Step 1: Choose a theme. Example: street food.
Step 2: Assemble a team. Even if you think you have every skill set (you don’t), you won’t have time to manage everything. Not great with beverages? Or decor? Recruit friends who are. Doing multiple courses? Find a sous chef to be your partner in crime.
Step 3: Choose a date. Ideally at least four weeks ahead. Schedule wisely. Don’t plan it on your best friend’s birthday. And then ask him to be your sous chef. ON his birthday. My bad, Matt. I owe you one.
Step 4: Create and test a menu. Unless you want to run the risk of serving shitty food or drinks, test everything before your party. Have a few friends over to be your guinea pigs. Bribe them with free food and drinks. If I didn’t practice this, I would have served toothpaste-chalk flavored “peppermint chocolate” cocktail shit drinks at my last party (BuzzFeed, you asshole).
Step 5: find a clever way to send invitations. Make a website. Hand deliver paper invitations. Evite or Paperless Post will do the job, but try something that will make your party stand out. Include your menu on the invitation. It will make you look legit.
Step 6: if you’re asking guests to chip in OR fundraising for a charity, collect money in advance. Venmo, Eventbrite, and PayPal are all great options. Nothing is more awkward than running around and asking guests for money during dinner. And inevitably, someone will forget. Collecting in advance also confirms attendance and makes guests less likely to no-show.
Step 7: think about plasticware. If your party is intimate and you own enough silver, plate, and glassware, then you’re set. Maybe consider buying nice paper napkins. If your guest list is large, go the plasticware route. Party stores have decent, cheap options that are nicer than the Dixie-brand-esq stuff at Target. Yeah, it’s wasteful, but you’ll thank yourself later when you’re washing pots and pans, platters, and well, the whole house.
Step 8: make a shopping list. Once you have a head count (ideally at least one week ahead), reduce it by 10%. A few people will undoubtedly be sick or find better plans (but this is a killer dinner party, so they’re missing out). Write down every single ingredient on a list. Figure out how many of each you will need given recipes and headcount. Go through your menu again. Think about garnishes or things you may have forgotten, and add them to your list. Check it twice.
Step 9: prep your shopping list. Organize it by perishables and nonperishables. If you shop at multiple grocery stores like I do, organize by store as well. Move any perishable ingredients you may need to use a few days in advance onto the nonperishable list (for instance, meats that require marinating). Check your list twice.
Step 10: go shopping. Buy nonperishables one week in advance. Buy perishables the day before.
Step 11: prep as much as you fucking can. Seriously. It will make the big dayso much easier. Break down your menu into ingredients that can be prepped before assembling the final product. Icing for that cake can probably be made two days ahead and thrown in the fridge. The same goes for tomato sauce for pizza or marinade for meats. Set aside the evening before to do literally everything that can’t be done the next day. Most desserts can be made the night before. Most things that can be heated up and retain its texture and flavor, like quiches or soup, can as well.
Step 12: buy your breads in the morning. Unless you’re baking your own breads (props if you are), place an order at your favorite local bakery a few days ahead — these breads will taste much better than the shitty stuff most chain groceries carry and your guests will taste the difference. The morning of, go as soon as they open. Pick up your order and throw in a few coffees and pastries to preemptively thank your team for the long day they have ahead.
Step 13: clean the house. Yes, in about 12 hours your floor will be home to sticky cocktail casualties and your bathroom will inevitably harbor leftover plates of food, but parties are all about appearances. Put in an hour and make your place look good.
Step 14: pour yourself a glass of wine. At this point you should probably start drinking.
Step 15: if you don’t have a playlist yet, create or find one. Pick a mood for your party and let that be the theme. Spotify has a great selection. If you’re feeling adventurous, throw on some music for the prep that’s about to go down.
Step 16: prep everything else. Everything. Salad has sliced onion? Slice that shit. Pizza has sautéed mushrooms? Sautée those bad boys. Put them in bowls or tupperware and toss them in the fridge until you need them.
Step 17: prep the house. If dinner is a seated affair, set the table. If not, set up plates and dining ware, ideally in a way that looks fancy. Put out carafes or pitchers of water. People gotta hydrate.
Step 18: have another drink. Things are about to get crazy.
Step 19: meet with your team. Figure out who’s doing what. If you have enough pals, tag-team it so everyone doesn’t have to work the entire night.
Step 20: cook. Assemble what needs to be assembled. Reheat as necessary. Depending on your menu, this should happen about an hour or less before dinner time. If dessert was made the night before, I like to prep it about now so that once dessert-o-clock comes around, your guests can indulge at a moments notice.
Step 21: have a fucking awesome party. You’ve done everything you need to do. The stage is set. Two people have arrived on time, and the rest a half hour later. Have fun—that’s why you’re doing this, right?