Summer Party Planning: Tips From The Fast Horse Pros

June 2, 2016

Pool parties, backyard BBQs, garden parties, showers, dinners al fresco – you name it, ‘tis the season for it. The beginning of June marks the start of summer-party season and I’ve tapped Fast Horse’s most brilliant event-planning minds to share their best party tips for throwing, attending and surviving the summer scene this year. Katie Quade and Laura Schraufnagel are our event-planning oracles, so read on for their expert advice.

You’re having a party! What’s the first thing you do?
K: For a casual or backyard gathering, I typically start with the guest list and menu. A good party has three things: people, food and booze.
L: I’m super visual, so I naturally start with the theme and overall look and feel of the event. How do I want people to feel when they walk in?

What are your secret party-planning weapons?
L: I create mood boards by pulling from all sorts of sites and magazines, and reference them throughout the planning process. Mood boards are a reminder of what I’m ultimately trying to create and accomplish.
K: Google docs. If you’re planning any size party, or co-planning a party, or just need one place to keep everything, I love a good Google doc with some tabs.

Theme parties: Yea or nay?
L: The theme is so important! It sets the mood for the entire event. Its can be as simple as establishing a menu or décor, or go big and request that guests wear themed attire, which is a great ice breaker! And besides, who doesn’t love dressing up like a 1920s flapper for Thanksgiving?
K: I’m a big fan of themes when it comes to bachelorette parties, baby showers, wedding showers, etc. A “Bridesmaids”-style Italian wedding shower theme with singing invites may be over the top, but a theme can provide a little guidance when you’re at the store deciding between the blue swirly paper straws or red polka dots.

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What’s the most unique theme party you’ve ever attended?
K: A “Ho Ho Homicide Holiday Mystery” party – the host/hostess sent instructions in the mail prior to the party and told us what our costumes were for the night!

Where do you turn for party-planning inspiration?
L: Pinterest is my go-to, but cookbooks are my secret source. I believe food is a huge part of the party experience, so I actually get a lot of inspiration from cookbooks too. “Barefoot Contessa Parties” is my fave.
K: I also go to Pinterest for inspiration for themes, colors, etc. – and then I’ll take the planning from there! Otherwise I follow my girl laurenconrad on Instagram. Total party-planning babe.

‘Tis the season for casual BBQs and last-minute pool parties. How do you know when and what to bring to a party you’re attending?
K: I always determine how busy I am – do I have time to make a tasty app, or should I just pick up some wine to bring? Based on your schedule, offer to bring one or the other. If the host says to bring nothing, I’ll still bring wine for a hostess gift, because you can never have too much.
L: Same! When in doubt wine or even a nice store-bought dessert can be a good last-minute gift. It’s the thought that counts and the important thing is not showing up empty-handed.

What is the best hostess gift to receive? What will you actually use?
K: Wine and wine.
L: Wine for sure. You can never go wrong with wine.

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What’s one party-planning trick everyone always gets wrong, and how do you get it right?
K: Give guests as many details as possible before they arrive (e.g. what you’re serving, dress code, etc.) And NEVER run out of food, ice or booze.
L: Amen, Katie… the only thing I would add is to make sure you, the host, handle introductions and greet guests as they arrive. As the host, you are in charge of making everyone feel welcome and comfortable.

What would you consider your best party-planning success?
L: In college, I remember recreating an Italian restaurant in my tiny apartment. Homemade pasta sauce was the only thing I knew how to make really well, so Italian-themed it was. I set the table with a red and white checked tablecloth, tons of candles and yellow carnations (they were cheapest on a college budget). 20 people crammed in my small apartment for dinner eventually broke into a full-on dance party. [Author comment: Ah, college.]
K: Aside from my wedding and work events — my husband and I host Friendsgiving every year with about 20 to 30 of our closest friends. We cook the turkey and provide the booze, and everyone else signs up to bring sides. One year we made a makeshift photo booth!

Any last words as we embark on party season?
L: Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and have fun with the planning! Get creative and remember you don’t have to spend a ton of money to throw a really fun event!
K: The purpose of entertaining and throwing a party is to be able to enjoy your friends and catch up. Do as much as you can beforehand, so when your friends show up, all you have to do is make sure everyone has a drink in their hand — and have a good time!