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The peak entertaining months are upon us! If you want to have parties without stress, it’s all about one word … planning. I’ve thrown countless parties over the years; everything from dinner for four to theme parties for 50, and thorough planning is the only thing that kept me from being a complete wreck one hour before my guests arrived. Here are some guidelines to keep you on track, so you too can actually enjoy your guests!

Prepare Task Lists ~ Depending on the complexity of your event, you will plan as little as one day ahead, or as far as a year ahead. Regardless of the length of time, task lists are a must to keep you on schedule right up to the time your first guest arrives. Determine what things need to be done, and at what intervals, including everything from shopping for decorations to garnishing your platters. Here’s an example of a list I would have written for one week prior to a cocktail party on a Saturday evening, preparing 10-12 dishes:

  • Saturday/Sunday: Make menu selections and plan decorations and serving set-up, prepare lists for food prep throughout the week
  • Monday/Tuesday: Shop and/or gather items for decorations and serving set-up
  • Wednesday: Grocery shop and begin food prep on dishes (think partial ingredients and sauces) that can be refrigerated or frozen ahead of time
  • Thursday: Continue food prep, clean house (or splurge on a housekeeper!)
  • Friday: Continue food prep, set tables
  • Saturday: Final food prep (in your favorite apron!), house touch-up

This is a very generalized list, and my actual lists would have specific food prep for each day, based on the menu items (for example: prepare sauces for crab cakes). If you have several dishes to prepare, look for choices that can be prepared (or partially prepared) ahead of time. This will keep your party day less hectic and assembly to a minimum. Also, have a variety of hot and cold items, and have your cold platters completely prepared and waiting in the fridge. Prepare your uncooked hot items ahead of time (if the recipe allows), and have them waiting in the fridge, right on the baking sheets, and ready to pop in the oven. Of course, this doesn’t work for all dishes, but the more you can have ready and waiting, the smoother your event will go. I even have a little cheat sheet with the temperatures and baking times for my hot items ~ no cookbooks on the counter! With this thorough planning, you too will be able to greet your guests as an organized and relaxed host!

If you have other tips for successful entertaining, please share them, because we can use all the help we can get this time of year!  Here’s a great article from Williams-Sonoma with tips for decorating your buffet table in style, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box.  Anything goes! : )

Happy Holidays!

~ Kathy

Design should be fun, not stressful!