Yes, as corny as it sounds, having a checklist and a timeline will make your party move smoothly through each phase, from preliminary shopping through prep work, set-up and finally the event, break down, and garbage disposal. The better your plan, the better your chances of success, though you’ll have to remain flexible for, as Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are worthless, planning is essential.”
All this planning has one simple reason: so that you have to enjoy your party! Nothing is worse than having a party that you can’t even attend because you are attending to all the details. Cut loose this year and make the party your party. Make sure to make time to enjoy yourself!
The first major element of any party plan that you’ll need to decide is what sort of food you might want to serve. Whether you want to keep it simple with a cheese plate and some strategically placed snacks (in which case you’ll only need to account for bowls, cocktail napkins, trash cans for the cocktail napkins, and a cheese board, cheese knifes, bread, fruit and crackers to go with the cheese) or a full seated dinner, having a plan will make it easier.
As you can see, a plan may include which bowl each snack goes in, or what is for each course for dinner. It should also include a timeline that allows you to not think about what you have to do during the party. A simple check of the timeline may tell you to put the roast in the oven at 7pm, and then the potatoes in at 7:30, with the carrots going in at 8, all to come out at 8:30 for the perfect entrée.
Cook food ahead of time
When planning your menu, focus on foods that can be prepared ahead and won’t need a lot of detail work or involved plating at service. The ideal foods are those that can be cooked ahead of time and can be served at room temperature or straight from the fridge. Some suggestions:
Get your prep done early
All this talk about easy-to-serve doesn’t mean you have to serve simple or boring foods. One of my favorite types of dishes to serve at my dinner parties are those that can be prepared earlier and then simply heated for service. These are frequently cooked in the oven, though there are exceptions. Some of my favorite dishes include:
Braised beans, especially cassoulet
Foods that can feed an army!
The last place to focus and save time is to prepare large dishes that can feed many people. This is also rather oven-dependent, so you’ll have to have a good plan that helps you allocate cooking space and time in your kitchen. I keep an outline about times and places -- which oven rack, which burner -- to ensure I stay on track. My plan actually goes much further, noting which platter will get used for which dish and I always keep a list of garnishes. You’d be surprised how often one forgets that last little step when in the middle of a great party. Add in a drink or two, and those details tend to fall right through the cracks.
Some dishes that can feed the masses are: