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Party Planning: Schedule of Events

Sarah Reuangrith

One of my favorite tasks when planning an event is this one, figuring out what fun activities are going to happen.  This is where your event really starts to take it's shape.  It's when things start to move from an idea (we should have a party) to an event actually happening.  It is also one of the last steps before invitations go out so it is an important one as right now you can change things easily without having to let all your guests know.  If you are new, be sure to check out our Party Planning 101 post for a list of all the party planning articles that have been written so far.

Party Planning: Schedule of Events

At this point in our party planning we have done some brainstorming, have a date and venue and a start time.  Before we can finalize our guest list and send out invites we need one more piece of information; the time our party will end.

Why do we need to say when our party is over?

 One of the questions you might be thinking is why do I need to set an end time?  Why can't guests leave when they want?  Well this might be fine in some cases for certain events, most of the time giving guests an end time will make your event that much more enjoyable for everyone.  Here are some reasons why you should provide an end time:

  • Transportation: Not everyone drives or has access to a vehicle.  Knowing that the event might run until after public transit stops running is important for some people so that they can make arrangements before they are stuck at your house at 2 am waiting for a cab they just called (or you have to drive them home).  Alternatively, if your event is for children or other guests that might need to be dropped off and picked up it will be necessary for them to be able to provide an approximate time to their driver.
  • Food: The longer guests stick around, the more likely it is that you will need to provide an additional meal.  With small events this might be no big deal but if you suddenly have ten, eight year old's running around at 5 pm complaining they want dinner, you need to either order pizza or send them home hungry which is certainly not ideal.  This is a sure way to go over budget!
  • Boredom: Once your planned activity's are over, you may suddenly have some bored participants.  Yes they will leave but if the goal is to have an awesome party isn't it better for them to leave before it gets to this point?
  • Clean Up: If you have rented a hall that needs to be cleaned up before a set time, the last thing you want is guests partying hard until the last minute meaning you forfeit some money or have to stay really late to clean.
  • Sanity: Your guests might be having a great time but you might be exhausted and ready for the party to end.  After all, your preparations for the event started long before the guests started to arrive.  Having an end time means that you guests will leave...

But what if the venue assigned an end time?

If you are using a venue outside of your house, you may have already had to book an end time.  That's fine, I would continue the steps outlined below anyway.  At some point or another you will need to come up with a schedule so why not do it now?  

One thing to keep in mind is to allocate enough time to set up or take down the event.  The amount of time you need will depend on the arrangements you have made with the venue.  In some cases they may have everything set up and you just have to show up at the appointed time whereas in other cases you may need to come the day before to set things up.  The same could be said for take down.  At the end of the night you may just leave and the staff at the venue will clean up or you may need to take everything down yourself. 

After you have created your schedule you may find one of three scenarios:

  1. Your schedule has TOO much in it - In this case you may need to remove items or shorten the allocated time.  For example if you have booked a hall for a wedding and you have no time for dancing.  In this case you might want to shorten the speeches by removing the number of people speaking and/or limiting the time each person has to talk.
  2. You don't have enough to do - In this case shorten the time you have rented the hall and get some of your money back.  If this is not an option, then I would plan the event you want with the end time you pick.  Just because you are paying for it does not mean that you need to have the event running the whole time.  If anything you have more time to clean up afterwards.
  3. You scheduled just enough time! - This is what we are working towards.  Good job!

Make sure you give yourself extra time built into your schedule or know the venues policy for if you run over the allotted time.  Much better to have lots of extra time than having to cut out activities and leave early.

How to make up a schedule of events

You might agree that providing an end time is a good idea but how do you pick one?  Yes you could pull a number out of your hat and cross your fingers that it is long enough to do what you want but short enough that guests leave before they get bored... Or you can do up a quick schedule of events.  Keep in mind that this schedule doesn't need to be really detailed.  It is alright to keep things pretty vague.  The goal is to have an idea of what you want to do and make sure there is enough time to do it.

You should already have a date, a starting time, theme and an idea on what type of food you are wanting to provide (sit down meal versus snacks).  Now you need to list all the things that you want to happen at your event.   

For example, you are hosting a birthday party for your daughter.  At this point in the planning process you have decided that you will be hosting for approximately 10 people, at your home and on a Saturday starting at 11 am.  You are planning to serve lunch.  The theme of the event is Princesses.  To start my schedule I would list in any particular order the items I would need to schedule time for:

  • lunch
  • opening presents
  • cake
  • activity (not sure what yet but princess themed)

Next, I would include how long I think each activity will take.  Use your best guess if you are unsure.  Keep in mind that at most events no one will see the schedule except for you.  Most people will not care that dinner took an extra half an hour but present opening was much faster.  I tend to ere on the side of caution and add a little extra time when I am estimating as things never go entirely to schedule.  You may say the event starts at 11 but often that means people leave their house at 11 and are late.  Here is what I would do for our party example above:

  • lunch (1 hour)
  • opening presents (1 hour)
  • cake (30 minutes)
  • activity (1 hour)

Looking at the example above I currently have 3.5 hours of activity planned.  Before I commit to an end time of 2:30 pm, I should put things in the order I would like to see them happen and account for people arriving late and picking up early.

Since I have a start time of 11 am I would start there and record it on a piece of paper.

11 am: Party Starts

As not everyone will arrive exactly at 11 am it will be important not to start any formal activities right away that need everyone to be there.  On my schedule I would include a half hour of people arriving. 

11 am - 11:30 am: Party starts and people arrive

Instead of having everyone sitting around waiting for the event to "start" I usually like to do some sort of ice breaker activity that people can join in as they arrive.  As not everyone may know each other, this is a great way to get the party started in a fun way and have everyone meet one another.  Since we have a theme of Princesses, I would try to come up with a fun princess themed activity that could start when the first guest arrived and continue until everyone was here.  Perhaps as guests arrived they got to decorate their very own princess crown.  You can purchase ones made out of craft foam or cut some out of cardboard.  On a table you could have a variety of pens, glitter, pom poms, flowers, jewels, etc.  As guests arrived they get a name tag and are headed over to the table for a fun activity.   The earlier a guest arrives the more time they have to decorate.

11 am - 11:30 am: Party starts and people arrive (decorate crown)

On the day, if someone shows up at 11:30 am you could always extend the activity so it goes later but for our purposes today this is probably good enough.  As it is now around lunch time, instead of doing another activity perhaps it is time for lunch.

11 am - 11:30 am: Party starts and people arrive (decorate crown)

11:30 am - 12:30 pm: Lunch

Again, at this point we don't need to worry too much about a menu or specific details but if you have any ideas feel free to include them on the schedule.  For example we might decide that the perfect princess meal is pasta as that is the birthday girls favorite.

Continue in this manner until you have everything in the order that you think you want them to be on the day.  There really isn't a wrong way to do this.  The only advice I have it to keep in mind the time (make sure meals are around the time you would normally eat) and the logistics (if you only have one table and need the table to eat lunch then you may wish to do presents before lunch so that you can clean up the crown making and set the table while presents are happening).  Here is one version of how the schedule could look for our Princess themed birthday.

11 am - 11:30 am: Party starts and people arrive (decorate crown)

11:30 am - 12:30 pm: Lunch (pasta)

12:30 pm - 1:30 pm: Activity 

1:30 pm - 2 pm: Open Presents

2:30 pm - 3 pm: Cake

3 pm: Party is over and parents pick up kids

You will notice in the example above, I still haven't figured out what the party activity will be, just that it will take an hour.  This is fine for this point in the planning process.  Our goal is to have an end time so that we can get out the invites, it is no big deal if you don't have everything figured out.  

You will also notice that I picked the cake as my last activity of the day.  This is something that should a parent show up early they could join in on or once cake has been cut it is easy to wrap up and send home with someone.  Having an activity such as this at the end makes it easy for guests to leave early.  If instead I had picked opening presents as the last activity and a child who hadn't had their present opened yet showed up it would mean that you might have to rush.  Similarly if I had put the activity last and it involved all participants being there for it to work (perhaps a game where there are two teams) things could be made difficult with the arrival of a parent. 

In case you were wondering, if this was an event I was planning I would probably have an activity that was something the birthday girl liked to do that was tied into the theme.  As my daughter will be two at her next birthday, my choice of activity would be very different from someone with an eight year old.  I also wouldn't likely invite 10 toddlers unless it was for parents as well.  Some activities I might choose to do for the activity portion could be: princess tea party, makeup or nails (older child), Disney themed sing along, horse back rides (for little ones daddy would be good enough) or I could do a traditional party game like pin the tail on the donkey but adapt towards the theme (put the crown on the prince).

Final Thoughts

I've mentioned before that I love to pick themes when I host an event.  Themes make things so much easier.  Instead of having to come up with an activity from the millions of ideas out there, you can use your theme to narrow things down.   If you haven't picked a theme yet, I would encourage you to take a few minutes and come up with one now.  You will be happy you did!  Remember, your theme doesn't need to be complicated it could be anything from a colour (red party) or season (winter) or something you love to do (knitting).  Themes make events fun and give direction.  As we move forward with our plans, themes will play more and more of a role.

Want More?

Check out more of our party planning articles.



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  • B on

    Great ideas! You can tell you have done many parties!

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