When I'm hosting a dinner party — whether it be Thanksgiving or a simple Sunday supper — there is one habit I have adopted for a more stress-free experience, and that is setting the table the night before. I know that many of our readers do this too (you can see their advice in our readers' guide to Thanksgiving).
Here are a few reasons why I think this is so helpful, especially if you're a little stressed out about your dinner party.
1. Begin with the end in mind.
That old chestnut is really true when it comes to hosting a gathering. There's something very reassuring for me psychologically, knowing that the table is set and all my work in the kitchen is aiming towards it. The end goal is in sight — literally! There will be no last minute table-setting or forgotten forks; we're headed to a finished finish line.
2. Enjoy the work of setting a table.
When you're setting a table for a major holiday like Thanksgiving, you may want to go all out with extra flower arrangements, family china or silver, or place cards. These are all fun and beautiful, and those of us with a creative bent enjoy putting the time into this. Doing it the night before, instead of in between the mashed potatoes and gravy, lets you relax and enjoy it. Figuring out how all of it is going to look and setting it up does take more time than you think it will, and having the table done ahead of cooking lets you focus on the food and welcome guests. It ensures that there will be a beautiful table all set up when people walk in. There's nothing worse than running around putting flowers in a vase while welcoming guests!
3. No last-minute surprises!
I use linen napkins, and they're outrageously wrinkled all the time. For a casual supper I don't mind this in the least, but I sit up straight and iron them for a fancier dinner. This takes time — a surprising amount, in fact! I also like to pull out serving dishes and make sure I have everything I need (and that it's clean). Doing all this the night before means no last minute unpleasant surprises, like realizing the turkey platter is cracked just before I go to serve!
Of course, some apartments and homes don't have a separate dining room, and you may be eating buffet-style. There are still many things you can prep. Even just pulling the plates out of the cupboard and stacking them on a sideboard can help, psychologically. Pull out your wineglasses and make sure they're dusted; count your silverware and make sure you have enough.
I also like to pull out the dessert plates and coffee cups before dinner and have them stacked to the side so they can be easily found.
What do you do the night before (or morning of) to help you get ready for a dinner party?
More on de-stressing Thanksgiving dinner
Updated from post published November 2009.
(Image credits: Rachel Joy Baransi)