Your party-planning timeline

Expert advice to ensure your festive parties are fabulous, yet stress-free.

The expert panel

Felicity Mcgrath, founder, cooking instructor and party caterer

Sudeshna Ghosh, Editor, BBC Good Food ME

Sarah Cook, Food editor, BBC Good Food UK

The festive season, while fun, can be wrought with stress, especially if you’re planning to host a party at home. With everything from décor and food, to guest lists and entertainment, to think about, it isn’t easy to manage. But, one of the tricks of successful entertaining is planning ahead. Follow our time-plan to make sure your holiday parties have maximum impact with minimum fuss.

3 weeks ahead

– Send out the invitations, so that people can RSVP well in time. Make sure to take note of any food allergies, intolerances or other dietary requirements of guests.

– Plan the theme for your party; do you want a formal sit-down dinner or a cocktail evening (check out our feature Deck the table on p90 for inspiration). Get shopping for the relevant table décor and ornaments – most of the home stores will have their Christmas collections in stock by now.

– Plan your menu, and make sure you include dishes are seasonal, yet can be made ahead, such as crab or prawn mousse wrapped in smoked salmon; roasted red pepper soup; traditional sides such as roast potatoes and spiced red cabbage; tarts, and garlic and herb breads, and desserts like meringue roulade with cream. Take into account the multicultural nature of the UAE, and your guests’ different tastes.

– If you are cooking a turkey or ham, place your order and discuss requirements with the butcher – what size, whether you want bone in or boneless, and fresh or frozen. If you are opting for turkey takeaway, put your order in now.

2 weeks ahead

– Write down your shopping lists – with dates to remind you of when they are for, if you are entertaining more than once during the Christmas period. Get the shopping for all your non perishables such as tin foil, drinks, wax paper and essential ingredients such as breadcrumbs, flour, and butter, out of the way.

– Stock up on some ready-made nibbles – they are handy to have stashed away for unexpected guests.

– Make all your sauces and stocks and store in sterilised jars.

– Finalise your guest list, and make necessary adjustments to menu and seating arrangements.

– Do a practice run of your table setting, so you know if you have everything you need. Fresh flowers are always a winner for dinner tables, and you can also get creative with jars filled with fresh herbs, vases filled with lemons and limes, or bowls of cinnamon sticks – they
will be vibrant, and add wonderful aromas to the atmosphere.

– Prepare your music playlist – make sure to include some seasonal tunes to get everyone into that festive spirit.

1 week ahead

– Go through recipes of dishes that need to be cooked up on the day, to allocate time for each.

– Make your starters, soup, Christmas pudding and other desserts – these can be frozen and re-heated on the day.

– Main courses can also be made ahead and frozen – store them in portions of eight. Some recipes can be partially made ahead (See our feature The Big Day on p48 for menu ideas), get as much of the cooking out of the way as possible. Stock up on things vanilla ice cream, stores may run out of stock closer to the day.

– Order fresh flowers and ask for it to be delivered one day before.

Two days before

– Decide what cutlery, crockery and utensils you want to use and make sure it’s cleaned and ready. Write down the name of the foods you will serve and label each serving dish – when the time comes to serve, and things are a bit frantic, you’ll know exactly where to put what.

– Stock up on all your fresh vegetables and meats, vegetables, herbs, creams and cheeses and other ingredients.

– Chill your beverages – if you haven’t got enough fridge or freezer space, they can always be stored in freezer boxes.

A day before

– Get the house cleaned thoroughly.

– Set the table in advance, if you aren’t using it that night.

– Pick up the turkey, ham or chicken. Begin preparations – depending on the time required to cook your main courses.

– Make the stuffing, and sides including potatoes and sprouts, and keep them ready.

– Complete your mise en place for the rest of the menu, with all the washing and chopping out of the way, leaving just the last of the cooking for the next day.

On the day

– Remove starters, stock and desserts from the freezer and allow about 3 hours thawing in a cool place. Get your main course dishes cooking nice and early.

– Prepare your welcome cocktails, nibbles and cheese platter.

– Light up candles half an hour before guests are due to arrive, turn the music on, and check everything is in its place – your home should look festive and ready before the first guests arrive, and not have you running around with last minute preparations.

– Leave aside at least an hour to get ready, and relax – so you can enjoy your party too!