How to throw a no-stress dinner or cocktail party, from The Art and Craft of Entertaining by Kimberly Kennedy
The secret to hosting a successful party is all about managing your time and staggering preparation. Rather than going crazy for the three days immediately preceding the party, make a detailed timetable of what you need to do before the event, then plot out when you can do it. The timeline here is specific to hosting a dinner party; nevertheless, many elements remain the same for a buffet or cocktail party. This should give you an idea of what can be done -- and when. Use it as a general outline for your own party.
One Month Out
- Plan your menu and drinks.
- Create your shopping lists: Grocery store lists for non-perishables, bar supplies, perishables, and last-minute items like ice.
- Wine or liquor store list.
- Craft and art store supplies for projects and other decorations.
- Inspect your plates, glasses, flatware, and serving pieces -- plan the look of your table, set a sample place setting to check if your idea works, and see if you need any additional items and purchase them.
Make (or buy) and send invitations.
Two Weeks Prior
- Shop for nonperishable food including dried and frozen ingredients.
- Buy wine and any other alcoholic beverages.
- Cook anything that can be made ahead and frozen in an ovenproof container, ready to be reheated on the day.
- Make favors.
One Week Before
- Wash any serving pieces, glasses, utensils, pitchers or plates that you have not used in a while.
- Assemble music or create a CD.
- Check or set up CD player or iPod.
- Plan where drinks will be served and where hors d'oeuvres will be set out.
Three Days Prior
- Prepare any part of the meal you can make in advance -- this includes any preliminary steps such as chopping or prep work that can save you time when cooking the meal.
- Clean the bathrooms and set out clean towels, new soap, and extra rolls of toilet paper.
- Set up the bar or drinks table.
The Day Before
- Buy perishable foods.
- Prepare food that can be refrigerated.
- Remove any dishes from the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator.
- Buy flowers and arrange them; if not using flowers, assemble the centerpiece.
- Decorate if using themed decorations.
- Set the dinner table; set out wine glasses and hors d'oeuvres serving pieces.
The Morning of the Party
- Shop for last-minute supplies such as ice and fresh bread.
- Chop and prepare salad ingredients and cover with a damp paper towel in the fridge.
The Afternoon of the Party
- Prepare the remaining salad ingredients and add to salad bowl.
- Make the dessert and bake if required.
- Make any hors d'oeuvres (if not made ahead and frozen, or store-bought).
- Spot-clean the kitchen.
- Do last-minute bathroom check.
Two Hours Before
- Finish final dessert preparations.
- Place cheese and crackers on a platter (if using bread, do not set out until later).
- Fill coffeepot with water and set up the filter and coffee.
- Preheat the oven.
One Hour Before
- Bake or reheat hors d'oeuvres.
- Open the wine, recork it, and chill white wine in an ice bucket.
- Begin cooking or reheating main course.
15 Minutes Before Guests Arrive
- Arrange hors d'oeuvres on platters; light candles; start music.
When the Guests Arrive
- Greet guests at door, take coats, and offer them a glass of wine.
- If needed, remove main course from oven and let rest 20 minutes.
15 Minutes Before Dinner
- Remove the salad from refrigerator.
- Heat and slice the bread, place bread in basket on table.
- Fill water glasses.
- Add dressing to salad and toss.
- Place salad on the dinner table
- Start the coffee brewing.
- Remove salad and place main course on dinner table.
- Refill water and wine glasses and offer second helpings.
After the Main Course
- Remove plates; serve dessert; offer coffee or tea.
- Suggest that everyone retire to more comfortable surroundings such as the family room.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lifestyle contributor to CBS's The Early Show and author of The Art and Craft of Entertaining (Copyright © 2005 by Kimberly Kennedy), Kimberly Kennedy is the former owner of two home-based businesses -- catering and handmade baby treasures -- as well as the winner of the television competition Wickedly Perfect. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, Todd, and their little dog, Sadie.