I have been known in the past for being a raging lunatic about an hour before event time, trying to make everything perfect before the guests arrive. Thank goodness I don’t get that worked up anymore. Years of experience and learning from trial and error have taught me: If I plan enough beforehand, everything will come together with little stress.
Perfect party planning begins with a full list of everything that needs to get done before the event. Absolutely everything should go on the list because it is important for time management. Things like cleaning spots on wine glasses, filing away the mail on the table, moving tables and putting out extra chairs, searching for tablecloths, napkins, dishes and serving ware, food shopping, cleaning and lawn work should all be on there to make sure you have the time for everything that you need to get done.
After the list is complete, I usually plan about a week out and just make a schedule of what I can get done each day. I do this on paper and put it on the fridge so it’s easily accessed and in plain sight to remind me. I save only food that has to be prepared last minute for the day of the party, and also leave time for primping myself. I have to be picture ready!
When the schedule is all set, I pull out my menu that has been planned for weeks or even months and list all ingredients that are needed. This is a great tool if you are cooking for a crowd, because you can combine quantities and see if you can save at a big box store and buy in bulk. I usually end up buying cheese and produce in bulk. Double and triple check the ingredient items and set the paper list aside for the day assigned for shopping. Paper here is also better because there are a crazy number of items to buy and marking them off in the store is very helpful. Sort the list by store first.
For the day of the party I make a time schedule for the oven and last minute things that always come up. Yes, timing things in the oven and toaster/convection oven is necessary because you want everything done before guests arrive, and some things cook at different temperatures. Do the best you can, and worse case, some items can be covered with foil until they are needed. Also make sure you leave time for table arrangement and time for longer tasks like peeling potatoes or decorating a cake.
During my gatherings, I don’t want guests to feel like they have to clean a dish or clean up. I do that when everyone leaves and I clean at my own pace. A tip for large quantities of dishes is to buy a couple large plastic restaurant bins to pile in dirty dishes. The filled bins can be placed in a laundry room or garage to keep them out of site until after everyone has gone. Don’t be afraid of using good quality disposable plates to save time either.
I use these planning tips for gatherings of 4 to 50 people and it really does lead to stress free partying. Planning allows the host to enjoy the party and the guests to enjoy a pleasant host. Happy Holidays!