Make-Ahead Dinner Party Timeline

Follow this check-it-off guide for a memorable, stress-free evening.

3 Weeks Before

  1. Check Invite guests.

    Six to eight is generally a manageable number. “E-mailed notes are fine,” says Catherine Newman, Real Simple’s etiquette columnist. “Just make clear that it’s an intimate evening rather than a giant soiree so you get timely responses.” The following wording should do the trick: “Please let us know if you can come—fingers crossed!—by the end of the week so that we can plan accordingly.”

  2. Check Assess your furniture and tabletop needs.

    Check that you have enough chairs, place settings, and glasses. If necessary, purchase or borrow the missing pieces.

2 Weeks Before

  1. Check Choose the music.

    For maximum simplicity, opt for a whole album rather than a playlist. Think low-key tunes that are atmospheric but not intrusive. Leah Greenblatt, a senior editor at Entertainment Weekly, suggests the following: If you like country, try the Zac Brown Band’s Uncaged or the Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow. If you like pretty alternative-pop, try Lianne La Havas’s Is Your Love Big Enough? or Jessie Baylin’s Little Spark. If you like folk and blues, try Michael Kiwanuka’s Home Again.

  2. Check Think about drinks.

    Serving one cocktail, like the Vermouth Spritzer, eliminates the pressure of playing bartender. Round out your offerings with one crowd-pleasing red, like a Montepulciano; one white, like a Viognier; one lager-style beer; and something nonalcoholic and festive, like sparkling cider.

1 Week Before

  1. Check Buy nonperishables.

    Pick up pantry basics and long-lasting foods, plus any candles or extras that you might need.

  2. Check Buy wine, beer, and liquor.

    Plan on 1/2 bottle of wine per person. For beer, count on 2 to 3 bottles per person. (If your crowd has mostly teetotalers—or just the opposite—adjust your calculations accordingly.)

3 Days Before

  1. Check Buy perishables.

  2. Check Gather serving platters and utensils.

    Write the name of each recipe on a sticky note and place the note on its assigned dish.

  3. Check Make the croutons for the winter greens salad.

    Store them at room temperature in an airtight container. Get the Winter Greens With Fennel and Croutons recipe.

2 Days Before

  1. Check Buy flowers.

    Two days is enough time for blooms to unfold and look their prettiest. To speed up the process, place cut ends in warm water.

  2. Check Choose your outfit.

  3. Check Clean the house (if necessary).

    Dust bunnies or toys strewn about? Get to work. Otherwise a quick spot-cleaning the day of the party is fine.

  4. Check Make the cake.

    Store it at room temperature, tightly wrapped. Get the Lemon Buttermilk Cake With Pistachio Ice Cream recipe.

1 Day Before

  1. Check Decide on a seating plan.

    Alternating men and women is always a good idea. Also, try putting friends at the heads of the table with you in the middle.

  2. Check Set the table and arrange the flowers.

    Stash an extra vase nearby in case you receive flowers as a gift.

  3. Check Season and tie the pork.

    Refrigerate, covered. Get the Herb-Roasted Pork Shoulder recipe.

  4. Check Make the polenta (but do not bake).

    Refrigerate, covered. Get the Creamy Baked Parmesan Polenta recipe.

  5. Check Make the dressing and prep the lettuces for the winter greens salad.

    Refrigerate separately, covered.

  6. Check Steam the carrots and make the lemon mixture.

    Refrigerate separately, covered. Get the Carrots With Spicy Olive-Lemon Oil recipe.

6 Hours Before

  1. Check Make room in the closet for guests’ coats.

    Check to make sure that you have enough hangers. Or neaten up your bed (and bedroom) so it can act as a coat repository.

  2. Check Tidy up.

    Grab a dust cloth and a garbage bag and attack four key spots: the entryway, the first-floor bathroom, the living room, and the dining room.

  3. Check Assemble the pizzette (but do not bake).

    Refrigerate, covered. Get the Mushroom Pizette recipe.

  4. Check Refrigerate the white wine and club soda.

  5. Check Set up a coffee station.

    Put out cups and saucers, refill the sugar bowl, and load the coffeemaker so that all you’ll need to do is push the on button when dinner is over.

3 Hours Before

  1. Check Roast the pork.

  2. Check Run the dishwasher—and empty it.

    Take out the kitchen trash and clear the counters as much as possible, too.

1 Hour Before

  1. Check Get dressed.

    Inevitably someone will be early.

  2. Check Open the wine.

1/2 Hour Before

  1. Check Bake the pizzette.

Just Before Guests Arrive

  1. Check Bake the polenta.

  2. Check Light the candles and turn on the music.

    Pour yourself a drink while you’re at it.

Just Before the Meal

  1. Check Warm the carrots.

  2. Check Toss the salad.

  3. Check Carve the pork.