My Favorite Must-Have Party Essentials

Are you planning a party for the warmer spring and summer months? I opened my little party goodie box to share with you my favorite must-have party essentials because there is so much to celebrate in the next few months.

May kicks off the party season. There are Kentucky Derby parties, Cinco de Mayo, graduation parties, end-of-school parties, bridal showers, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day.

In June, we have Flag Day, Father’s Day, summer pool parties, barbecues, shrimp boils, beach parties, and picnics.

Of course, the summer parties continue in July, and then we celebrate 4th of July. It’s not until August that party season slows down.

I’m not a professional party planner, but I just love to host parties. It doesn’t matter what’s the theme of the party, the occasion, the number of guests or the time of year.

There are a lot of moving parts to hosting a party:

  • plan the menu (food and drink is a major component)
  • style the table decor
  • set the dining or buffet table
  • ready the serving pieces and individual dishes
  • ensure you have enough plates, glasses, napkins, tablecloths, silverware
  • decorate your home if the party is tied to a special event.
  • clean/declutter all public areas
  • all the little things that make a party special

Hosting parties is so much easier if you have some basic party essentials in stock.

These are foundation pieces that come in handy year after year, never go out of style, mix with everything, are versatile for any occasion, and aren’t too expensive. That’s my criteria for party essentials.

Favorite Places to Shop for Partyware

When we need multiple items, such as dishes and glasses, cost definitely plays a role.

I have my favorite places to shop for essential party supplies.

For plates, glasses, serving pieces, such as platters and trays, and napkins, both cloth and paper, you can’t beat these stores.

If you don’t have a nearby location, most of these sources can be found online.

For monogramming styrofoam cups and napkins, Swoozie’s is a great option. Locally, I find the cutest party napkins at Tuesday Morning or Home Goods at a great price.

Of course, there is Amazon and other online resources.

Think Outside the Box: Must-Have Party Essential Sources

Don’t think that party essentials are only available at retail stores or online. Over many years, I’ve accumulated what I consider must-have party essentials at off-the-beaten-path places.  

I’ve found spotless, like new napkin sets at garage sales. I just bought 25 beautiful white cloth napkins for $55 at an estate sale. That’s $2.20 each.

estate sale white cloth napkins

Trays, platters, cake stands, and bowls are great buys at estate and garage sales. Even flea markets carry glassware and tableware. I found the sweetest sherbet glasses and my Fiesta glasses and a pitcher at an antique mall.

Best Must-Have Party Essentials: Go with Neutrals

You’ll notice that so many of my suggestions are white: white dishes, white napkins, and white serving pieces. That’s because you can’t go wrong with white. Cream or ivory work well too.

Clear glass and metals also function as neutrals.

I love color, but I like to use it as an accent, in flowers, and decor. BUT, I throw that rule out the window if I’m focusing on a colored-themed party!

Best Must-Have Party Essentials for Dining and Drinking

You have to have plates for people to eat from (unless you are serving finger food and napkins suffice), glasses to drink from, silverware to eat with, and napkins for folks to clean up with.

NOTE: I love finger foods at parties where no silverware is needed or at the most, just a fork. My entertaining rule – no knives unless it’s a sit-down meal.

Years ago, when we had our first Kentucky Derby party, I shopped for all these items at World Market. That was before shopping Amazon online was so prevalent.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have used them. I have two sets of dinner plates and four sets of napkins.

We have two cases of 10-ounce wine glasses, which can be used for wine, tea, lemonade, and water.

I love using dishes and glassware in this less expensive price point for buffets and cocktail parties.

If someone drops a glass and it breaks, it’s not a big monetary loss. I can honestly tell my guest that it’s not a big deal.

There is nothing worse than having a guest break a valuable piece of crystal. They feel bad, you feel bad.

PARTY ETIQUETTE TIP: As a guest, if you break something that is obviously valuable, always offer to replace it. As a hostess, always graciously decline the offer. If you want to be a thoughtful guest, surprise your hostess, find out the crystal or china pattern and replace it, anyway. You’ll forever be a treasured friend.

NOTE: Although I love mixing formal china, crystal, and silver with casual entertaining, I find it’s safe to save your good china and crystal for sit-down events where accidents are less likely to happen.

TIP: Speaking of party accidents, I like to keep this cleanup product handy. It works great on red wine spills.


Having inexpensive washable tablecloths is an essential party staple. I just ordered a new round tablecloth for our breakfast room table. I also have several rectangular tablecloths.

TIP: For extra tablecloths in patterns and color, use flat sheets or fabric. Two to three yards of 54″ wide fabric make great tablecloths when you want a particular color or pattern.

Extra Silverware

Most of us don’t have dozens of place settings (or just forks and spoons) on hand for large gatherings. Since some plastic utensils look so nice, it’s OK to use them.

I know these are disposable, but I have often hand-washed these and reused them.

Best Must-Have Party Essential Serving Pieces

Here are some that I think are essential – not only practical but pretty.

TIP: always think vertically for displaying and serving your food. It makes for a more pleasing arrangement, allows you to need less space for serving, and lets the guests see the food better.

Beverage Dispensers

I like using a beverage dispenser for iced water, lemonade or iced tea.

Here’s a simple option. Or if you like something with a little more pizzaz, here’s one with chalkboard signs that even comes with a chalk marker.

Tiered Trays

I love that this one can have bowls or plates for serving. This rectangular one is a really great choice for desserts, appetizers, or pastries.

This 3-tier tray would be great for desserts or small sandwiches.

The wood rectangle tiered tray would be a lovely way to serve charcuterie, crackers or cheese.

Cake Stands

Cake stands make great serving possibilities. Stacking different sizes is so attractive. I have at least half a dozen in different shapes and sizes. They are either white or clear glass. One is a blush pink.

I love these options. And don’t forget that flea markets, garage sales, and estate sales are great resources for cake stands.

I have had this Cake Stand from Williams-Sonoma for years. It converts to a punch bowl/salad bowl. It is so versatile. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used it.

cake stand/punch bowl

TIP: another way to add height to your serving pieces? Place cardboard boxes under your tablecloth or a large napkin. Then place your serving piece on top. Just make sure that the box is sturdy. 

Keep Foods Hot or Cold

Certain foods need to be kept hot – like the Bourbon Balls that I made last year for our Kentucky Derby party. I found my old Rival crockpot in the back of a cabinet in the butler’s pantry. I know I haven’t used it since we moved here ten years ago. It didn’t work.

I ordered this new crockpot with a removable insert. A chafing dish is also a nice addition to have on hand.

For serving and keeping foods cold, try this bowl-shape serving dish or this sectional serving tray. Don’t forget a nice ice bucket or a pretty large bowl to hold ice for wine bottles, beer, water bottles or soft drinks.

Here’s a collection of more essential party items.

I hope these ideas have been helpful. As we get into May (graduation, Mother’s Day, end-of-school parties, Memorial Day) and summer holidays, it’s nice to think ahead about parties you may be planning.

You can be on the watch for party essentials and sales. But remember – Christmas is 9 months away. It’s never too early to plan ahead.

And speaking of planning head, make sure that your home is always a safe place for your guests while you are entertaining. You don’t want to take any chances with their safety or your liability.

Don’t want to forget this collection of my favorite essential party items? PIN this post to look at before your next party.

pin for later graphic in blue

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  1. Carol, you give such great advice. I always come to your blog for good southern etiquettte from a professional! I love all the tier stands but find it so hard to store. I have no space but they look so elegant.

    1. Diane, my mom taught me so much about being a hostess. My parents entertained a lot when I was young so I was able to see what she did. It’s really paid off.

  2. Such great advice! I want those scalloped cake stands. They are too cute!

    For years I was resistant to all white plates…now I think they would come in very handy.

  3. Wonderful tips, Carol! I couldn’t agree more on World Market and Tuesday Morning. No Swoozie’s here — too bad, sounds like a good one!

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