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Party Planning: Picking the Start Time

Sarah Reuangrith

This is part three of our party planning blog.  If you have not read Brainstorming or Picking the Date and Venue we suggest reading them first.  This blog post is all about setting the time your party starts.

Picking the Start Time

At this point in our blog series we have done some brainstorming and have a date and venue (or perhaps we have just narrowed down the days and are still looking for the right location).  Up to this point you likely have an idea on what time of the day you want to hold your event (morning, afternoon or evening) but not the specific time your event will start.

But I already have a time

In some cases the venue you select may provide you with a time.  This can be fairly common with events such as weddings where the church and reception venues have already blocked off time and you may not get much choice.  In this case, you can use the hints below to help set your schedule of events but as the time is already set, don't stress if things don't line up as precise as they should.

The menu should help set the time

When picking the times of the event I usually like to look at what food I am planning to serve as it helps to narrow down a time.  For example if I want to serve afternoon tea, then I would want to pick a start time that lined up with this.  Similarly if I was hosting a dinner party I likely wouldn't pick eight am (unless it was a breakfast one).  Choosing a menu can be a bit of work, we will talk about it later.  For now you just need to figure out whether or not you are providing snacks or a full meal or a combination of options. 

Why the menu is so important when picking the start time

Have you ever attended a party expecting to be fed dinner and then been disappointed when the food offerings were limited to a bag of chips?  Or perhaps the reverse has happened and you eat a big meal prior to attending only to find out that there is a five course dinner?  I think it is safe to say that we have all been there!  There are many reasons these scenarios could happen but chances are this lack of food/ food abundance was caused by one of two reasons: disaster struck or the host didn't plan appropriately.  

Disaster does occasionally happen with the caterer cancelling or running late but more likely than not the food crisis's mentioned above were unintentionally caused by the host when they communicated what to expect to the guest.  While most communicating happens through the invite (which we will talk about later), a lot of the misunderstandings about food usually come about due to the time the event is being held.  Lets look a little closer at the scenarios above and you will see what I mean.

First up scenario one: you show up for an event starving and a bowl of chips is the only food you can find.   How could this have happened?  Chances are you looked at the time of the event and then planned your day accordingly.  If the event started at say five pm, a typical person would factor in the time it takes to get ready and then get there before figuring out if they should eat before they go.  Since most people don't generally eat their big meal at four pm, you would assume attending an event around the dinner hour would mean that you are going to be served some sort of meal or a large amount of appetizers that make up a meal.  Showing up ready to eat to find a bag of chips is disappointing and likely means you will be leaving early to go look for food.

Scenario two: you eat prior to attending an event only to be inundated with food upon arrival.  In this case let's say the event starts at two pm.  Since you typically eat lunch around noon, you eat a nice meal before heading to the event.  When you get there you are dismayed upon arrival to be ushered into a chair while the host is saying "I hope you are hungry I have been cooking all morning".  Not wanting to be a bad guest you pick at the food you are not at all interested in eating...

What do these two events have in common?  Both hosts served food that was not in line with what the guests were expecting to receive based on the time of the event and as a result guests were uncomfortable.  The frustrating thing with these two scenarios is that they would have been very easy to avoid with a simple time adjustment.  For the first event, shifting the time so that the event started at two in the afternoon or at seven in the evening would have let the guests know to eat before arriving.  For the second event, moving things to start at noon or shifting back so that it started at five would have removed any doubt to the guest that there would be food.  Guests would have then been satisfied with a bag of chips or a big meal as they had planned for it.

As a host, you want your guests to be comfortable which means providing food in line with expectations.  

Food option has been selected, now what

Now that you have an idea of what you are planning to provide food wise, it is time to pick the start time for you event.  Here are some additional guidelines:

  • Will you want your guests to eat right away or do you have activities planned first
  • Guests will never arrive exactly on time so give yourself a buffer and don't plan to start a formal sit down dinner right away
  • Make it easy for guests by picking times that clearly indicate what the food options will look like.  For example start a dinner event at four pm instead of at five thirty as guests will then know if they need to eat before hand.
  • Consider travel distances.  If you venue is far away you might want to start earlier so that you can end earlier.  This can also be true if most guests are coming on public transportation as you will want them to catch the last bus or train.
  • Will guests be coming from another event?  In a wedding or funeral you might be in one location and then travel to another location.  If so you either want to start right away so guests go straight from one place to the other or plan for a long enough time in between that guests can go home or run errands.  No one likes to have only a half hour to kill...  in that case guests might arrive early and catch you in the middle of set up.
  • Are there any parking issues at your venue?  For example if you are hosting your retirement party at a downtown restaurant with street parking, it might be worth starting the event after the evening parking rates have come into affect.

Hopefully this will help you to narrow down a start time.  Next time we will talk about setting up a brief schedule of events so that you can select an end time.



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  • Erin on

    Some good ideas – I never really gave a lot of conscious thought to food in relation to the starting time since I usually had an idea as far as food went… but it really is the worst when you’re not expecting food and fill up, or are expecting food and don’t eat, and then find the opposite to be true! Definitely will be taking this into consideration from now on!

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