Tech Talk: You've Gotta Fight for Your Right to Paaaaar-taaaaay (in a stress-free manner)!

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When my husband and I were getting ready to celebrate our 15th anniversary, we wanted to celebrate with our friends. We decided to have a big pool party and cookout at our home, and we invited friends from church, work, and our homeschool co-op to celebrate with us. I arranged it all via email, and had a general instruction on the invitation: BOYB & a side dish, and we’ll provide the main meal. It was a big success, and we had about three dozen people, including a pool full of kids who splashed around all afternoon. The next year, we decided to have a Sweet Sixteen Anniversary party, but I didn’t want to try to keep track of everyone’s emails and make paper lists (which always seem to get lost somewhere in the house).

I did a search for online invitations, and discovered there were a few, but one in particular caught my eye: Socializr. It was free, had neat interactive invitations, and kept track of all of our party guests’ responses for us! Years later, it was renamed Punchbowl, and the options multiplied! I’ve been using this site ever since that Sweet Sixteen anniversary for our parties because it makes planning incredibly easy! They’ve also added an iPhone app to the mix to make planning on the go easier, too.

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Let me tell you about how I do our annual anniversary party. Punchbowl usually sends me a reminder in mid-July to say, “Hey, you had this party last year. Is this an annual thing that you want to do again?” That’s pretty cool, if you ask me. You can set up reminders for annual events, but birthday parties and the like tend to default to that. (If you start an invitation and don’t finish it or send it, Punchbowl also emails you about that.)

I go online and select the invitation I want to use. From there, I can customize the interior of the virtual envelope, as well as the stamp on the outside and the wording on the envelope. I set up the details of the event within the online form, add a message for RSVP deadline, and then get ready to add my guest list.

We tend to wind up inviting more and more people every year to our anniversary party (we’re kind of Hobbity that way), and in order that we don’t forget anyone, I use the “past events” option when adding guests. The first year we used the site, I created a list of contacts and exported it to the site, but after that I could simply select from the people we’d invited before and add as necessary. We can add guests without email, as well as send the link to the invitation to guests who can’t access the site from work or even get the invitations at all. You can even share the invitation link via Facebook and Twitter, as well. (Note: Click through on the images below to see full-sized versions.)

I have started to set up a potluck list in recent years, not because I worry about what people are bringing, but because enough people ask what they can bring or want to know what others are  bringing. I’m not trying to be rude, I just don’t want to have to think about that part of things — for me, not worrying about sides and drinks makes planning our annual shindig that much easier easier. I get burgers, hot dogs, beer brats, and – this year – pork butt to smoke, as well as all the buns, plates, and other sundries needed for your basic cookout. After handling all of that, I don’t mind what anyone brings as long as they like it.

There’s an option to add a map link to your invitation for guests who haven’t been to your home before, as well as donation requests and the ability to link to an online gift registry. If you’re using this for a baby shower or bridal shower, these are awesome options to make use of. There’s also an option to use a message board between guests, in case people have questions or comments.

Once I set up the invitation and get the guest list set, I can customize the email message everyone receives. Then all that’s left to do is to send off the emails! Don’t worry if you think you’ve forgotten someone. You can always add more people to the list later.

Once your guests receive their emails, they click on the link to “open” it and RSVP at the Punchbowl site. When they do this, they can also put down family members who will be attending, including age groups (adult, child, infant) so you have a good idea of a headcount for food. You can allow guests to pass on the invitation (or not), as well as a myriad of other options.

Punchbowl will email you when guests respond or leave messages on the message board, and you can go in and manage the invitation at any time, changing responses for people (which I do if some folks have trouble with the email invitation), adding more guests, and even emailing people with more information. (You can email in various combinations based on responses— Yes, No, Undecided, Unread.) When you log in to mange the invitation (both online and in-app), you immediately see your current events/invitations, and when you click for details, you see your RSVP status broken down for you. You’re able to sort through your guests to see who’s coming and who’s not.

One of my favorite things is the ability to set up a reminder email ahead of time, so that up to a week before the event, you can have everyone receive an email from Punchbowl with the details of the party. That way, anyone who hasn’t responded will get one last reminder to RSVP, and everyone else will get a reminder to look for that side dish they’re supposed to bring.

When your party is over, you can set up a poll for your guests to get feedback, and Punchbowl automatically asks you if you’d like to send a thank you email to everyone who came. Between the automatic emails and all of the tools for party planning and contacting your guests, Punchbowl is the best thing I’ve found for stress-free party planning!

Punchbowl is my go-to planner for our annual party — a party that grown to around 50 guests! I use it for my girls’ birthday parties and other get-togethers throughout the year, as well. It takes all the stress out of the planning stage so you can concentrate that stress on the cleaning stage. (If I ever find an app that cleans up for a party, that’ll be my next Tech Talk column!!)

Now, I can take all the time in the world to talk about this app and online event planner, but it’s way better to play around with it than just to read about it. I’ve set up a tester invitation for our CatholicMom.com readers to play around with, at least from the guest side of things. If you go here, you will find an invitation to a coffee date with our esteemed editorial staff here at CatholicMom.com. Unfortunately, this coffee date won’t actually happen, but you can see the site, use the link to RSVP, and play with some of the features your guests will see when you send out invitations. Have a good time, and let me know what you think! And don’t forget to RSVP, even if we’re not really doing it. Leave messages on the event, as well as here on this post. Let’s have some fun playing around with Punchbowl!

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Punchbowl is free to use, though there are a few upgrade options available for a fee. All of the important things will work on the free site, though: invitations, most customizations, potluck lists, guest tracking, and more. All of the setup and tracking can also be done through the new app, as well.

Read more of our Tech Talk columns.

Copyright 2015 Christine Johnson
All image copyright 2015 Christine Johnson. All rights reserved.

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About Author

Christine Johnson has been married to Nathan since 1993 and has two daughters whom she homeschools. They live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia, where she tries to fit in as a transplanted Yank. She blogs at Domestic Vocation about her life as a wife, mother, homeschooler, and Lay Dominican.

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