wedding. As long as you know what you’re getting yourself into, a party with over 60 guests will achieve the raging status you likely want it to hit, so go wild, you party girl.

Bear in mind that not everyone you invite will be able to attend, so if you’re determined to arrive at a fixed final number, send out invites to a quarter more than the number of people you hope to ultimately host. As far as plus ones go, take a stance, be it staunch or liberal, about additional guests. While it may sound a bit judgey, it’s best to decide on a guest-to-guest basis who’s welcome and who there isn’t room for in a party at which you are liable for your invitees. There’s a difference between a good friend bringing along his visiting girlfriend from out of town and a somewhat-acquaintance stringing along his entire lax team (though we might not complain if it was the lax team).

Send out invites

The invitation is the first impression your guests will receive of your party. Skimping out here is like chewing gum at a job interview: first impression blown. You don’t have to go all paper, ink, and glitter glue on your invites, but do be more original than sending out the ubiquitous Facebook invite.
 

Paperless Post is a great resource for all your invite needs and offers a huge variety of seasonal summer e-cards to align with your party’s theme. Signing up is easy, and you can do it through either your Facebook or email. How about this one for your Polynesian Luau, or this one for the Beach Blanket Bingo pool party you’re hosting?

Send invites out roughly a week and a half to two weeks prior to your event, which is enough time for guests to organize their plans, but not so long that they’ll forget the date. If you do want to send a brief reminder message to confirmed guests several days before the party, then it’s really most effective to contact everyone via Facebook message (as long as you don’t start there with the initial invite!).

Choose a food and drink menu

Just like your invites and decor, the food and drinks menu should adhere to the overarching theme of your bash. Feeding the masses can get expensive, but as a responsible host, it’s your duty to ensure that where there is alcohol, there is food to soak some of it up, slow its digestion, and provide a respite from downing mojito after mojito—however tangy and delicious mojitos may be.

Keep with finger foods and items that keep well overnight so you’re not madly preparing trays of treats the day of. Try to get a little more creative than the standard bag o’ chips in a bowl served at just about every summer function, and, regardless of your own diet, offer some vegetarian and allergy-friendly options. Check out some easy and popular vegetarian appetizers here, and some gluten-free options here.

On a collegiette’s budget, the most economical way to serve drinks is to mix up a couple theme-appropriate punches for guests to serve themselves. Make nameplates for everything lest the designated drivers drink the punch under the impression it’s only juice and seltzer.

(Easy!) Alcoholic punches

 

Boat Cruising Punch

  • 1 1/2 cups orange juice
  • 1 (6-ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate
  • 1 (6-ounce) can frozen limeade concentrate
  • 2/3 cup vodka, or to taste
  • 1 1/2 (6-ounce) cans water, or more as needed
  1. Combine orange juice, lemonade concentrate, limeade concentrate, vodka, and water in a large bowl; stir until blended. Serve over crushed ice.

Lemonade Punch

  • 1 (6-ounce) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
  • 1 (10 ounce) jar maraschino cherries
  • 2 (6-ounce) cans frozen pink lemonade concentrate
  • 1 (2-liter) bottle lemon-lime flavored carbonated beverage
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle red wine
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  1. In a pitcher, mix together 1 can lemonade with 1 can of water. Pour mixture into an ice cube tray, and place a cherry in each cube. Freeze until solid.
  2. In a punch bowl, combine 2 cans lemonade concentrate, lemon-lime soda, and red wine. Stir in lemonade ice cubes and garnish with maraschino cherries, orange slices, and lemon slices.

Sugar-Free Mojito Punch

  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup granular sucralose sweetener (such as Splenda®)
  • 4 1/4 cups diet lemon-lime soda
  • 4 cups crushed ice
  1. Stir lime juice, mint leaves, and sweetener together in a pitcher; gently crush and bruise mint leaves with a wooden spoon.
  2. Pour diet lemon-lime soda into juice mixture and stir until sweetener has dissolved.
  3. Mix in crushed ice to serve.

Grass Green Punch

  • 2 (0.13-ounce) packages unsweetened lemon-lime flavored drink mix (such as Kool-Aid)
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 8 cups cold water
  • 1 (46 fluid ounce) can pineapple juice
  • 1 (2-liter) bottle lemon-lime soda (such as Sprite), chilled
  1. Mix lemon-lime drink mix, sugar, cold water, and pineapple juice in a large bowl until sugar and drink mix have dissolved; refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.
  2. Gently stir lemon-lime soda into the punch just before serving.

Don’t forget to stock up on cups, plates, and napkins!

DJ the playlist

The music you play has the power to make or break a party. Don’t dare fall into the convenient lure of shuffle and let the fates take control of the set list. Soon enough, a single from your Pavarotti Forever box set will take over the speakers and everyone will be confused, and bewildered, and generally unappreciative of his operatic chops when they’re just minding their own business trying to play a round of laidback bucket beer pong. Consider the theme of your party and curate the soundtrack accordingly while taking into account that the music should still incite people to get up and party. Find inspiration at 8tracks.com and ask for input from your party-goers. In the end, regardless of theme, be lax about song change if someone has the sudden urge to “Party in the USA” a bit, for instance (#MileyForev).
 

As for speakers, it’s a common misconception that the bigger the party, the bigger the speakers need be. To the contrary, your party will feel more intimate if you break up the area you’re using into smaller music “regions,” if you will, using a simpler and more compact sound system for each spot. Furthermore, you’ll avoid getting slapped with a neighborhood noise complaint because at 2 a.m. you blew the bass trying to get Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” to reach every corner of your multi-story suburban home. Ask several friends to borrow their portable desk speakers for the night. Set up several music points throughout your place and skip the expensive logistics of renting some massive speaker system that threatens to blow the neighborhood down when someone puts on a little dubstep.

Your partying days may have reached an early high, but they’ll probably peak somewhere along the journey of your college years; so throw a killer party now, collegiettes, while you still have summer vacation and a sleep schedule that doesn’t really exist. Be all “No regrets!” and go wild while you still have the excuse of youth to account for your indiscretions. You won’t be sorry.

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