We are planning a party in August in our marquee, to celebrate a friends 65th Birthday and preparations are well underway, so I thought I would share our 'countdown to the event'. The key to keeping calm is having everything well ordered: you will feel much more at ease and consequently, so will your guests.making lists may sound dull, but organising an event, I cannot do without them.

Once you have chosen a menu and settled on a theme, make a shopping list of all the ingredients needed, including drinks to be ordered, remembering non-alcoholic drinks and teas and coffees. Decide on flowers or other specific items like candles that you may require and add these to your shopping list. Next plan a  detailed cooking schedule, always including early preparation tasks such as marinating.

Now is the time to consider the format of the actual occasion itself. Plan exactly where each stage of the event soul take place, from pre-meal drinks to coffee afterwards. When this is decided, make a second schedule of non-cooking tasks, such as arranging flowers, preparing any special items like table gifts, laying the table, tidying up and drawing up a seating plan. Include on this list reminders of tasks to be done during the event too, such as adjusting the heating or lighting, preheating the oven, or removing ice cream from the freezer to soften. Closer to the event, it may help to combine your cooking and non-cooking schedules. Plan to shop more than once: this allows you to purchase items that were unavailable or that you may have forgotten to buy first time around.

As the time of the event approaches, think about other minor cooking and preparation plans. Try if you can, to leave plenty of time for any hitches, as well as restorative tea or coffee breaks. Strike out the jobs on your lists as you complete them: this is both satisfying and reassuring. Make sure each space you will be using is tidy and welcoming, and set up what you need in each room before everyone arrives: lay a drinks tray inn readiness and place cups and saucers where you plan to serve coffee. Make sure there are fresh towels, soap and loo rolls in the bathroom. Decide on a division of tasks if more than one of you is hosting the event.

As for last minute panics - do remember to allow plenty of time to get yourself ready. there is bound to be some last minute cooking, however much you prepare in advance, but a few minutes of relaxation with a drink before the door bell rings is a lifesaver.

Here is my schedule:

Decide to have the party
Consider who to invite
Issue the invitations
Choose a menu
Hire any help or equipment that you may need

Prepare food, drink and flowers shopping list
Write out party schedule
Cook the food than can be frozen
Decide rooms in which you will entertain
Shop for food that can be prepared well in advance.

Buy and condition flowers
Make relevant table decorations
Buy drinks
Decide on a seating plan

Shop for fresh food
Arrange the flowers
Tidy up and iron table linen
Make sure that you have a good supply of ice
Prepare food that can be kept overnight

Prepare as much food in advance as possible
Do all cooking that can be reheated at the last minute
Prepare rooms where you will be entertaining
Set out drinks tray
bring wines to the correct temperature

Lay the table
Start any early cooking
Open red wine to breathe

Have as much cooking as possible underway
Tidy the kitchen and wash up
Get ready yourself
Have a stif drink - you deserve it!

For lunch or dinner parties allow 1 hour from the first guest arriving to starting to serve the food.


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