Stress-Free Holiday Party Planning Tips

It’s the time of year to start planning your holiday party with friends, family, or colleagues. To help you plan a success holiday gathering, we’ve created a list of five steps to check off so you can then relax and enjoy the celebration.

holiday party planning tips

Step 1: Who, What, When, Where and How

How you plan a party largely depends upon who will be attending. Throughout the planning process, keep your guest list in mind as you pick a date, a venue, the menu, your entertainment and more. This will also guide you as you answer questions such as these:

  • How many people will likely attend?
  • What is their range of ages?
  • Should this party include a full dinner or simply hors d’oeuvre and cocktails?
  • As another option, would finger foods for the entire family, including a cookie exchange and a hot cocoa bar, be more appropriate?
  • Will there be music? If so, what kind of music? Live musicians? Piped-in music? A DJ who takes requests?

You don’t have to have all the answers figured out to those questions quite yet, but considering them will help you make the right choices throughout the holiday party planning process.

Next, determine the best date and time for your holiday get-together. Will it be a luncheon, dinner or evening event? During this busy season, it can be hard to choose a date that will fit in everyone’s schedule, but do make sure your party won’t conflict with another major event that many of the people you plan to invite will likely attend.

A survey by a human resource firm found that December 18 is the most popular date for holiday parties, with the third week of December being the most party-heavy week. So, if possible, avoid those dates as that’s when most scheduling conflicts will likely occur.

When choosing a party venue, you’ll want to find out what dates are currently available. If your venue of choice is available on your preferred date, book it quickly as venues tend to fill up fast during the holiday season. Note that, if your planning time is short, you can typically get an in-demand venue more easily if you’re willing to have a party at lunchtime or one scheduled on Monday, Tuesday or Sunday.

Step 2: Prioritize Based upon Your Budget

If you’re planning a party for your place of work, the amount you have to spend may be a clear-cut line item in the company’s overall budget. If you’re planning a party for your family, confirm who is contributing financially and how much each person is able to contribute. Also make sure you know how much wiggle room exists in the budget if an option that’s too good to pass up becomes available.

Items to list in your budget include:

  • Food
  • Non-alcoholic beverages
  • Decorations
  • Supplies, such as flowers, invitations and postage
  • Entertainment
  • Bar expenses, including bartenders
  • Venue

Take full advantage of ways to get the most out of your budget. For example, if you have your party at a time when people don’t typically eat a meal, you can offer light hors d’oeuvres or plates full of eye-catching, delicious cookies with flavorful, colorful punch available in clear bowls. As another idea, check into having a food truck. If you plan to offer alcoholic beverages, an open bar can get quite costly. You could ask guests to contribute their favorites or perhaps instead serve sparkling wines. If you do plan to serve alcohol, be sure to check with potential venues before booking your date—each venue is likely to have its own rules regarding licensing or insurance.

You can also get creative with your decorating without breaking the bank. For example, you could put a long piece of butcher paper on a table and provide colorful markers for everyone to add their holiday wishes and doodles. Then, hang it up to let everyone enjoy the messages and artwork. Or ask several people to each contribute a holiday decoration that is meaningful to them and brighten up the room with those decorations. During the party, people who have contributed something can share stories about why that decoration is so meaningful. You may discover something about a friend, family member or business colleague that you never knew before! Or, what about a winter wonderland theme, where the décor is glittery and white with blinking lights?

To save on printed invitations and postage, consider free online invitation options, such as You can stream music (make sure your venue has those capabilities) instead of having live entertainment and otherwise keep the reason for the celebration front of mind. You can also show pictures from previous parties if your venue has audio-visual equipment, which can keep attendees captivated, feeling nostalgic and fully in the mood of the season.

Step #3 Choose the Right Venue

holiday party venueIt’s crucial to prioritize the selection and booking of the best venue for your party needs because the best plans can fall flat if the setting isn’t right. And, once you have that item checked off your holiday party planning list, you can then ask attendees to reserve that chosen date and time on their calendars.

Plus, once the venue is chosen, you’ll then know what tasks the venue will handle (such as setting up tables and chairs) and what is still on your list.

When choosing a venue, make sure:

  • enough space exists to comfortably accommodate the number of people you’re expecting; think back to a party where you felt cramped, always saying, “Oh, excuse me” as you bumped into other people, possibly spilling their drinks—and then choose the size of the room that will prevent that scenario from happening at your own party
  • that, if you plan to have live music, you’re accounting for the space the band or orchestra will need—and for dancing, if that’s anticipated
  • enough parking is available, preferably conveniently located and free
  • you can arrange seating and tables to your liking (or, better yet, the venue arranges that for you)
  • you can serve the food you’d planned
  • you are clear about the pricing, including any deposit required, and what this fee covers
  • it is conveniently located for your guests
  • it is attractive and comfortable, with enough restroom facilities

If you’ve been to parties where the venue impressed you, you can add that location to your list. Also ask friends, family and coworkers for recommendations. And, if you find a venue that ideally suits your needs, consider booking early for next year so you can already have that item checked off your list when holiday party planning season kicks in again.

Step 4: Select the Menu

Whether you’ll be serving a full meal or enjoying finger foods and snacks, what’s available to eat and drink plays a key role in the enjoyment of virtually any party. At this point, you may want to research some tips on planning a catered event. Or, perhaps your company or family has a caterer you always use—and, if so, you’re probably only a phone conversation or two away from having another item checked off your holiday party planning list.

If not, consider asking your venue which caterers they recommend and then check out the caterers’ websites or call them to talk about options. You can also ask friends, family members and business colleagues for their recommendations. Or, as another option, think about catered parties you’ve attended where you enjoyed the food and service. Which company did they use? As a final consideration, are there culinary schools in your area? If so, they may offer excellent catering services, perhaps at an even better price.

At this point, you’ll need to have decided whether you want a sit-down meal. If so, will it be served at tables by caterers, or available buffet or family-style? No matter what you decide, caterers can share insights into which menu choices have been the biggest crowd pleasers, how much food you’ll need for the number of guests you anticipate and so forth. If it’s important to you to have all fresh ingredients, share that with the caterer, as well as any special dietary concerns and requests.

If you’ve found a caterer that seems to match your needs, consider asking for references. Then request a proposal and make sure that what you’ve requested is what is listed to help prevent any unwanted food-related surprises on the day of the party.

Step 5: Entertainment

From gift exchanges and music, to holiday audiovisual presentations and more, holiday parties often include entertainment. For more elegant affairs for adults only, you may choose to stick to music. But, if you’re having a party for families with small children, it can make sense to have activities to keep them busy and having fun. These activities can range from holiday charades to guessing games, holiday-themed bingo and more. If there will be gift-giving, you can simply have everyone open presents, or you can turn it into a game.

For games that everyone in the family can enjoy, you can play holiday trivia games, memory games about past holiday celebrations and more. Here are 30 Christmas party games for large groups that you can use or modify for other types of holiday celebrations.

One good-old-standby game involves putting the name of a person or character on the back of each person’s shirt and then having conversations that give hints about what’s on someone’s back before that person guesses who he or she is. Another variety of this game involves using a line from a movie and having people go through the same process before guessing. If you’re having a Christmas party, here are lines to get you started.

For an office party, you can play Guess Which Desk. Each person needs to bring one item from their desk that’s unique to him or her. Number them. Then each person can write down the numbers and list who the item belongs to, with the winner being the person who gets the most guesses right.

With entertainment, what’s most important is to match what you provide with the tone of the celebration—and, know that many parties are successful just because of the time people get to spend together in a relaxed situation.

Book Your Holiday Party at the Thrasher-Horne Center

Located at St. Johns River State College at 238 College Drive in Orange Park, Florida, you can choose among five banquet rooms that are perfect for holiday parties. Each multi-purpose room can be set up how you need it, with numerous seating plans available, and with room rental fees covering both customized setups and breakdown after the party is over. Parking is ample, convenient and free, with adjustable lighting and audio-visual/sound capabilities available.

You can view our floor plan and, if you need a larger space, four of our rooms have movable wall partitions, giving us the flexibility to create bigger room setups. Whether you are planning an intimate gathering of 25 people or you are hosting a holiday party for a large company with 400 people, we can help you create the perfect setting for your celebration.

We can provide you with a list of recommended caterers or you can use another one of choice. Thrasher-Horne Center works with numerous caterers to give you the flexibility you need to meet your holiday planning needs. These caterers offer competitive pricing and can provide themed dinners, snacks and light hors d’oeuvres—and even award-winning barbecues!

Our experienced event staff is ready to go above and beyond to provide you with five-star service (without the five-star price!). You find detailed information about how to rent our venue for your special party. If you have questions or would like to schedule a tour, you can contact us online or contact our rental coordinator at (904) 276-6815, ext. 2.


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