Organising a big family party is no trivial undertaking, but it needn’t be a huge chore. As with most things in life, the secret to success is in the planning.
Whether you are organising a landmark birthday or anniversary celebration, a going away party, a family reunion, or a post-wedding / christening / funeral event, there are a number of common decisions to be made. You will need to allow plenty of time for planning – usually at least a few months – and a comprehensive list is essential, as it is so easy to lose track of things without one.
Read on to check that you have thought of everything you need to do in advance, and to ensure that your family event runs smoothly without a hitch on the day.
Set the date
The very first thing to consider is whether all the key people you are intending to invite are actually available on the date you choose. There are few things worse than setting a date in stone and booking the venue, only to find that hardly anybody can make it.
There are many reasons why people may not be available, from being away on holiday, to pre-booked medical appointments or tickets to other events.
It is highly advisable to check first of all that your preferred date does not coincide with any other local events, anniversaries or occasions, then contact the people you want to invite and ask them about their availability for that date.
It is also wise to check for a couple of alternative dates at the same time to avoid having to go through the process of contacting people again if your first choice date doesn’t work out. If you do this before you book the venue, you will save yourself potential headaches further down the line.
Work out likely guest numbers
Once you have heard back from everyone about their availability and worked out the optimum date most people are able to attend, you will have a much better idea of likely guest numbers.
The number of guests will to some extent determine the decisions you make about all other aspects of your event – the kind of venue you need; catering; transport; accommodation, etc – so this is a very important estimation, which needs to be made as early in the process as possible.
Set your budget
Your budget will determine everything from the type of venue you choose to whether you are able to book entertainment, overnight accommodation and transport for your guests. Costs can very easily spiral out of control if you do not set a maximum figure for everything in advance and shop around for the best value-for-money options. If you’re struggling to bear the full cost on your own, consider asking other family members to chip in.
Book the venue
Once you have your optimal date, know the likely number of guests, and have set a budget for each item on your expenditure list, it is time to look for the perfect venue for your family celebration.
If you have guests coming from far and wide, try to ensure you choose a venue that is accessible to the majority.
If you aim to offer guests overnight accommodation in beautiful surroundings, then a large country hotel is often a very good option. Search online and ask for word-of-mouth recommendations from your colleagues, friends and family.
Once you have drawn up a shortlist of venues within your budget range, go and visit each one to weigh up the pros and cons before making a decision and confirming a booking.
Here are some questions you might want to ask when visiting prospective venues:
- Is there plenty of free guest parking available?
- What are the catering options?
- Are discounts available for booking catering and overnight accommodation with the venue hire?
- Is the venue licensed for alcohol and live music?
- Is there a bar? What is the corkage policy?
- How early can the venue be accessed on the day for setting up?
- What are the lighting options?
- How late can the event finish?
- What other facilities are available to guests at the venue?
- Are there other spaces guests can use if they need to step out for a while?
Design and send invitations
Now that you have a date and a venue, it’s time to send out those invitations. This would be the time to consider whether your event will have a theme that guests need to be aware of – for example, will they be required to dress up in a particular style, bring anything with them, or be prepared to join in with a specific activity? If so, this should be mentioned on the invite.
Remember to also include menu options (if applicable), a map, directions to the venue, and details of any transport options you may be offering.
One thing that will save you time further down the line, is to include a couple of questions and a request to RSVP on your guest invitations. For example, you could use the invitation as an opportunity to find out about any specific dietary requirements, whether your guest requires overnight accommodation and/or transport, and even their music preferences.
Ideally, the design of your invitation should reflect the tone and the theme of the event (if any). Depending on your budget, invitations can either be designed and printed by a professional graphic design company, or created at home using free or inexpensive design software and a home printer. Alternatively, you could use one of the many free websites to create an e-vite.
Consider sending invitations and allowing people to respond by email. Not only will this save on paper and printing costs, but it will also encourage people to respond more quickly. You could also create an event page on Facebook or other social media channels if your guests use them.
Decide on catering requirements
Most venues offer a catering service as part of their package deal for event hire, but it will still be necessary to choose from the various menu options and let them know the numbers for each, as well as details of any specific dietary requirements or allergies. Remember to ask about this on your guest invites.
Dietary requirements will also need to be taken account in the planning stage if you decide to do your own catering. DIY catering should be cheaper, but it is also very time-consuming unless you have enough willing hands to help out, and it can also be very stressful if you have many other things to do on the day of the event. Consider pre-prepping non-perishable foods as much as possible and galvanise as many volunteers as you can to assist you.
If some of your guests are travelling a significant distance for your event, you may choose to book overnight accommodation for them.
Opting for an hotel as your venue of choice can offer great benefits in this case. See if you can negotiate a package deal with the venue if you are booking accommodation and catering on top of your room hire.
If you asked guests to specify whether or not they need accommodation on your invitations, then booking the required number of rooms should be a breeze.
Most people like to have a drink or two at a party, but when it is necessary to drive home this presents a problem for drivers. To get around this, consider arranging transport for your guests if your budget will allow it.
This can be particularly beneficial when you have groups of guests who live with, or nearby to each other. For larger groups travelling together, hiring a minibus and specifying a designated driver can be a cost-effective option and will allow more people to enjoy a drink at the party. In most cases, it is possible to drive a minibus with a regular car licence.
For smaller groups, it is advisable to book taxis to and from the venue well in advance, especially if your event falls on a weekend night.
Hopefully, your guests will have indicated how they intend to travel to and from the event when they responded to your invitation if you asked them about this, so you will be able to book the required transport in advance with confidence.
Decide on music requirements
Most people would agree that a party needs music, but it can be tricky to get the balance right at family gatherings where the age range is so broad and people’s musical tastes tend to vary so much.
If you decide on a DJ or a homemade playlist, try to include something for everyone. If you decide on a live band, opt for one that has a broad appeal. Function bands and DJs tend to be booked up for months in advance, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time.
You will also need to consider technical requirements for music and lighting. For example, will the band be bringing their own PA and sound engineer, or will you need to source these from a hire company? Does the venue have a stage big enough for the band you want to book? Will the DJ be bringing their own lights, and does he/she take requests both in advance and on the night?
Plan any scheduled activities
You will also need to decide whether you would like any other scheduled activities at your event, besides eating, drinking and dancing.
For example, will there be any speeches, games, children’s entertainment, karaoke or live performances? If so, then you will need a scheduled programme of activities. Share the programme with guests to ensure they don’t miss anything they are particularly keen to watch, listen or take part in.
If your activities involve people being seen and heard in a large space, then you will also need to consider the technical and practical implications.
For example, will you need a microphone and small PA system for speeches and announcements? Will you need to provide floor space for dancers or games? Will you need a stage for live performances? Is there sufficient and suitable lighting available in the room?
Decorate the space
If you have decided on a particular theme, you will need to consider how you intend to transform the space accordingly. This may well involve sourcing items that the venue does not provide as standard, so it is advisable to give some careful thought to this and make a list at least a few weeks in advance.
Whether or not your event is themed, you will likely want to enhance the atmosphere in the room to ensure that guests feel comfortable and relaxed. Think about practicalities such as disabled access, cloakroom provision, seating plans and table layout, table decorations, wall and ceiling décor, lighting, colours, style and tone.
Conduct a risk assessment
Although commercial venues are required by law to carry out their own health and safety risk assessments, it is advisable to also do your own safety check for your specific event, if only for peace of mind.
Some things to consider …
Make sure all the electrical equipment is in place and working OK – remember to check that all electrical items have been PAT tested. Check that there is a clear and visible fire escape plan. Ensure there are no trailing leads that might present a trip hazard. Check that the venue has all the valid necessary licences required for catering, music, ceremonies, etc.
Document your event
Don’t forget to organise a designated photographer or videographer to record your special event.
Surprisingly, this can often be overlooked in the planning process, to the dismay of party organisers and guests who find themselves left with blurry, poor quality mobile phone images taken in dim light.
If you aren’t able to persuade an amateur photographer friend or family member with a good quality camera to oblige, then consider booking a professional photographer or video production company.
After all, once the party is over, all you have left are your memories and whatever you have captured on camera.
Organising a family party can be hard work, but it is well worth the effort when it brings loved ones together to create happy memories to treasure for years to come.
By following the advice in this article and putting in place a thorough step-by-step plan and checklist, you can eliminate a lot of potential stress and reap the well-earned rewards.