It's always difficult to get the timing right when preparing to entertain, so why not plan out a timetable:
- Two weeks ahead
Order more dining chairs if you think you might be short. If you've been thinking about getting a new dining set or sofa suite, why not invest in it now rather than waiting until after your guests have been, especially if you need more seating than you currently have.
If you're holding a barbecue or outdoor party, tidy up the garden, add some outdoor pots and wipe down the barbecue and garden furniture. Colourful lamps and candles are an inexpensive way to brighten up your outdoor and indoor spaces.
- A week ahead
Plan your menu, starting with the main course, and try out any dishes you haven't made before. Make sure you're aware of guests' special dietary requirements and choose some dishes you can make in advance and freeze. Shop for dry foods, such as rice and pasta, as well as drinks, and don't forget to provide some grown-up non-alcoholic drinks – designated drivers might not be thrilled with the kids' squash.
If your crockery is chipped and comes from five different sets, this is a good time to replace it. For outdoor events, pick up some paper plates and plastic glasses.
- The day before
Shop for perishables and prepare a few dishes that you can keep in the fridge. Give the house a good clean. If any guests are staying over, make up the beds and lay out clean towels. If they are sleeping on a sofa bed, get the bed linen ready. You might want to alert your neighbours if your guests will be parking on the street or if you're having a barbecue with music playing outside.
- The night before
Set the dining table and bring any spare dining chairs out of storage. Put nibbles in bowls and cover with cling film. Clean and tidy the kitchen and empty the dishwasher in preparation. Make a list of when different dishes need to be prepared ready for the next day and don't forget to defrost any frozen meat or pre-made dishes.
- On the morning
Prepare advance dishes, for example, peel veg and potatoes and leave them in a pan of water or marinade meat or fish for your barbecue. Give the house a final vacuum and choose your background music. Prepare salads and side dishes, cover and place in the fridge. Chill the beer and white wine.
- Two hours before
Oven-cooked dishes will need to go on and red wine can be uncorked to breathe. Check the table is laid – don't forget serving spoons – and that you have put out the right number of dining chairs. Get yourself showered and changed so that you're not rushing when guests are arriving.
- An hour before
The last hour is usually a bit frantic but the more you have prepared, the less of a panic it will be. Try and arrange your time so that all you need to do is put the finishing touches to the various courses. Put your partner in charge of drinks so that you can focus on the food. If you're having a barbecue, light it now. If guests arrive early don't let it fluster you and take advantage of any offers to help.