Planning a dinner party can be a laborious task, so it’s important to go into it with an effective plan and clever tips to ease the cost and effort involved.

Invite guests
Entertaining party guests is the core concept of any dinner party, so my first order of business is to send out invitations to potential guests. I will decide if it will be a large, family-friendly gathering, or a more formal adults-only dinner. When people confirm that they are coming, I will then ask if they have any allergies or aversions. The first time I catered a dinner to the winners of a silent auction, I arrived planning to serve scallops to discover there was a guest with a severe seafood allergy. Off to the store I ran to pick out a fish to substitute! I find that I enjoy it when guests have different requirements for me to work around; it makes planning the menu more of a challenge.

Create The Menu
A dinner party isn’t a dinner party without a fabulous dinner. Once my guests have responded to my invitations with their food preferences, it’s time to plan the menu. If I’m cooking for a bunch of adults and children, I will plan on serving some family friendly appetizers, main dishes that are easy to serve, and a dessert that kids love such as s’mores. For an all-adult crowd, I prefer the challenge of a multi-course plated meal. I like to choose a theme for my dinner party. Having a theme helps me with menu planning: the food I serve should match with the theme to help immerse your guests in the festivities and add to their enjoyment. I’ll even make playlists on Spotify or Pandora to complement the theme. I try to serve at least an appetizer, a main dish with sides, and a dessert. Frequently, I’ll throw some more courses in. As I plan, I will see what is on sale at the store arounds me and include any local, seasonal ingredients I can snag. With the menu ready to go, I choose a cocktail to match the food I plan to serve so that it compliments the meal. Then I select wines or beers to go with each course.

Buy The Supplies
Once I’ve set the menu and theme, I’ll make a detailed shopping list. To make shopping more efficient, I will organize my list by sections of the store such as “produce,” “dairy,” and “meat.”  I don’t like to shop the day of the dinner; I prefer to have everything at home already so I can start prepping first thing. Simultaneously to making the shopping list, I will look at each dish I am making and make a schedule for when to do each step. It’s not a good feeling to discover a few hours before the party that a recipe requires an overnight rest!

Early Preparation
I prep as much of the meal as I can the days before the party. This can be making a dish ahead of time that I can be store in the freezer or in the refrigerator, or simply prepping ingredients to have them ready for cooking the next day. Sometimes I will decorate my house with the party theme decorations in the days leading up to the event to ensure that I’m not trying to do everything on the same day. I’ll even set the table the night before, so that the day of the dinner I can focus of the main attraction: the food.

With all the preparation I’ve done ahead of time, the day of the dinner should be relatively easy. I simply move through the steps on the task list I made and check them off. I try to finish all of those items before the guests arrive so I can clean up and greet them at the door with a cocktail. Then it’s time to enjoy their company and some great food.