Party planning should be fun and easy, so get things done in 15 minutes or less.

The 15-Minute Party Planner's blog breaks down basic party-planning tasks into simple actions that take 15 minutes or less. We're not here to make you the next Martha, we're here to help you be crafty quickly!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dinner party etiquette from the 15-Minute Party Planner

Gearing up for a fancy dinner party?  Make it easy on yourself by paying attention to these few simple rules of etiquette.

For starters, setting the table according to the diagram below.  (Just click the image to see the full-size diagram.)  Then, remember to "work your way in" with the utensils.  Start with the outermost forks and spoons for the first courses and work your way in to the utensils closest to your dinner plate as the meal progresses.

Need an easy way to remember which bread plate and drinking glass goes with which place setting?  Just stick your index fingers up while making circles with your other fingers (see right).  Your left hand—which looks like a "b"—matches up with the bread plate; bread plates are kept to the left of the dinner plate.  Your right hand—which looks like a "d"—should remind you that your drinking glass is kept to the right of your dinner plate.

Make your guests feel comfortable.  This is obvious, of course, but how do you do it?  By anticipating guests' needs.  In addition to the date, time, and location of your party, make note of the dress code so that guests know the expectations up front.  And while you don't have to create individual dishes for each guest,consider asking if anyone has any dietary restrictions or allergies; then, make sure you serve something everyone can eat.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Simple graduation party planning

Summer is the time for graduation parties. How do you plan a graduation party 15-Minute Party Planner style? By making it simple. Follow these steps and your party will be guaranteed an A+.

Great parties have great guest lists. Consider the right mix of people for your party. Your graduate will want to celebrate with everyone, but should you celebrate with everyone at the same time? Consider hosting back-to-back parties – a morning celebration for family and an afternoon bash for high school or college buddies – if you think your graduate would like the opportunity to mingle with family in one way and friends in another.  Two parties on one day is an easy way to save time, since you only have to set up once.

Make the sending of invitations easy by enlisting your graduate’s help. If you’re using fancy invitations from your child’s college, ask the guest of honor to help address them and pop them in the mail. If you’re going to e-mail invitations, choose a website that offers free invites and enlist your graduate and hitting “send”.

Since summer calls for laid-back styles like barbecue and sandwiches, keep the menu simple and call a caterer or pick up pre-made foods from a local grocery store. Even small grocery stores offer platters of cold cuts, tubs of macaroni salad, precut fruit, and desserts, saving you kitchen prep-time.

Keep drinks simple too; consider purchasing single-serve cans or bottles to prevent having to have cups on hand.  Be sure to offer plenty of water to fend off the heat, and provide plenty of ice.  If you're hosting a party for older grads, save your sanity by offering just one or two kinds of alcoholic drinks, or by asking people to bring their own.  Of course, if you're hosting a party for high schoolers, stay safe and skip the alcohol completely. 

Make decorating inexpensive and easy by raiding your local dollar store for graduation decorations. Display diplomas, degrees, yearbooks, and school paraphernalia for a personal touch that requires no prep work.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Games for going away parties

Now that graduation season is upon us, it may be time to host a going away party or two.  Recent grads may be heading off to new locations to begin jobs, continue their schooling, or go exploring.  Read on for some games that will fit in with a Bon Voyage theme.

Packing game
Arrange a pile of clothes, toiletries and other traveling items (camera, small umbrella, etc.) on the ground. Make sure you have a few of everything available. Then, set up two suitcases and have people race to put together the best suitcase in a short amount of time. You can even put out a bunch of seasonal or regional items (bathing suit, mittens, French language dictionary, guidebooks, etc.) and have different “destinations” each time. For instance, the first pair might pack for a trip to the Bahamas, the second pair might pack for a week of backpacking through Europe, the third pair could pack for a ski vacation in the mountains, etc.

Pin the flag on your destination
Who needs a donkey when you have a map?  Hang a map on the wall that depicts your guest of honor's destination.  Then, print out small versions of the state or country's flag.  Affix a circle of tape to the back of each flag, and have blindfolded participants try to stick the flag on the right spot on the map.  To make it harder, spin participants around once or twice before they try to place their flags. 

Alternatively, you can print out something thematic – mini Big Ben cutouts for a trip to London, a college logo or mascot for a trip to a new university – and pin that on the map instead. 

Guest-of-honor Trivia
Create a page of questions about the guest of honor and have people answer the questions. Questions can be about the person's likes and dislikes, memorable moments with party guests, or anything else you can think of.  Consider throwing in a few questions about the honored guest's destination or trying Newlywed Game-style questions about the guest's travel, packing, or tourist preferences.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Simple momentos you can create at a going away party

When you're throwing a party for a friend who is leaving town, it's nice to give your friend something to remember you by. These momentos allow your party guests to participate in the gift giving and require little prep work. The end result, however, is a trio of gifts your friend will treasure.

Scrapbook of memories

Scrapbooks are a wonderful way to preserve memories.  To create a going away scrapbook, first, purchase a decorative binder that will hold 8.5 x 11 paper.  (Choosing a traditional paper size, rather than a scrapbook paper size will make it easier for guests to contribute to the scrapbook.)  Then, ask guests to prepare their scrapbook pages before the party.  Encourage the craft-impaired to write letters if they don't feel comfortable decorating a page.

In addition, you may want to provide paper, stickers, photos, etc. at the party so that people can continue to add to the scrapbook throughout the evening.  Once people finish their pages, slip them into plastic sleeve protectors and clip the whole lot in the binder.  Instant scrapbook!

Ideas for pocket photo albums

If you want to make it easy for your soon-to-be-leaving friend to keep in touch, create a practical keepsake.  Ask each guest to bring a 4x6 photograph of himself or a picture that shows both the guest and the guest of honor.  On the back of the photo, each person should print his or her contact information.  Include everything from snail mail addresses to Skype user names.  Then, stick the photos in a pocket-sized photo album.  The album will serve as both souvenir and address book. 

Need another photo album idea?  To remind your guest of honor that she is well-loved, collect cards that let her know why she'll be missed.  Give each party guest an index card, and instruct her to write "[Name], I’ll miss you because…" on them, followed by the reasons the guest of honor will be missed.  Once completed, put the cards in a small photo album.

Collecting messages and signatures
Once a favorite of elementary school children with tee shirts and sharpies, the idea of personalized gear has crossed over into the realm of weddings and other celebrations.  Instead of a tee shirt, consider having guests sign a photo mat (then frame the mat with a photograph from the party), write their contact information in an address book, or compose messages inside a gift book or greeting card.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Baby shower entertainment: the Famous Name Game

If you're getting ready to host a baby shower, try playing the Famous Name Game. It's a great game to play if the mother-to-be has already picked out a name for the baby.

How do you play? As the party's host, create a list of famous people with the same first name as the baby. Then, describe those people and let people guess who you're describing.  If you'd like, you can give a prize to the person who gets the most right, or give prizes to the first person to answer each question.
Since the Social Security Administration recently released its list of the most popular baby names of 2010, we'll use some popular names for our examples.

Sample Famous Name Game clues:

  1. Business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge.  (Jacob Marley)
  2. Popular werewolf of the Twilight series.  (Jacob Black)
  3. Actor of October Sky and Brokeback Mountain fame.  (Jacob "Jake" Gyllenhaal)
  1. Woman who established a Boston art museum from which 13 works were infamously stolen in the 1990s (Isabella Stewart Gardener)
  2. Protagonist of the Twilight series (Isabella "Bella" Swan)
  3. Third wife of Juan Perón, whose second wife was immortalized in the musical Evita (Isabella Perón)
  1. Title of a famous Edith Wharton novel (Ethan Frome)
  2. American actor of Dead Poet's Society and Training Day fame (Ethan Hawke)
  3. North American furniture chain (Ethan Allen)
  1. American actress staring in pop television drama One Tree Hill (Sophia Bush)
  2. Prolific Italian actress with more than 50 years worth of films (Sophia Loren)
  3. Police officer character on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Sofia Curtis)
If the mom-to-be hasn't chosen a baby name yet, consider playing the Famous Name Game using the baby's last name instead.

For more unique baby shower games, read 3 easy baby shower games that require little or no prep work.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

There's still time to host a Cinco de Mayo fiesta!

Today is Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for “Fifth of May”), and across America, there will be parties.

Though Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely win against the French at the Battle of Puebla, Americans have adopted the holiday as a good excuse to indulge in Mexican food and margaritas. If you’re hoping to host your own last-minute Cinco de Mayo fiesta, here’s how to do it the 15-Minute Party Planner way.

When time is of the essence, send a quick invitation via e-mail. There are a handful of great electronic invitation sites with Cinco de Mayo designs. Even quicker than an e-invitation?  Sending a quick text or making a phone call.  While not the traditional way to invite folks to a party, no one will mind a last-minute invite to a Cinco de Mayo party!

For quick and easy atmosphere, turn up the speakers on your computer and listen to the timely “Cinco de Mayo Party” station on Pandora, a free online radio service. As for decorations, raid your home for tablecloths, napkins, and dishes that mimic the Mexican flag, which is primarily green, white, and red.

When it comes to food and drink try easy appetizers like chips and salsa or guacamole. Serve margaritas, Coronas, or Dos Equis and indulge in Mexican food for dinner. If you don’t have time to cook it yourself, consider calling a Mexican restaurant to preorder take-out for tonight’s festivities.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Take it easy: Rent glassware for your next cocktail party

Preparing for a wine tasting or cocktail party? You might consider renting glassware. Prices are reasonable and prevent you from having to keep large quantities of glassware on hand. You can also save time on cleanup, as some rental places will wash the glasses for you.

Wine glasses, champagne flutes, martini glasses, and beer mugs can be rented for about 50 cents a piece. You may also consider renting a bar ($25-$50) or even a bartender (rates vary). Rental companies also provide other items that may make your cocktail party planning easier; try renting serving trays (typically $2 to $12), punch bowls ($10), glass pitchers ($2), or plates (25 to 50 cents each).

Helpful hints:
  • Make sure you’re getting what you expect by asking questions. If you’re requesting a punch bowl, for instance, ask if a serving ladle is included or whether you’ll have to add one to your order.
  • Be clear about company policy up front. Get the terms of your rental in writing and include things like whether or not you will save money by picking up and returning the items yourself, (rather than having them delivered) and whether or not dishes and glassware need to be washed before returning them.
  • Get creative!   Party rental stores offer more than just glassware.  Rent a popcorn machine, chocolate fountain, or cotton candy maker for more fun!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Easy kid-friendly Easter desserts

The following three desserts are easy and kid-friendly. Not only will kids like to eat them, kids can help you make them!

Chocolate birds' nests

Ingredients and directions to make these "birds' nests" are easy. First, melt chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler. Put the melted chocolate in a bowl and mix in dry chow mein noodles until the noodles are coated with the chocolate. Then, create nest-shaped mounds of the chocolate-covered noodles on wax paper. Add shredded coconut (dyed green) "grass" to the top of your nests and finish off with Cadbury Mini Eggs. Pop the treats into the fridge to cool for about an hour before serving.

Nest cupcakes

For a simple twist on chocolate birds nests, try making nest cupcakes. Prepare your favorite boxed cake mix and bake the mix in cupcake tins. Frost the cupcakes with green frosting and top each cupcake with a trio of jelly beans. Not a fan of jelly beans? Top each cupcake with a marshmallow Peeps chick instead.

Chocolate-dipped Peeps

How do you turn a simple seasonal candy into a full dessert? Dip marshmallow Peeps in chocolate!

Line a tray with wax paper. Melt chocolate in the microwave. Dip Peeps in the chocolate (about halfway). To add a little pizazz to your Peeps, dip the chocolate end in crushed nuts, candy sprinkles, or shredded coconut. To make Peeps-pops, insert a popsicle stick or skewer to the bottom of each chocolate-dipped treat. Then, chill the finished product in the refrigerator for about an hour before serving.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to host the world's easiest wine tasting

Few among us are expert wine tasters, but plenty among us are expert wine drinkers. To host a wine tasting party that is fuss-free, simply tell each of your guests to bring his or her favorite wine. For small gatherings, consider asking each guest to bring both a favorite red and a favorite white. For larger gatherings, consider asking people to bring two bottles of a single wine so that there is enough to go around. Ultimately, the point of this party is to have a good time with friends and try new wines, not to become Sommeliers.

“What is the definition of a good wine?
It should start and end with a smile.”
~William Sokolin

As hostess, you simply provide the party's food and enough glasses for each guest. You'll also want to provide a "dump bucket" so that guests can pour out any wines they don't like. Purists will tell you not to rinse the glasses with water in between tastings, but you may want to provide a pitcher of water for your guests. (If not, be sure to start with light wines and work your way up to darker wines so that you don't overwhelm the palate or your glasses!)

If possible, ask your friends to e-mail you before your party with the names of the wines they'll bringing. Then, simply copy and paste the names into one central document. If you're feeling fancy, split the document into two columnsone for whites and one for reds. By providing your guests with a list of the wines they're sampling, your friends will have a chance to take notes about why they liked or disliked certain wines. (Bonus: Even if your friends get tipsy and forget what they're drinking, they'll have the notes to refer back to the next time they're out wine shopping.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Centerpieces in 60 seconds

Centerpieces are probably the easiest part of party planning, since you can make them as simple or as lavish as you'd like. We here at the 15-Minute Party Planner are, of course, fans of simplicity. Here are a dozen centerpieces you can create in just a minute.

Head to your local dollar store or simply root through your cupboards to find some candles. Then, try one of these simple centerpiece ideas.
  • Three is a magic number; anything in a set of three is easily arranged and easy to make look good. Set three identical pillar candles on a tray or piece of wood for a simple centerpiece. You can decorate the tray (if you wish) with items that coordinate with your theme, such as polished rocks, seashells, buttons... even walnuts (in their shells) or fresh cranberries.

  • Arrange a dozen or so candles of varying heights (in a single color scheme) on a round platter or tray for a cozy centerpiece.

  • Set tea lights afloat in a glass bowl for a shimmery centerpiece. (Be sure to use tea lights that are meant for water; regular tea lights won't work.)
Whether you're using fresh flowers or good-quality faux flowers, decorating with blooms brightens up any table.
  • One simple standby? A dozen or more flowers artfully arranged in a beautiful vase. (If you don't feel like you can arrange them yourself, simply order a bouquet from a local florist problem solved!)

  • Mimic the floating tea light centerpiece (above) with the heads of flowers floating in shallow bowls and vessels. Wide, sturdy flowers work best in this case.

  • Buy large-blossom, long-stem flowers (like gerbera daisies) and set a single stem in each of several long-necked vases; then, place the vases in a line down the center of your table.
Mother nature is a whiz in the color department; fruit and vegetables showcase vibrant colors to make a table pop.
  • Fill a large glass bowl with bright citrus fruits (lemons, limes, or oranges) or colorful peppers (the shinier the better).

  • Candy adds a beautiful pop of color to any table. Use jellybeans in place of pebbles on a tray of candles or fill glass containers with bright gumballs, candy sticks, or gumdrops for a sweet dash of color.

  • Make dessert do double-duty. Arrange cupcakes, pastries, or other treats on a multi-tiered dessert stand for a centerpiece good enough to eat.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How to spice up a boxed cake mix for a quick and easy dessert

The 15-minute party planners among us like to prep for parties without breaking a sweat. To make a simple boxed cake mix a little fancier, try these easy suggestions:
  • Add a box of dry instant pudding mix to your cake batter. Try adding pistachio pudding mix to chocolate cake batter or instant lemon pudding to a white cake mix.
  • Chop up candy bars or add chocolate chips for a more interesting cake.
  • Blend fresh fruit like strawberries or applesauce into your cake batter in place of one of the liquid elements.
  • Squeeze caramel or chocolate ice cream syrup into batter or frosting for an interesting twist.
  • When pouring chocolate cake batter into a pan, use half the batter to cover the bottom of the pan, then add a layer of Peppermint Patties or Andes Mints. Cover the mints with the remaining cake batter.
  • Add a dollop of peanut butter to a chocolate or vanilla cake mix for a nutty taste.
  • Consider baking two small cakes. When you're ready to frost the cakes, spread a layer of jam or marmalade on top of the first cake, put the second cake on top and then frost both cakes as one.
  • Top a frosted cake with sprinkles, chopped nuts, or M&Ms for easy decorating.
  • Dust frosting with cocoa powder or confectioners sugar.
  • Top a frosted cake with sliced fruit for a fresher take on boxed cake.
  • Cupcakes are instantly-cute desserts and don't require much more time than making one large cake. Buy cute liners and add from-a-box cake batter to make instantly-adorable desserts.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A guide to choosing seating for special events

Maybe you've got a big event to plan (a wedding reception, perhaps, or maybe a weekend-long scrapbooking retreat) and you're thinking that there's no way to boil the tasks down into manageable chunks. Fear not! Here's a handy guide to seating. Commit it to memory (or simply bookmark this page), for easy event planning.

Banquet-style seating

What it looks like: Rooms set up banquet-style typically use round tables that seat 8 people (60” rounds) or 10 people (72” rounds). (Occasionally, you will find banquet-style seating that uses square or rectangular tables instead.) The tables are then spaced evenly throughout the room.

When to use it: Banquet style seating is best for wedding receptions, award banquets, and other large events.

Theatre-style seating

What it looks like: Chairs are set up in straight lines and all face the front of the room. There are no tables or desks.

When to use it: Theatre-style seating is best for presentations or lectures that do not require participants to take notes. Theatre-style seating is also often used for graduations. The style is less for special events and more for meetings and conferences.

Schoolroom straight

What it looks like: Schoolroom straight seating uses tables and chairs set up in straight rows facing the front of the room.

When to use it: Schoolroom straight seating is best for presentations where participants will be taking notes. It’s also a good set up if your guests will be using a lot of table space; use this set up if you're coordinating a scrapbooking or bingo party.


What it looks like: People milling around with drinks and/or food. A few long tables are used to display food and there can be a bar present. Some smaller tables are provided for guests, and are usually of the high-top variety so that people can stand and chat. Chairs are placed along the edges of the room. An alternative to this setup is to use limited seating at standard-height tables.

When to use it: Reception-style rooms are set up to encourage the flow of traffic in a room so that guests can mingle. This is a great set up for networking events, cocktail parties, and other events where the focus of the party is on talking to other guests. It is also a good choice when hosting an outdoor party, since not much seating is required. Additionally, if you're hosting a wedding reception or networking event, reception-style setups are often less expensive than a full sit-down meal.

Other things to consider

When planning the seating for your party, keep in mind all the factors that will affect your room layout, such as the age of your guest (high-top tables may be hard for the very young or the very old, who are in greater need of seating), the actual shape of the room (Are there columns in the way? Are your seats facing a row of windows letting in blinding light?), and safety regulations (Can all guests access an exit? Are you complying with local fire codes?). In the end, choose the layout that will work best for you and your guests, and enjoy the festivities!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

3 easy baby shower games that require little or no prep work

Planning a baby shower is a wonderful way to honor a mom-to-be. And while games can help liven up a baby shower, there's nothing worse than having to uncomfortably participate in some of the cheesier baby shower games like Guessing Mom's Tummy Size. For easy baby shower games that won't be an embarrassment and require less than 15 minutes of preparation, read on!

Baby Shower Bingo
To keep guests from getting antsy while the mom-to-be is opening gifts, try playing Baby Shower Bingo. Unlike a traditional bingo game where someone calls out numbers or words that are then marked off the bingo cards, Baby Shower Bingo includes items that a new mom is likely to receive at the shower such as diapers, bibs, and teddy bears. You can find easy-to-use templates online, or create bingo cards of your own. The first person/people to get bingo win a prize!

Helpful hints:
  1. You can personalize your Baby Shower Bingo cards by looking at the mom-to-be's gift registry. In addition to general baby supplies like bottles and booties, use spaces on the bingo cards to add some specific items that have been purchased from the registry like a Diaper Genie, a certain storybook, or bedding that matches the nursery theme.

  2. Make sure you have a few variations of the bingo cards, or all of your guests will win at the same time!
Peruse Your Purse
Baby showers are often ladies-only events; if the shower you're planning will be made up of women, try playing Peruse Your Purse. This is a simple but energetic game that requires no prep work.

To start, make sure everyone has her purse. Then, call out an item; the first woman to retrieve the item from her bag wins a raffle ticket. You can play this game as long as you like and can make the items as generic or specific as you'd like. Most women, for instance, are likely to carry a pen, but only a few women are likely to have a red pen or one from a hotel. If the game is going too quickly, simply make the items more specific -- ask for cinnamon gum, Cover Girl makeup, or a license proving an August birthday, rather than the generic alternatives.

Helpful hints: It's easy to generate ideas for this game on the spot, but if you'd rather have some items prepared, you can write yourself a quick list before the party begins.

Additionally, at the end of the game you have two options to declare a winner:
  1. Whoever has collected the most raffle tickets wins a prize.

  2. You can call out raffle ticket numbers throughout the party and give away small gifts to whomever has the matching tickets.
What's Missing?
To play What's Missing you'll need a decent-sized tray (or a small toy box) and a variety of baby items. Try for about 12 or 15 items, and make some of them nearly identical (e.g. use two pacifiers – one blue and one green – and two different jars of baby food). Place the items on the tray and give everyone 15 or 30 seconds to study them. Then, walk into another room, rearrange the items and remove an item or two. When you get back into the room, give everyone another minute to figure out what is missing. Make sure your guests are specific! Then you'll know who noticed the different-colored pacifiers or the two flavors of baby food.

You can play this game just for fun or can give prizes to either the person who is most often correct, or the woman that notices what’s missing the fastest.

Helpful hints: If you're the tricky sort, show your guests the tray of items without telling them that the tray will be part of a game. Instead, just casually talk about the cute things the mom-to-be has been gathering for the baby's arrival. After everyone has seen the tray, leave the room to remove an object or two, then return and announce the purpose of the game. It'll be fun to see who can figure out what's missing!