Whenever we've got a complicated party to plan, we turn to a little technical help to keep things organized. A simple spreadsheet can be your best friend in making sure your shopping is done, the oven's not overscheduled, and the food is ready at the right time. For each party, we create a new spreadsheet, using the tabbed worksheets along the bottom for different tasks. The first worksheet page is for the overview.
Here we create rows for each course, adding in menu ideas, recipe sources, and details on how complicated each recipe is. Because many of our recipes are online, we add links, keeping them right at our fingertips.
We pay special attention to the last column "a la minute" or things that have to be done right before we serve them. For most dinner and cocktail parties, we really want to be able to relax and enjoy our company, so we try to choose recipes that don't need too much last minute work.
The next page of our worksheet is for the guest list. Not only can we keep track of rsvps now, but the next time we invite a guest to a party we can look back and see what we served, so as to avoid being repetitive. It's also helpful to have numbers handy as we figure out how much to serve.
Then there are the shopping lists - you certainly don't have to do this here, but if most of your recipes are online, it's easy to just copy and paste.
Lastly, we detail timing. The dinner party used as an example here is probably simple enough to not require this tab. But for big meals like Passover or Christmas, or for large cocktail parties, we like to write out what we need to do when. So we'll make a schedule of the day of the party, and often the days leading up to it, making sure everything is manageable.
We tend to use Excel, because it's conveniently already on our computer. But when collaborating with others, we love Google Docs, the free spreadsheet available through Google. Each person can view the spreadsheet and make changes to it without having to forward it endlessly.
How do you get organized for entertaining?