By Real Simple
Updated March 10, 2008
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Credit: Marcus Nilsson

Follow these steps and you'll be ready for your guests in three hours or less. To download a complete shopping list, go to the Stress Less Dinner Party Shopping List.

3 Hours Before Dinner

  • Make room for coats in a closet or on a bed.
  • Clear the coffee and side tables (stow magazines and books in a closet), and plump the pillows.
  • Put out clean towels and a scented candle in the bathroom.
  • Arrange the flowers (for ideas, see flowers).
  • Set the table (for ideas, see table-setting and atmosphere)

2 Hours Before Dinner

  • Prepare and roast the chickens.
  • Chill white wines in the refrigerator and uncork reds.
  • Wash the salad greens and make the vinaigrette (but don't combine the two yet).
  • Make and refrigerate the whipped cream, and crumble the meringue cookies for the dessert.

    45 Minutes Before Dinner
  • Wash 4 pints of strawberries and arrange them in a bowl so guests can nibble on them before dinner.
  • Make the green beans.
  • Make the rice pilaf.

    10 Minutes Before Dinner
  • Prepare the pan drippings.