Behind the Scenes: Dinner for 14 – Day 1

This coming Saturday evening Jeff and I are hosting dinner for 14 at our house.  I realize that scares some people, but it absolutely energizes me.  I love all the activity in the days leading up to the dinner almost as much as I love spending time with friends around my table!

The key to successful entertaining is planning.  So yesterday was Day 1 of the process – the day Jeff and I sit down to plan.  When we plan we make multiple lists.  To produce our lists we ask ourselves (and each other) several questions, including:

  • What projects do we want to complete around the house before the event?  In this case, we [actually I] wanted to paint the powder room.  It hadn’t been painted since we moved in and had only one sprayed-on coat of builder grade paint; so it badly needed to be spruced up.  Fortunately on Black Friday I convinced Jeff to take the pedestal sink and toilet tank out of the room so I could paint while he was out for the evening.  That was one project we could check off our list before the planning even began!
  • What do we want to do in terms of cleaning?  We take a virtual walk through each room and write down specifics for this question and the previous question.  For example on our list for this week:  “Master Bedroom: patch holes and touch up paint (Jeff recently hung a flat panel t.v. on the wall and there were some holes from the old connections), dust ceiling fan, dust and vacuum.”
  • Is there anything (besides groceries) that we need to borrow/purchase for the event?  For our dinner on Saturday, I want to set the table with a silver and white theme so I am borrowing china from my mom.  And I don’t have enough white napkins so I am going to buy a few more.  (White cloth napkins are always a good investment – they can be used for almost any occasion).
  • What are we going to serve?  We plan the menu from appetizer to dessert, including beverages.  We try to do some easy recipes and some more complicated recipes with a balance of items that can be made ahead (in part or in full) and items that need last-minute attention.  That way we’re not wearing ourselves out in the kitchen on the day of the party!
  • After we ask ourselves all the questions above, we lay out a schedule for each day of the week leading up to the event – writing in the tasks we will do each day.  We also include in our schedule personal appointments and work so that we don’t over-schedule on any of the days.
  • Finally, we put together our grocery list so that when one of us does the shopping (typically our approach to entertaining is “divide and conquer”) we know exactly what we need.  We begin with the list we made of the things we going to serve.  We look at each recipe and determine if we need to multiply it and, if so, by how much.  One of use usually reads off the necessary ingredients while the other is in the kitchen looking to see what we have vs. what we need. We also consider if an ingredient will be used in multiple recipes and, if so, we calculate the total of the ingredient we will need overall so that we’re not trying to do these calculations while we’re shopping.  Finally, I get a little crazy and arrange the grocery list into categories so that all like items are together – for example, all dairy products in one section of the list, all produce in another, etc.

Once the planning is done, there is no guessing what we should be doing – we have a schedule, we know who will do each task, and we can operate individually and efficiently!  Of course, sometimes we forget things and we have to revise the schedule; but after many years of working together, we have a system that works really well for us.

Day One – Sunday, 11/25 – Planning – Check!  We are off and running…