At this time last year, I was in serious planning, purchasing and preparing mode for my oldest son's high school graduation open house party.
I had some experience under my belt from the previous years 50th wedding anniversary surprise open house that my siblings and I threw for our parents.
Everything went off so smoothly for both functions, and it I know it was because of planning, list making and being organized, as well as having friends and family to help (and lots of prayer too)!
I tend to be an introvert, and so large gatherings are always a bit nerve wracking for me anyway, but throw in the added pressure of hosting, and my insides are twisting and turning...
Sooooooooo, I thought I would share what I've learned to help your open house party run more smoothly, so that nerves are less of an issue. 😛
First decide when and where you're going to have your party.
--Check the schedule of those whom you absolutely don't want to miss your party because of a scheduling conflict.
--Check with close friends or family members who will be having open houses the same year, to avoid a conflict.
--Decide on a location, check availability and reserve (some places require a deposit or fee up front).
Many people decide to have it outdoors at their home, which is a wonderful and personal option, but just keep in mind parking issues, bathroom facilities, and how much work it may take to get your home ready.
We chose not to do it at our home because parking for a large crowd was not convenient in our development.
There are parks and other outdoor venues that are open to the public for events, but always make sure you check the facilities available, whether there is electricity, running water and bathrooms, and be sure to reserve them ahead of time.
Even though having an open house party outdoors would have been nice, I knew with my personality, I would have been nervous about the weather and flies getting in the food, and putting a damper on things. So I opted to rent a church facility specifically used for gatherings, and it took so much stress off of me right up front! They had kitchen and bathroom facilities, tables and chairs, large coffee makers and serving platters, couches, little tables for the kids, trash bins, and a large screen for a slideshow readily available, which made for fewer things I had to arrange for.
- Make a guest list--check with priority guests as to available dates (2-6 months ahead)
- Decide on a date and location, reserve if necessary
- Send invites (2-4 months ahead)
- Plan menu--think about whether people will be sitting or standing, plan easy to eat foods
- Plan decor and activities
- Order, purchase (or borrow) supplies-tables and chairs, decorations, tablecloths, picture frames, customized napkins, coffee and tea supplies, plates and cups etc...
- Make any photo boards or centerpieces, and fill picture frames
- Arrange for others to help the day of--preparing and serving food, taking pictures, cleaning up etc...
- In the week of and day/s before--prepare, order and purchase food
- The day before--set up ahead of time as much as is possible
- The day of--Set up, greet guests and have fun
There are so many inexpensive options for open house invitations. We had photo cards made up to mail or pass out, with all the details of time and place, and pictures of my son. Shutterfly, Tiny Prints, Snapfish, Vistaprint or even your local Walmart or drugstore, make it easy to create customized invitations for a reasonable price.
When planning your menu, keep in mind temperatures, time of year, and whether or not people are likely to be sitting or standing and having drinks in their hands, and the audience you'll be serving. For my parents' anniversary open house, which was right after Christmas and freezing cold outside, we served three kinds of soup and sandwiches. On a blazing hot summer day though, hot soup may not be the best choice.
Also keep in mind the amount of time you have available for food preparation. I've helped with open houses where days were spent preparing food, which was economical, but this time I preferred to make things as easy as possible, so I bought most of the food already prepared and teenager friendly.
Here is what we served for our son's open house:
Pizza--ordered and delivered from Zeppe's
Fried and baked chicken--from a local grocery
Vegetable trays--bought already prepared from Sam's Club
Potato salad--bought already prepared from Sam's Club
Calico beans--my mother made (best recipe)
Assorted chips, crackers and cheese (already cut up from Sam's Club)
Cupcakes, cookies and creme puffs--from Sam's Club
Coffee, tea, soda and bottled water
This punch recipe would be fun using a fruit punch the color of your child's school colors.
If you prefer to make the food yourself instead of purchasing ready made, for you own sanity, when someone offers to help or make something, take them up on their offer. 🙂
I had several lists for decorations, food, and supplies I would need on the day (scissors, tape, extension cords...) and needed purchases, all on one clipboard, so everything was all together if I needed to refer to something or I thought of something I needed to add, so I wouldn't forget.
I didn't get a picture of the soda and bottled water, but I purchased two big round "toy" tubs, and we filled them with ice and various sodas and bottled water, and set them in front of the coffee and tea table.
I purchased many of the decorations from Oriental Trading Company,
and found their prices to be very reasonable.
We had three tables set up with pictures from my son's growing up, missions trips and friends and family, and also a place for cards and gifts.
Instead of a guest book, I bought a blank canvas, and stenciled "Congratulations" on it for everyone to sign and leave a short message.
For pictures I had that were before the digital era, I used frames from the dollar store, foam boards, and a table covered with plastic.
We also set out his cap and diploma.
Since opportunities for corn-hole, volleyball and other outdoor activities weren't going to work indoors, I wanted to provide some other fun things to do.
So I bought some inexpensive supplies on Amazon for a "photo booth."
I used a tablecloth and "tinsel strings" for the backdrop.
These little props--hats, mustaches, glasses and lips etc.. were fun and super inexpensive, and I just arranged for someone to be the "photographer" with a camera set up on a tripod.
We got some really fun photos, and have been sending them to the guests online.
Because I knew there would be lots of little ones, and the church had the small tables and chairs already, I took advantage of that, and set up a coloring table with coloring books and crayons.
I put together a slideshow of my digital pictures (that ran in the background), and my nephew put together and played music which he had chosen for the open house.
My whole family came the night before the open house, and helped set up tables, chairs, decorations, food and drink tables, and the slideshow.
To help this process run smoothly and efficiently, I had lists of what I needed to bring and what had to be done, and my sister was a great delegator!
The day of the open house, it was helpful to put out a colorful sign and/or balloons to identify the location for those unfamiliar with the area.
I can't emphasize enough what a blessing and tremendous help it is to have the support of friends and family.
My parents always said, "Many hands make light work," and it is so true!
They all helped clean up after the open house, and we made sure to leave everything even cleaner than we found it, which is always a good practice when using someone else's space.
Those helping out were glad to take home any leftovers, so that took care of any uneaten food!
It was a wonderful time, and a lot of work, but being prepared and organized, and letting others help is a great way to have a successful day!