15 Easy Ways to Plan Ahead for a Summer Party Slideshow

Tips on how to get out of the kitchen and join the party!

Make a to-do list

Make a checklist of what you need to do. This way, you won’t be caught scrambling for cocktail napkins or party music ten minutes before your guests arrive.


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Have a couple of guests bring a bag of ice or favorite playlist. It might not seem like much to them, but they’ll be invaluable contributions—these are often the things the party’s host forgets or runs out of.

Try a potluck

Host a potluck! Having everyone bring a dish not only takes the onus off you, but also allows you and your guests to taste a wide variety of cooking styles. 

Give yourself time to shop

Plan your menu the week before so that you have ample time to go to the grocery store (and go a second time to pick up anything you forgot the first time).

Stock up on food storage

Make sure you have food storage supplies, like plastic Baggies and aluminum foil, on hand.

Play it safe

Avoid last-minute recipe disasters by choosing mostly tried-and-true, favorite dishes that you can make confidently with simple ingredients. Keep the menu fresh by including one or two new small recipes, like a cocktail or a salad.

Make a schedule

Determine the timing of the dishes—and of dinner—before you start cooking, so that you can serve hot items hot.

Choose foods you can make ahead

Better yet, choose foods that you can make ahead of time and serve lukewarm or even cold, like frittatas or roasted vegetables.

Start fresh

Empty your dishwasher (or sink) the night before the party so that it will be ready and waiting for your dirty dishes the next day.

Have a Friend Help Out

Have one guest arrive a little early to help with the cooking. You’ll have an assistant and a friend with you in the kitchen, and will have much more fun than you would were you to make the whole meal by yourself. Bonus: the tension of the first guest’s arrival will be gone!

Make a batch

If you plan on serving a summery drink, make a punch or a pitcher-version of a favorite cocktail so that you’re not stuck with the cocktail shaker all evening. Set out bottles of wine and a corkscrew so that guests can pour their own drinks.

Serve simple appetizers

Serve appetizers that require little or no prep, like bowls of nuts, sliced crusty bread with a bowl of olive oil, or bright carrots with their elegant, fringy greens left on. Don’t bother with appetizer plates; set out the snacks on a big platter right on your counter or kitchen table next to a stack of napkins. They’ll take hardly any time to set up or clean up—fewer dishes!—and they’ll be easy for guests to eat with their fingers.

Say yes

Say yes when guests offer to help! Your guests will feel useful and you’ll have an extra set of hands. Give them small tasks, like plucking herbs from their stems or slicing bread.

Serve family-style or as a buffet

Serving the meal family-style will allow everyone to make his or her own portions and eliminate the stress of plating everything perfectly.

Short and sweet


No need for that 6-layer cake—dessert can be light! Buy plenty of vanilla ice cream and serve it with fresh berries, or set out any nuts leftover from your appetizer spread with fresh fruit and a selection of good-quality chocolate bars.