Holiday Party Planning in a Snap

For her annual holiday cookie exchange, Kimberly Notarianni loves to use the Web to streamline her planning. She signs on to Evite  to send her invitations and keep track of RSVPs, and she even sets it up to automatically generate thank-you notes after the gathering ends. "It makes everything so easy," says Notarianni, the mother of two from Fairfax, Va. "Every time someone responds, I get a notification in email. On the day before the party, the site will email a reminder to everyone. And when the party is over, I can upload pictures and send them with the thank you notes."

Party planning is even easier now, thanks to the cloud (the current Internet trend that offers Web-based services for your PC or mobile devices), which has gone way beyond the convenience of Evites. Check out these online resources to make every step of your own holiday party planning a snap:

    1.    Picking a Theme
    For your holiday get-together, first search theme ideas on the Web. "You could do 'fantasy and frost' with all snow and ice decorations," says Phyllis Cambria, who blogs about party planning and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Throwing a Great Party. "You can also do a wooden soldier theme from Babes in Toyland."

    Sites like Ehow also post videos that show you how to plan a holiday party for the office or your home. Or try Punchbowl, which offers tools for every phase of party planning. Various mobile device apps can also help you plan and manage your get-together, like Party Planner for the iPhone.

    2.    Inviting Your Friends
    The popular Evite has an assortment of holiday invitation designs you can send via its website or your mobile device. Competitors like Pingg offer artist-designed invites and allow you to connect them to your Facebook or Twitter account. Other services like Anyvite let you manage your invites on the go with your mobile device. Or just throw out the dated notion of invites altogether and simply create an Event via your Facebook profile and invite all your friends or only a few.

    3.    Making the Menu
    Whether you want to make prime rib with Yorkshire pudding or baked country ham and oyster pie, Epicurious and its mobile app offer holiday party menus for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Simple Soiree is a fun app that helps you plan your theme and menu, and send your invites using your iPhone or iTouch.

    You can also use the Web grocery store -- or make your list and check it twice. Big brands like Safeway and Bevmo deliver to Web shoppers, as do online-only outifts like Netgrocer And there are apps that will help you avoid getting in your car and waiting in long lines too. Check out MyWebGrocer to find grocery stores in your area that you can order from. If you want to peruse the quality of ingredients in person, then use your mobile device to search for an application like GroceryIQ, which lets you make a Web-based shopping list you can access from any online device or share your list with your party co-planners.

    4.    Decorating
    If you’re running out of steam, order your decorations online too using a site like Party411, iParty  or PartyCity, which carry everything from gold and silver foil bells to Santa costumes to holiday-themed party packs of matching plates, napkins and cups. Or just search the Web for "party supplies" to get started.

    5.    Playing Music
    You can customize the playlist for your fete through iTunes, where you can purchase “Jingle Bell Rock” by every artist from The Chipmunks to the Rat Pack. On the other hand, you can stream music or create a holiday music channel through a Web radio service like Pandora or Jango. You can stream the tunes through your PC or mobile device and blast it through your surround sound or home speakers. (Check our Pandora’s partner page for ideas.)

When planning a holiday party online, using the cloud will make your life so much simpler. "There is so much information out there," says party planner Cambria. "You start wondering how you ever planned a party without the Internet!"