Decide on a date and put together a guest list. Tara Wilson, an event planner and lifestyle consultant who has been featured on ABC, CBS and NBC, is an advocate of handwritten invitations when it comes to dinner parties. ''No Evites, please," says Wilson. ''You want your guests to feel special and pampered."
Invite your guests ,and begin planning your menu. As part of your hosting duties, you need to consider the dietary restrictions of your guests. Is anyone avoiding certain foods? Vegetarian? Gluten intolerant? Allergic to any foods? In addition to negotiating the sometimes sticky waters of who can eat what, determine how many courses you're going to serve. Remember, the more courses, the more formal the dinner party -- and the more dishes to wash.
Purchase or order the party supplies. Spring into action on all the specialty items you need for your party, including gourmet food items or cuts of meats, flower arrangements, particular wines and party favors.
Take inventory of your pantry and bar basics, noting what you need to purchase. Begin shopping for nonperishable food items as well as bar supplies. Wilson says that this is also the time to check in with any invited guests you have not heard back from and confirm their attendance.
Do the heavy advance work. To save a lot of stress the day of, spend a little time now on your party logistics. Give your house a good cleaning, move any heavy furniture that needs to be relocated, and prepare party favors. Finally, Wilson warns to confirm with vendors that the specialty items you ordered will be ready for pickup or delivered on time.
Prepare what you can. If you have recipes that can be made ahead of time, make them now. Likewise, mix, chop, combine or prepare any dry ingredients that will be used in your recipes. Once the basic food preparation is done, set your table with the place cards, dishes and decor (but not the fresh flowers).
Run the errands. You're almost there. This is the day to shop for grocery items and flowers, prepare food that can be refrigerated overnight, pick up needed items and plan out tomorrow's timeline and to-do list.
If you've followed the rest of the timeline, this day should be a stress-free cakewalk. Ok, well maybe not that easy, but manageable. The morning of, arrange the flowers and set up the bar area and coffee/tea service. Two to three hours prior, begin cooking, and chill the wine and champagne. With 15 minutes to go, light the candles, put on the music and, as Wilson says, ''Pour yourself a glass of wine and take a deep breath."
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