I love entertaining! From casual backyard picnics to formal dinner parties, sharing a meal is my favorite way to build and strengthen relationships, both personal and professional. Hosting a dinner party can seem overwhelming but my 5 tips for easily setting up a dinner party will make sure you are able to enjoy your guests and relax through the final preparations.
1. Create a Timeline
This is probably the most important tip on the list! Take the time to layout the entire process. Many food websites include how far in advance recipes can be made and when they need final assembly. An example of a simple timeline can be found in this White Christmas* menu from Bon Appétit’s 2008 holiday magazine. (pictured above)
Some things to consider when making your timeline are what oven temperatures are needed for what amounts of time? Is there any item that can be started or completely made a day before or in the early morning or afternoon? How long will it take to cut, chop, or assemble ingredients and dishes.
Because I’m a tad OCD, I make sure to add in time for a shower and to get dressed. I even include trips to the market and when I plan to pick up flowers. This may seem a bit silly, all things considered, but nothing is worse than needing to dry your hair while also needing to put together your appetizers.
2. Pre-Set the Table
This is super-easy to check off your list early. By doing this very early, you won’t be surprised by a stain on your tablecloth or if you are missing a napkin ring. This is also something that can be delegated to your partner or children.
For the formal place setting diagram, just leave off any items you don’t need like a soup spoon or if you are only using one wine glass. For centerpieces, I love to have tons of candlelight.
Sandra Lee paved the way for us to take store bought items and amp them up. This can save huge amounts of time and hassle. Plus, using some pre-prepared items can save money from buying ingredients to do everything from scratch.
My favorite trick is to add fresh herbs to make something taste homemade like adding cilantro and lime zest to salsa or basil in pasta sauce.
I use this tip most in appetizers. I like simple nibbles for hors d’oeuvres ~ some fruits and cheeses, crackers and salami. I love this roasted olive recipe from Williams Sonoma.
4. Choose Menu Items that can be Made in Advance.
Can your sauces, marinades, or dressings be made the day before? Can a gratin or layered casserole be fully assembled and just tossed in the oven to bake? Can some items be cooked in advance and reheated or served room temperature? Desserts are often one of the easiest to make in advance.
This tip also falls under making a timeline.
5. Don’t Try Any New Dishes
This is not the time to see if you can master making Challah or if you can fry a turkey. I don’t have many thoughts to expand on this one, just make sure you have a practice run before your main event.
6. Bonus Tip! Hire staff
Hiring serving staff can be very affordable and will remove the stress from you having to clear plates or refill wine glasses. Also, staff will wash your dishes and load your dishwasher. Make sure to communicate how and when you want everything served and if you have chosen specific wines for different courses.
Finally, relax and enjoy a glass of wine with your friends.