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Day-to-day worries fade away, engaging conversation, one story leading to another, fits of laughter with tears streaming down the faces…

Most of you know that planning a great party takes much more than just good food. Here are some hints to help you on your way, that is, if you don’t want to go the route of getting an events organiser or caterer for the job, OR imagine… you’re in your own home throwing the dinner party of your life and everything is selected, prepared and provided by a professional chef.

1. Plan your countdown

  • Write it down! Plan ahead and be well organised.
  • Decide on the date and time for your party.
  • Decide on colour and theme for your table dressing.
  • Make a guest list with phone numbers.
  • List what you need to do with a do by date.
  • Do a little every day. Check off what you have done.
  • Write down a timetable for the day of the party.
  • Take inventory of your supplies before making your shopping list

2. Invitations

  • Your guests are your primary goal, think about compatibility, tastes, ages, and the ambiance.
  • Extend invitations one month in advance.
  • Calling is the easiest way to invite and you might get an immediate response. Determine if your guests have any food allergies or preferences. Give directions, if needed. Specify a dress code if necessary.
  • To the question, “What can I bring?” Accept offers to help, be specific of what you would like so that it does not distract from what you plan. Ask for wine or a certain course.
  • Send out special invites, by mail, e-mail or by sms, ask them to RSVP.

Want to go beyond the traditional invitation? E-vite your guests. At or . Fun! The sites send out customized invitations by e-mail and sets up a special Web page for your event, where you can keep track of who’s coming, who’s bringing what and much more.

3. The menu

  • Plan your meal with several courses. Keep different textures, food compatibility and colours in mind.
  • Choose recipes you have already tried and tested, don’t serve something that will not be a ‘hit’.
  • Work on 12 pieces of appetizers per person, times the number of people divided by the number of different appetizers. (When they are being served before a full dinner, halve the totals.)
  • Plan garnishes, this adds elegance to a dinner and makes for beautiful presentation.
  • Consider beverages and the wine to accompany each course and how much you will need. Don’t forget still and sparkling water – you will be surprised of how many enjoy this option.
  • Make a shopping list complete to the smallest detail in food, accessories, such as candles, napkins and beverages.

4. Shopping

Do your shopping well in advance and only leave fresh fruits and vegetables for the day before.

5. Preparation

  • Do as much ahead as possible. Do not leave many things to be done the day of the dinner party or you will be too exhausted to enjoy.
  • Clean, clean, clean! A clean, tidy house is not only welcoming, but you will feel more comfortable.
  • Check the linen – now is the time to do any pressing of cloths or table mats. Check and sort cutlery, give it a thorough polishing.
  • Make sure your guest toilet and bathroom is presentable, that there is enough toilet paper, hand wash and hand cream as well as hand towels, a dustbin and tissues.
  • Organise parking with your neighbours if guests have to park on the street. Get a security guard or let your gardener earn a little extra income by doing the job.
  • Consider food presentation: are you going to plate the main meals or will guests dish up for them.
  • Get enough ice, especially during summer.

6. Setting the table

  • Be creative. Type up your menu in French, Italian or Spanish. It is fun to see how guests try to determine the menu from the foreign language.
  • Have seating placards.
  • Make or get small take-home favours.
  • Set the table with your best crockery, glass stemware, tableware, table linens and napkins! This sets the mood for an elegantly dressed table.
  • Buy flowers. Create a low centrepiece so that everyone can see over, but be bold if it is a buffet.
  • Use candles to create ambiance. Light them just before everyone is seated.

7. On the day

  • Start preparations in the morning following your timetable, working through your menu methodically.
  • Prepare any salads, refrigerate, lightly covered. Prepare sauces, dishes etc so that you can enjoy a drink with your guests when they arrive (as opposed to slaving over a hot stove).
  • Add the last minute touches. Make sure all containers and plates are ready for action (hot food must be served on heated plates-this is not negotiable!)
  • Arrange the coffee tray on a starched tray cloth.
  • Delegate the drinks arrangements! Set out glasses, jugs, dishcloths, dishes for lemon, openers, insulated containers for ice.
  • Set thirty minutes to an hour aside before the party so you can get ready and relax before your guests arrive, get dressed and get gorgeous.
  • Set the mood – Chose soft mellow background music not to interfere with conversations.

8. The Party

  • Welcome your guests and show them in.
  • When introducing guests to each other, make sure to give a little background info, this gives some sort of conversation starter or ice-breaker.
  • Offer beverages. Serve snacks or appetizers soon after guests arrive. The first course after about 45 minutes to an hour later.
  • Apply finishing touches. Warm the plates if it is a hot meal. Light the candles.
  • Show guests to their places.
  • Dish up in warmed up dishes. Serve each course.
  • When plating up keep the rim of the plate clear of all food and garnishes. Serve women first, from the eldest to the youngest, and then serve the men, eldest to the youngest.
  • Serve food from the left; pick up empty plates from the right. Leave charger plates on the table
  • Tell your guests what each course is naming a few of the ingredients.
  • End with good coffee, offer warm and cold milk (when possible). As alternatives, have fresh herbal or fruit tea.
  • Don’t forget to take photo’s. It is the perfect party, but be careful not to go into a Hollywood filmshoot mode!
  • Relax and enjoy the process!

Try some of these websites for great ideas on menus and recipes:, http://busycooks.about.com,,

Wishing you a holiday, filled with the warmth of caring, the joy of togetherness, the love of friends and family…

and happy memories that linger long after the season is gone.

Heidi Meyer

Professional Organiser

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