Party Prep | Easy Potluck Appetizer Party

I love throwing parties for my loved ones, but sometimes it can be challenging to balance all that goes into party prep with a busy schedule.  The great thing about a potluck style party is that it takes a lot of the food prep pressure off of the hosts while allowing guests to participate.  It can also result in a wonderful variety of tastes and textures when people contribute some of their favorite recipes to the mix.

My sister-in-law, Emily, and I decided to cohost an appetizer-themed party in celebration of my mother-in-law, Suzanne’s, birthday this past weekend.  Our family absolutely loves snacks and so it naturally makes for one of our favorite dinner party concepts.  Suzanne was excited about the theme and was also pleased that we asked guests to bring an appetizer in lieu of a gift for her.  This is a wonderful way for guests to feel like they’re not only contributing to the festivities, but giving a gift that everyone can enjoy, especially if the guest of honor isn’t so keen on receiving traditional presents.  It also makes party prep a breeze for the hosts!  We ended up with quite the smorgasbord of taste treats at our party:

OJ_OLJ_03-04-2015_01Cheese & Crackers | Veggies & Hummus | Chips & Onion Dip (not pictured) | Shrimp Cocktail | Prosciutto Wrapped Strawberries | Smoked Salmon Cucumber Rounds | Stuffed Grape Leaves | Hot Crab Dip | Stuffed Mini Peppers | Loaded Nachos (recipe soon to follow!)

I filmed how I went about prepping for this easy potluck appetizer party, which you can see in this video if you’re interested:

In summary, here are some of my tips for easy and quick party prep for a celebration of this nature:

Tip #1 – Make A List (this could include the menu & specific tasks) – Making a list ahead of time is a great way to manage your prep well so that you don’t forget anything and then have to scramble when you inevitably remember 2 minutes before (or after!) guests start to arrive.  I’ve streamlined my party process over the years so that I don’t rely on a task oriented list anymore, although I did for many years early on in my party hosting days.  Now I typically just write out my menu and indicate who is in charge of what to help visualize what I need in terms of food service and related tasks.

Tip #2 – Clear Out & Clean Up Party Space – Once I’ve figured out the what, where, and how of my food service, I’ll arrange my home accordingly so that the space can accommodate this plan.  I’ve found that working on the structure of the space first helps streamline the rest of the party prep process for me.

Tip #3 – Pull Out Platters – My mother-in-law taught me this tip early on in my marriage.  She also passed on the golden nugget of using sticky notes to designate what dish goes with what platter, which is especially useful if you’re new to hosting parties or have people helping you prep who might not be privy to the plan you’ve concocted in your mind.  I find I don’t use the sticky note method much anymore, but it certainly helped me get in the habit of visualizing what platter/serving dish would work best in advance of plating.

Tip #4 – Plate What You Can In Advance & Store – If you’ve ever had a party catered, you’ll know that catering companies usually come with the majority of their food prepped, plated, and covered.  I’ve borrowed this practice over the years whenever I have the refrigerator space.  It helps tremendously to get as much plated in advance to give yourself more time (and less hurry!) before the guests arrive.  I simply cover my plated food with plastic wrap, serving utensils and all, and pop in the fridge for easy retrieval later on.  I also like to get out all of my dry goods like chips, crackers, nuts, and candy and tuck the packages to the side along with their serving dishes so I don’t have to go scrounging in my pantry at the last minute for these items.

Tip #5 – Set Up The Bar In Advance – We like offering a self-service style bar at our parties and opening up our Steamer Bar Cabinet so that guests may help themselves to whatever they like without having to ask.  Of course, my husband, Don, always offers to mix a drink for anyone who would like assistance, but it’s nice to leave the make-it-yourself option for people who prefer to do so.  I like to set out some staples on top of the bar in advance, including most reached for liquors and wines, as well as a wine opener, cocktail napkins, ice, toothpicks, and cups.  I usually will slice up some citrus, plate olives, and pour popular mixers into labeled pitchers, which I wrap up and keep chilled in the fridge until right before the party starts.  I also always set up a water station with a pitcher and cups in my kitchen and keep the water chilling in the fridge until party time.

Tip #6 – Make/Buy Ice In Advance – I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough.  Make sure you have enough ice in advance of your party starting!  It’s not fun to run out of ice before a party is over.  Make it easy on yourself by making sure you make or buy enough ice well in advance and have it at the ready for refilling your ice bucket as needed.  Always make/buy more than you think you need.  In my experience, it usually goes faster than you think!  No one will be excited about having to run out for ice in the middle of a fun party.

Tip #7 – Use Balloon Bouquets &/or Flower Arrangements As Easy Decorations – Going all out with handmade decorations is a lovely gesture, but when time is at a premium, opting for some balloon bouquets and/or pre-made flower arrangements can create an instant festive vibe without a lot of fuss.  We love using balloons for special celebrations in our family.  I strongly believe you don’t have to be a child to enjoy balloons as decoration.  If balloons are not your bag, using beautiful flower arrangements is a more classic way to dress up a party.  We like to rely on our local florist for this service, although if you have the time, you can certainly put together beautiful bouquets at home.

Tip #8 – Open & Pre-Set All Paper Products – If you choose to use paper products at your party, taking the time to open and pre-set them in advance will save you time in those precious busy moments leading up to the event.  I always pre-set my snack/appetizer napkins and plates on my coffee table as well as the cocktail napkins on the bar well before the party starts.  If I am serving a full meal, I’ll make sure I have all of the utensils, plates, and napkins (paper or otherwise) pre-set for that on my kitchen counter for a buffet style spread.  I will take the time to set my tables with all plates, cups, napkins, and flatware earlier in the day in the event of a served meal.  And don’t forget your dessert service items!  Having this all done in advance saves the stress of doing it during the party and also frees you up to mingle more as host.

These are some of my tried and true tips to help in the party prep process.  I hope that in sharing what works for me, it might inspire you to find ways to streamline your party prep next time.
I’d love to know how you prep for a party, if you care to share!


* This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are genuinely my own. *


13 thoughts on “Party Prep | Easy Potluck Appetizer Party”

  1. Hi Jen!
    Love the vid, and what a great party idea!
    I just wonder if you would consider changing your intro music to something more hip and modern or even classical, instrumental music would be great. I kind of find myself muting the music. Sorry.

    Hope you have great weekend, kisses to Winnie.

    1. I change up my music every so often. I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but I’ve actually received a lot of positive feedback about the new tunes.

  2. I SO loved this post/video. you just exuded confidence and know how. Very good “smart” tips and tricks that dont require any money. great job. Now- post recipes please 😀

  3. Hi Jen! Thanks for the wonderful tips on how to host parties for family and friends! I will be referencing this blog post in the early summer when I will be planning for my 21st birthday… I just wanted to let you know that I recently returned home from a two-month long trip when I was spending time with my aunt and her family and my bedroom at home and study nook were both HUGE disasters and with your wonderful help from your video and your blog post on “The 20 Minute Pick-Up”, I was finished cleaning my HUGE mess within a few days, so thanks! Also, as a newbie blogger and YouTuber, upon your recommendation, I purchased the “Blog Inc.” novel and I have found it extremely helpful for my blog. Thank you so much for the recommendation!
    1. I will be going on a few more trips within the year and I tried the Pack-It folder thing from Eagle Creek, and I wasn’t terribly impressed with it and I’ve always been curious to try out the Pack-It cubes from Eagle Creek. I was wondering which sizes would be good for newbies to this new packing system?
    2. What are the apps that you use to edit your pictures for both Instagram and Twitter?
    3. I have a video request: Could you show us how you organize your DVDs, Blu-Rays, and such? I have a rather massive collection and I can never seem to figure out how to organize them all!
    Thanks for everything and take care
    Katherine M.

    1. I recommend trying the cube and half cube sizes of Eagle Creek pack-it system to start. I don’t do much editing of my Instagram photos outside of the Instagram app itself. Sometimes I use my iPhone’s built in photo editing if a picture is too dark or bright. I generally organize our DVDs alphabetically, bit it’s in need of a refresh. Maybe I’ll post about that at some point.

  4. Loved this video, what a great idea! You have truly mastered how to host a party. Your makeup looked beautiful btw! Thanks for another great video, I have really been enjoying your content lately!

  5. Thanks so much for sharing your tips! I prepare for parties in a very similar fashion, but I got several great ideas for the next one from your video. And every time you talk about that hot crab dip (vlogs or regular videos), my mouth waters. 🙂

  6. I adore your prep videos! I learn something new every time. Your parties always sound like so much fun.

  7. !thank you for this lovely post and the nice tips you re sharing!
    Mu take a look to the video!
    Thank you so much.
    Have a fab weekend!

  8. What a great idea for a birthday celebration. My husband and I are going to suggest this to our children in lieu of our usual out to dinner with Dad for his upcoming birthday where he invariably wants to pick up the tab. Appetizer party, Who Knew! Thanks for sharing.
    Your music introductions are absolutely wonderful and give your videos a recognizable quality.

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