How To Schedule For A Feast

Any time you have the masses descend upon your home for a feast we all make a Herculean effort to clean the house until it reaches the realm of the virtuous, void of the sins of bad puppies and messy husbands.

Even if you keep a tidy home, there are areas that don't get touched often because they're hard to reach--like chandeliers or underneath sofas and other large furniture. As you get older that list of unreachable places gets longer.

I've found that if I start three weeks early, I can get to most everything without killing myself.

Two extra points though.

  1. If there are other bodies living at home, give each of them a job.

  2. Leave one room that is off limits to guests. This is where you can store daily use items that shouldn't be out during a party. For us, it's extra pillows, shabby sofa throws, and exercise equipment.

This is my schedule before a BIG get-together.

Three Weeks before:

  • Decide on your guest list. Send out invitations.

  • Plan your menu.

  • Wax floors or steam clean carpets. You want to give them enough time to dry and let the odors from the detergents dissipate.

Two Weeks before:

  • Tidy up the areas that aren't regularly cleaned. This includes unused spare bedrooms, patios, and back yards. Clean or polish the hard to reach areas. Think high then low.

  • Declutter. Move items to their proper room or discard.

One Week before:

  • Super clean the rooms that people will see or use. This includes family rooms, bathrooms, and dining rooms. Super cleaning involves wiping down and polishing all surfaces, lamps, and overhead lighting. Clear the cobwebs.

  • Freshen all bedrooms and bathrooms with freshly laundered linen.

  • Buy groceries and/or liquor for the big day.

  • If decorations are needed, finish decorating now.

Three Days before:

  • Pull out all the serving pieces, linens, and cutlery you'll use for your big dinner. Make sure everything has been washed and is ready to use.

  • Make a timetable for when each item should be defrosted, cooked, or put in the oven.

  • If you have pets, wash them now so they'll be clean and dry when your guests arrive.

  • If wines need to be chilled, put them in the fridge now.

Two Days before:

  • Side dishes can be made ahead of time. Stuffing, soups, casseroles, pies, and sauces should be made now.

  • Dust and vacuum. This depends on your house. I have pets, so I tend to save the dusting and vacuuming for the day before if not the early-early morning of the big event.

One Day before:

  • Go through the house, room by room. Is anything out of place?

  • Make your last minute extras like cookies and cakes.

  • If friends and family are bringing a dish, call them to confirm that everything is going according to plan. If someone drops the ball, you'll still have time to put in a backup dish.

Day of the Feast:

  • The house should be spotless, and your main course should be defrosted, seasoned, and ready to cook, roast or bake. Give yourself plenty of time, just in case accidents happen.

  • Set the table. Put out fresh flowers or candles. Keep the centerpiece simple. There are probably going to be a lot of serving plates already on the table.

  • Shower, then lay down for an hour. Even if all you do is close your eyes, it'll give you a chance to center yourself. I can't stress this enough. You need at least one hour to yourself. Tell the kids and/or significant other to fend for themselves for that one hour.

  • Dress.

  • Have wine or other beverages ready to serve as soon as company arrives.

  • Relax. You've done all the work. It's time to enjoy your guests.

The nice thing about getting the house this pristine is that for the next few days I can relax in front of the tv and eat leftovers. It's like having a vacation.

Do you like to host dinner parties? Or do you prefer to be the guest? What do you usually bring to a party--aside from your charming personality?  :)


Joy said…
I like doing both. My best contribution is a decadent autumn cheesecake, a bottle of Prosecco. And good chocolates. Can’t go wrong.
lynnviehl said…
Wonderful advice, Maria. Since I'm hosting ten people and two babies for the holidays this year I will be stealing a lot of your ideas.

I prefer to host a dinner party because me = control freak. Also, I feel a little uncomfortable in a situation where I can't at least help out in the kitchen (which is what I generally offer to do when I go elsewhere for dinner.)

I usually ask the hostess what I can bring when I go to a party as a guest; often they have specific needs. If the hostess says anything, I go with a couple favorites. For kids I make up fruit and cheese skewers with the cheese in fun cut out shapes (and blunt-ended plastic skewers so no one stabs anyone else with them.) Kids absolutely love these. For adults I make up a spinach dip to serve in a round 2-lb. pumpernickel bread, with the insides chopped up along with some raw veggies as the dippers. Both dishes can be appetizers or post-dinner snacks.
Maria Zannini said…
Joy: You'd be welcome at my house any time! :)
marlenedotterer said…
I have the same approach as you, Maria, although you cover details I don't even think about. Or maybe it's just seeing it all written down. It's a great list!

However, I am really flailing this year and I don't know how it's going to go. My grandson died in May and I am simply not the same person I was before. I used to love hosting - nurturing was in my soul and I was always so happy to have people in my house and I could provide comfort and food. Now I am anxious and sad. But we are still having company for Thanksgiving. That's not a bad thing - they are very dear friends and very supportive. But I just don't know if I can pull it off.

Wow, I didn't know I was going to go there when I started typing. I haven't talked about this but maybe it's time.
Stacy McKitrick said…
My answer to "How to Schedule for a Feast": Reserve a table at a restaurant! Haha!
Everything you listed is too much work for me. That is why I don't host. That is why I hate hosting. I'm a lazy person. I'd much rather be invited than invite. I really believe you have to LOVE hosting (as my friend does) to bother doing it. I mean, why do something you hate?
Maria Zannini said…
Lynn: I've seen those dips in bread. I've never been brave enough to try it. Does anyone try to eat the bread before the dip?

I went to a dinner once and brought chicken satay on skewers. The ones who gobbled them up first were the kids. I think they liked having weaponry with their food.

I prefer being the guest--much less stressful--but I make an exception for Thanksgiving. Since I have no family near me, I like being able to have my friends over so we can catch up on each other's lives.
Maria Zannini said…
Oh, Marlene. I can't even imagine the loss you're feeling. I am so sorry. All I know for sure is that we each have to take as much time as necessary to grieve. There is no one size fits all.

I don't blame you for not wanting to host. You're not ready yet. Please give yourself time to reenter the world. I'm glad you have friends that are supportive, and if you're not up to it, I'm sure they'll understand.

Sending you a big hug, my friend. Take care.
Maria Zannini said…
Stacy: I've become so picky about restaurants, especially for a holiday meal. The only worthwhile restaurants would be the high end kind, and I'm not up to fighting crowds on a holiday. I much prefer to be at home--mine or my friends'.
Is it wrong that the main thing that really got my attention is this:
Have wine or other beverages ready to serve as soon as company arrives.
Maria Zannini said…
Angela: My mother taught me that. The moment anyone walked in a room the first thing she would do is offer them something to drink. :)
Mike Keyton said…
You’re a domestic goddess, my friend. We follow your pattern/ to a lesser extent but as for that last hour lie down I was caught on a stool reaching for an inaccessible wok as the first guest came through the door. But after - as you said days of relaxation and when we think the house needs a good tidy the dinner invites go out again
Maria Zannini said…
Mike: Goddess, yes, But I'm a better logistics officer. I tell the guests one time and Greg one hour earlier. That way we're all settled by dinner time.