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Hosting around the holidays can be a huge undertaking, especially if you're planning a dinner party. Between creating a menu, stocking up on fun games for the group, and decorating your space, this sort of occasion requires a lot of hands-on planning.
Don't get overwhelmed; get organized! By following a dinner party checklist, you can stay on top of all your to-dos.
According to Renee Patrone Rhinehart, the founder of Party Host Helpers, there are several boxes to check off as you plan your dinner party from start to finish. Here, she breaks down her foolproof dinner party checklist, so you can feel confident at every step of your hosting journey.
Finalize your guest list and menu
Before you rush to Pinterest and start creating your dream menu for your dinner party, Patrone Rhinehart recommends first confirming how many people are coming, if they have any allergies or dietary restrictions, and whether or not they’re bringing a dish. It can be helpful to use online services like Evite or Paperless Post to track RSVPs and send event reminders.
From here, you can plan a realistic dinner menu for a group by assessing what ingredients you already have on hand, what drinks you'll be serving, and if there are any special supplies you'll need to buy (e.g., shatterproof glasses, compostable plates, extra flatware, etc.).
Shop for groceries and supplies
Once you've finalized your guest list, make sure that your menu will comfortably feed all of those people by shopping accordingly.
“You want to avoid the last-minute rush and the risk of running out of something,” says Patrone Rhinehart. “You can shop online or in person, but try to do it early in the week to beat the crowds.”
Another pro tip: Order ahead. Some items, like a turkey, ham, or dessert, can be ordered days, sometimes more, in advance, so all you have to do is pick up the goods when the time comes.
Make some dishes ahead of time
While we’re on the subject of planning ahead, Patrone Rhinehart suggests choosing menu items that can be prepared in advance.
“You want to save time and stress on the day of the party,” she says, adding, “You can chop, peel, and measure some ingredients and store them in zip-top bags or containers.”
After prepping, you can freeze or refrigerate certain dishes until the day of the party, when they can be baked or reheated with little clean-up needed. Soups, casseroles, pies, and cookies are all good make-ahead items.
Clean and organize your space
If you’re hosting a dinner party, sprucing up your space so that it feels inviting and comfortable for your guests is crucial.
Patrone Rhinehart advises doing a deep clean of your home — but you can split up the work. Earlier in the week, get your vacuuming, dusting, and bathroom scrubbing done. Leave light cleaning, “such as wiping, sweeping, and fluffing,” for the day before or the day of the party.
If you need to create more space and seating, Patrone Rhinehart suggests rearranging furniture. You can take chairs, footrests, and side tables from elsewhere in your home to ensure that everyone can pull up a seat or put their drink down in the main entertaining area.
Set up and decorate the table
Your table is the focal point of the party’s decor; it’s where everyone dines and makes memories. How lavishly you decorate will ultimately depend on your budget and taste. Still, Patrone Rhinehart stresses the importance of creating a festive and elegant table setting for your guests — whatever that means to you.
“You can use a tablecloth, a runner, placemats, napkins, plates, utensils, glasses, and candles to dress up your table,” she says. “You can also add some centerpieces, such as flowers, fruits, ornaments, or wreaths, to match your theme.”
Plan entertainment and activities
Dinner might be the main event, but you also want to keep your guests entertained before and after you eat.
Patrone Rhinehart suggests breaking out the Bluetooth speaker and playing background music that suits the mood and the occasion. It's also a good idea to prepare some games, quizzes, trivia, or karaoke for your guests to enjoy. If you want to take it a step further, you can buy cheap gifts as prizes for winners or participants — this will add some excitement and also give guests a fun memento of the night.
Hire help (if you need it)
This tip is an honorable mention, not a requirement. But if you need an extra hand to ensure that your event runs smoothly, hiring a party planner is always an option. This is a smart move if you're hosting a lot of people for a special occasion and are concerned that you'll miss out on the best parts of the night being stuck washing dishes.
Hiring someone to look after the specifics offers the best of both worlds. As Patrone Rhinehart puts it, "You can finally enjoy hosting without the stresses that can come with it.”
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