Real Simple Recipes Cooking Tips & Techniques Food Preparation Make-Ahead Dinner Party Timeline Make-Ahead Dinner Party Timeline Follow this check-it-off guide for a memorable, stress-free evening. Advertisement Save FB Tweet ellipsis More Pinterest Mail Email iphone Send Text Message Print Image zoom Sears Checklist 3 Weeks Before 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.” 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 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. 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 Buy nonperishables. Pick up pantry basics and long-lasting foods, plus any candles or extras that you might need. 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 Buy perishables. Gather serving platters and utensils. Write the name of each recipe on a sticky note and place the note on its assigned dish. 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 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. Choose your outfit. 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. Make the cake. Store it at room temperature, tightly wrapped. Get the Lemon Buttermilk Cake With Pistachio Ice Cream recipe. 1 Day Before 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. Set the table and arrange the flowers. Stash an extra vase nearby in case you receive flowers as a gift. Season and tie the pork. Refrigerate, covered. Get the Herb-Roasted Pork Shoulder recipe. Make the polenta (but do not bake). Refrigerate, covered. Get the Creamy Baked Parmesan Polenta recipe. Make the dressing and prep the lettuces for the winter greens salad. Refrigerate separately, covered. Steam the carrots and make the lemon mixture. Refrigerate separately, covered. Get the Carrots With Spicy Olive-Lemon Oil recipe. 6 Hours Before 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. 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. Assemble the pizzette (but do not bake). Refrigerate, covered. Get the Mushroom Pizette recipe. Refrigerate the white wine and club soda. 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 Roast the pork. Run the dishwasher—and empty it. Take out the kitchen trash and clear the counters as much as possible, too. 1 Hour Before Get dressed. Inevitably someone will be early. Open the wine. 1/2 Hour Before Bake the pizzette. Just Before Guests Arrive Bake the polenta. Light the candles and turn on the music. Pour yourself a drink while you’re at it. Just Before the Meal Warm the carrots. Toss the salad. Carve the pork.