Entertaining Basics

If you follow a meal-plan checklist – and you can't go wrong entertaining this holiday season!!!

Below is a highly detailed checklist. Read through and design one that fits your needs for your next big meal.

  • Plan the guest list.
  • Plan the menu – look through cookbooks for new ideas and review past traditional favorites. Include family members by asking what they would like to eat this Thanksgiving or Christmas. Consolidate the ideas and write down everything from the appetizers to the desserts including what beverages will be served with each course.
  • Determine if any special food needs or restrictions for guests or family. Include enough choices for all to enjoy. If you don't know of restrictions, the guest will have to determine on their own what to refrain from.
  • Check out your serving dishes. Determine what specific food will be served in what dish – do you have enough things that match or does that matter? Get out holiday or special china and make sure everything is clean and ready to go, especially no spots on glassware.
  • Where will the courses be served? Will the appetizers be served in a different location than the dining table? Same with the dessert, where and when will it be served. For the main course, will you serve buffet, family-style or will the food be plated and served? What kind of area for serving will you need? How will it be set up and who will supervise the serving?
  • Set up the schedule for the day. How long do you need to have meats and casseroles in the oven? What is the prep time for other foods such as salads, appetizers and desserts? When will you set the table? Do you have enough oven space – do you have enough time? Should some foods be made ahead of time? (like dinner rolls, desserts, etc.) – Would it be easier to purchase some already prepared foods such as salads to save time? Are you planning a potluck or will any guests be bringing food to share? Make sure you know all the parameters.
  • Don't plan to do everything yourself. Assign duties to other family members as warranted. If this is not possible, make sure that the holiday meal you are planning doesn't wear you out. Don't be an over achiever. Serving store-bought foods or having some items catered is not a bad thing.
  • When your guests arrive – who will greet them – where should they go and what is the first thing they will be doing? Do you have a time for gathering and conversation before the meal is served and everyone arrives? If they have coats – where will they put them? Be sure you are there to make everyone feel welcome. If there are surprises (like extra guests tagging along), keep smiling and say it's wonderful to meet them. You can work out the problems later – for an enjoyable experience – guests must feel welcome no matter what.
  • Make sure there is a family member with the guests at all times – especially if you have to do last minute touches to the meal in the kitchen. If someone offers to help and you are comfortable, invite them along. With a well planned schedule you should be able to handle visiting while finishing up.
  • Be sure that guests know where they are to be seated if there are name cards. Otherwise point out a spot you have in mind for them. Also make sure they know if they should take a seat or stand until everyone finds their place. If they will be going through a buffet line you should keep them standing. Table manners start at this point like pulling out chairs for women and making everyone comfortable.
  • Someone should pour beverages while people are gathering their food choices.
  • Keep water glasses full and the conversation light and friendly.
  • You may want a break between the main course and dessert – especially if time allows. You can let your food settle until you are ready for a sweet ending. If it would be more comfortable to move from the table – do so. Conversation is best if guests are comfortable.
  • Serve dessert with a dessert wine or hot beverage.
  • Send guests on their way with a small gift. Maybe just an extra piece of dessert or small box of candy – or whatever you feel is appropriate. Make sure you thank everyone for coming.
Of course, you need not do all things as listed. Incorporate your own style and wishes into your very own meal plan. The main thing is to have a plan so you are not overwhelmed and can deal with last minute changes. Most of all, sit down and enjoy your company and food.

If you are happy, your guests will be happy!