Being organized is key to making a memorable holiday meal for your family and friends without being completely frazzled at the end of the day. Good planning, making things ahead of time, and following the time planner will enable you to entertain with less stress and actually enjoy the day.
2 weeks ahead:
Decide what wines you will serve with dinner and purchase them. Ask for recommendations at your local wine shop or grocery store. If you are offering an open bar, buy the liquor, beer, soda, seltzer, and mixers for the drinks you plan to serve. If you have an extra refrigerator, place all soft drinks, beer, sodas, white wines, and champagne in the fridge so you can be ready without worrying about it. You can also ask your guests to bring wine.
Consider what types of non-alcoholic drinks you would like to serve guests and children, and purchase and refrigerate them. Consider a sparkling pear or apple cider.
Several weeks before is the time to check that you have all the essential tools for cooking and serving like a baster, meat thermometer, zester, serrated carving knife, and roasting pan, whisk, large stainless steel strainer, small hand held stainless steel strainer (see Essential Tools for Cooking). Check the tools page of this overview and if you don’t have them, consider purchasing them. A well-stocked kitchen should have these tools anyway.
Make sure you have enough serving pieces for each dish you are serving (refer to Serving Pieces and Decorations). Now is the time to buy or borrow them and have them set-aside for the day. You can also use a post-it and write the name of the food and stick it to the serving platter you are going to use. This makes it easier for anyone helping you to put the cooked food in the serving pieces and make sure you have all the serving pieces you will need.
Consider buying a warming tray. You can place the plates on the warming tray before you serve, and then place the side dishes on the warming tray to keep warm throughout the service so everyone will get hot seconds!
Order the turkey if you are buying a fresh or kosher turkey.
Decide if you want a more formal seating arrangement. It is a nice touch for your guests, and your children can help you make fun and simple place cards. Write down a seating chart and set it aside. Some ideas are: Take a pear or baby pumpkin and tie a name tag with colorful ribbon. You can also use a gold pen and write the name directly on the fruit. Use items as simple as a walnut to hold a colorful piece of card stock with your guests name on it at each place setting. Place a napkin through a metal cookie cutter in the shape of a turkey or pumpkin and tie a small tag to it with the guests name, use this opportunity to show your artistic side!
Decide what type of table decorations and buffet table decorations you are going to use. Look online and in magazines for design inspirations. Purchase any items you need several weeks before so you have it on hand. Make a note to order flowers if there are certain ones you need from a florist and have them delivered the day before to save time with one more errand.
Decide what type of party you are going to have. Will it be a formal or casual party? Are you going to have a buffet table set up? Do you need an extra table or chairs? Make sure you have enough plates (will you need dinner and side plates; bread, salad, dessert), flatware, and glassware for each of your guests (including wine glasses, bar glasses, water glasses). You can borrow or rent them if needed.
Buy candles or votives. Look for non-drip candles to save clean up and staining of tablecloths!
Wash and iron the napkins and tablecloths and have them ready. Consider buying a large number of good quality napkins to have on hand for entertaining. Ebay, TJ Maxx, and Ross are good places to find great deals so you will have plenty of napkins for future entertaining.
If you are having a casual or large gathering, consider buying plastic glasses ahead of time. Will you need an ice bucket? Do you have enough ice on hand or do you need to buy some to have on hand?
Background music really helps set the mood for entertaining. Consider what type of music you would like to play throughout the day. Create a play list on your smart phone and plug it into your speakers. It’s also good if you have a random play on your CD changer so you can start the music and forget about it. You can also make and download your own mixed CD’s of your favorite songs (or have your techno savvy kids do it for you!)
If you are having a large party, will you need to rent or borrow a coffee urn or extra coffee makers?
If you are serving coffee with dessert, you can prepare the coffee pot ahead of time and turn it on just before you need it. You can get the coffee cups, cream pitcher and sugar, and spoons out and place them on a tray or side table. You can borrow coffee pots from friends if you are having a lot of people, or a coffee press or cafetiere is an easy and quick way to make coffee. I have a portable tray on a stand that is great to bring out for coffee service. You might also want to think about after dinner drinks like port, Muscat, Cognac, Grand Marnier etc., and set them out with the cordial glasses on a silver tray ready to serve.
If you are serving cocktails, cut lemons and limes for the bar, and have olives, marinated onions etc. out for drinks. Cut lemon and orange slices for side dish decorations and put in sandwich bags in the refrigerator. Consider slicing extra lemon to place in each guest’s water glass.