Who isn’t a sucker for big hats and brightly colored dresses?
That’s right, I’m talking about Derby Day. It’s time for my husband and I to throw our 3rd Annual Derby party and I can’t wait! Each year we invite a group of friends to our home, wear our derby best and drink Mint Juleps all day long. It’s a blast.
As an event planner, a lot of the work I do is centered around large venue events for organizations or big specialty parties. It’s important to remember, though, anyone can throw a good party right at their home. I don’t live anywhere grandiose - I have a single family home with a decent yard. It’s not a big fancy venue and I a lot of the work myself… and it’s still a blast.
We’re about 3 weeks out so it’s the perfect time to break all the party planning steps down for you so you can throw your own perfect Derby party this year, or any party at your home.
First, The Derby Day Essentials:
Derby Day is a big deal so let me take just a moment to explain for those who might not be familiar. Each year on the same day as the Kentucky Derby people all throughout the U.S. host parties to celebrate. It’s just a great excuse to get together before July 4, dress up, and maybe do a little gambling.
If there’s one thing pretty much every Derby Party has, it’s Mint Juleps. This is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby and has been since the 80s. It consists of bourbon, crushed ice, sugar, water, and fresh mint. It’s the perfect, refreshing drink for early summer.
To keep it easy at our party, we have a bar set up where people can make their own - you can hire a bartender if you’d be more comfortable, but we’re trying to keep this simple. I set out all the ingredients and recipes for traditional Mint Juleps, a vodka-based Lily Oaks drink, and my own twist: a Mint Julep Margarita (recipe is at the bottom of the blog post for you all!).
The other main item is totally up to you. The Kentucky Derby is known for its dress code, with women donning large, fancy hats or fasteners and the men dressed to the nines. We keep it loose - in our Facebook invitation, we simply say “wear your Derby best” and let people interpret it from there.
No matter what type of party you’re having, though, it’s a good idea to clearly explain the dress code. We’ve all been that person overdressed or underdressed at a party - save your guests that awkward feeling.
I’d say those are the primary aspects of any Derby Day party, but there’s so much more you can do. The Kentucky Derby is known as “The Run for the Roses,” so each year I typically buy a few from the grocery store or the local floral warehouse to accent the bar and food table. We also set up gambling games like Left, Right, Center, but some may choose to forgo this aspect of the day.
Planning Your Party
Right now we’re about 3 weeks from Derby Day, which is the latest I recommend you start planning any party you’re planning at home. The first step is choosing a date. If it’s a holiday this part is easy, but if you’re planning anything else, I recommend checking with a few friends to determine the best day. You’ll never make everyone happy, but this will help ensure at least a few people can come!
I recommend sending out invitations no later than 3 to 4 weeks before your event. Any later and it will be tough for your friends to accommodate. You should keep in mind the time of year (if it’s a pool party in the spring, have a backup plan for rain) and any major local events that may conflict with your day. Like this year our Derby party is competing with a beer festival.
Next, you should set a budget. This will look different for everyone, so just be sure you’re being realistic. List out the things you must have for your party and price them out. Is there any place you can make cuts? Can you craft some things on your own? Could your guests help bring food or liquor? You don’t need to spend hundreds to have a fun party. For our Derby party we ask our guests to bring food and/or alcohol to add to the cooler and relieve some of the burden.
Around three weeks before your party you should start planning the menu so you can shop ahead of time. For Derby Day we stick to southern-style foods and have our friends bring some of their favorites too. Anything you can cook and freeze ahead of time should be done about a week before your party.
About two weeks before your party, start to assemble your party supplies. For Derby Day I go with simple napkins and paper plates since the party is already so colorful. You can easily find cheap options online or even in the store. A few things you shouldn’t forget: places for trash and recycling (there are disposable ones on Amazon you can buy), extra soap for your bathrooms, and extra coolers.
One week before your party it’s time to do a deep clean. Put on your favorite podcast or playlist and start to go through all the clutter in your home. Focus on the big picture - then, a day or two before your party, you’ll go back through and do a final clean. Personally, I have someone come and clean the house.
Two days before your event you should be finishing up all the details: go on your final grocery run, start to re-arrange and decorate what you can, and cook some last minute dishes that can be refrigerated. The day before your event, buy your flowers, do your last clean, and prep any food that you’ll need to prepare the day of.
All of these steps should make for an easy day as you get ready for your party to start! You’ll just need to set everything out, heat food up, create any last minute dishes you need, and finalize the decorations. Then, you’re ready to party!
This timeline is a great tool for any home party you plan, whether it’s for the Fourth of July, Derby Day, or celebrating Cinco de Mayo the day after Derby Day this year (by the way, this Mint Julep Margarita is perfect for that party, too!).
Inspired to have your own Derby Day party this year? Tag @jleighevents on Instagram so we can see how it turned out and share! If you need more inspiration check out my Pinterest page.
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The J. Leigh Events team is expanding! This month we welcomed two new additions, both of whom happen to be named Sam. Head here to learn more about our new project manager, Sam Kimball, and our new event planner, Sam Poler.