10 Things to Do the Night Before a Dinner Party

Following these easy tips will ensure the big night goes off without a hitch.

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©Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.

©Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.

©Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.

©Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.

©Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.

©Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.

How to Prep

The day of a dinner party always feels like a scramble, but there are a number of very easy ways to reduce the last-minute stress of hosting. Read through the following tips, and high-five yourself as you go to sleep the night before your soiree — you’ve got it under control.

Photography by Katie Workman and Sarah Crowder

Write Out the Full Menu

Include everything: from the appetizers (including little things like olives or chips) to the garnishes (smoked salmon with lemon wedges, dill and capers). List out everything in the order you will be serving the meal. This way you won’t forget anything — and you won't look in the fridge the following day and discover the sliced chorizo you meant to serve (been there!).

Label Your Serving Platters and Bowls

Decide what each dish is going to be served in and use a sticky note to assign the plates to foods. Line them up either on the buffet or the dining table — where you will be placing the actual food — or simply in a place that won’t interfere with your cooking.

Make Sure Your Dishes, Glasses and Utensils Are Clean

If you haven’t used them in a while, dishes, glasses and utensils can be a little dusty or grimy. Give everything a once-over and a quick wash — by hand or in the dishwasher — to get it all sparkling. Polish any silver that needs polishing, and be sure to wash it well afterward.

Match Up Serving Utensils with Platters

Place the appropriate serving utensil on the corresponding serving platter. It’s an easy way to reduce last-minute stress, knowing you have the serving spoon or fork ready to go.

Set Up the Bar

Decide where you will be serving drinks and put out glasses, an ice bucket with tongs and any bottles that can be served at room temperature (e.g., red wine, liquor). Leave room and use sticky notes to mark where cold drinks (e.g., white wine, sparkling water, soda) will go on the bar, as well as a spot for a pitcher if you are serving a big-batch cocktail. Place small bowls for things like olives or citrus wedges (and add to the task list a reminder to yourself to fill them!). Put out some cocktail napkins, and maybe a bowl of chips or nuts for people to nibble while they are making themselves a drink.

Buy Ice

If you don’t have room in the freezer, you can store ice in a cooler for a day. This is a nice task to have crossed off the list!

Arrange the Flowers

Most flowers could use an extra day to open up a bit, so buy them the day before and get them arranged in vases. Place the flowers throughout the room (maybe a small arrangement on the bar, low arrangements on the dining table and a larger one to greet people as they arrive), and cross that off the list.


Unless you are making a souffle (and in that case, aren’t you ambitious!), you can probably bake any breads, muffins or desserts a day ahead of time. If you're making a cake that needs to be frosted, you will definitely want to do that ahead, as the cake needs to cool completely before it's iced. Cookies, brownies, crisps … all can be made a day ahead. Store fruit desserts in the fridge, and bring them to room temperature before serving. 

Set the Table or Lay Out the Dinnerware

If you are hosting a sit-down meal, absolutely set that table the night before. If it’s going to be a buffet, put out the plates, forks, knives and napkins on one end, ready to go when you put the food out.

Write Out Your Task List for the Day Of

No job is too small to be included: bringing the chicken to room temperature, mincing parsley, putting ice in the ice bucket, peeling the potatoes. Organize the tasks into time frames: what you can do in the morning, in the afternoon, two hours before the party and in the hour leading up to the arrival of your guests. If you are designating tasks, mark next to each item the initials of the person responsible for doing it.

Look at you, ready to go!