Party planner extraordinaire Kathy Paterson has the checklist that will ensure your next big event goes smoothly.
The more planning you do before a party (apart from impromptu), the more you will enjoy it. It helps if your partner is good with serving drinks and keeping up the conversation too — a keeper if you have one of those! Find some quiet time to write a list and a time plan (see over) and work through the following checklist:
- Decide what type of party you want to hold. Seated or standing, formal or informal, large or small.
- Work out your budget. Make up the guest list and set the date. Check you have enough tableware, serving dishes and linen. If not, find out whether you can borrow or use a party hiring company.
- Send out invitations or invite guests by telephone. Once you know how many people you can invite, you can start planning the menu. Think about ages, appetites, specific dietary requirements, religious or medical needs. Choose a menu that suits your personal lifestyle. Do you want to pull out all the stops or be more casual? At the end of the day it is only food, so do what makes you feel comfortable. Stick with your chosen menu, and try not to be tempted by other produce when you go to the greengrocer, for instance.
- Choose a dessert that can be made at least a day ahead. For summer entertaining, fresh berries are a good option served with yoghurt or whipped vanilla cream and homemade small bites, such as coffee walnut fudge or chocolate fig slice.
- Choose the drinks.
- Make detailed shopping lists and place orders if required. Other than the food, think about the celebratory cake, drinks, ice, flowers, decorations, music and other equipment you may require. Buy any unperishable items.
- Think about cooking and freezing any dishes that can be prepared in advance. This is good advice if you are expecting large numbers.
- If you would like help on the day or evening of your party, book a waiter or someone to help you in the kitchen.
- Warn the neighbours.
Just before, or on the day
- Shop for the remaining food and drinks, plus flowers and other decorations. If you have been ordering, check deliveries or your timing for pickups.
- Arrange flowers and decorations.
- Put out all glasses, plates, linen and serving dishes.
- Chill the drinks.
- Arrange a space for guests to leave coats.
- Place clean hand towels and soap in the bathroom.
- Arrange a space to put any dirty plates and glasses.
- Empty the dishwasher. Have clean bins for rubbish.
The time plan
Using a time plan takes away any possible anxiety and it’s the best tool I have. Here’s a basic time plan for food preparation for a simple lunch of beef or lamb, a tomato salad, potato salad, green salad and bread, followed by dessert.
One day ahead
- Make dessert.
- Trim meat ready to cook. Wrap and place in fridge.
- Wash salad leaves and keep in damp kitchen paper in plastic bags in vegetable compartment of fridge.
- Make vinaigrette or dressings.
- Scrub potatoes and keep in cold water if necessary.
On the day
- 9-10am Pick up bread.
- 10-11am Cook meat, boil potatoes for potato salad and dress with vinaigrette
- 11-12noon Cut tomatoes and place in serving dish, drizzle with oil or vinaigrette, slice bread and cover well with damp kitchen paper and a clean tea towel. Place some butter into a dish.
- 12-1pm Finish potato salad, scatter basil leaves over tomato salad, slice meat and place on platter and finally toss green salad with vinaigrette
- 1-2pm Serve lunch
Never an easy thing to do as it can depend on the type of party, who is coming and the time of day. I work on the size of my serving bowls. For example I know one of my salad bowls serves 12 people. Choose your bowl and when you go shopping, visualise the amounts needed to fill that bowl. When choosing your menu, remember less is best — keep it simple. Fewer dishes make more impact on the table and on the plate.
Two recipes ideal as part of a shared meal (or buffet)
Pan-fried lamb with salad greens and watercress dressing
8 Quality Mark lamb fillets, any silver skin trimmed
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 heads witlof
1-2 heads baby cos lettuce
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 tsp dried tarragon or use
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh french tarragon
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup very finely chopped watercress leaves
- Heat a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Rub lamb fillets with olive oil and grind over black pepper.
- Place lamb fillets in frying pan and cook for 4-5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate, season with salt and cover loosely with foil. Leave to rest while you make the salad.
- Separate the witlof and cos leaves, wash and pat dry. Tear any larger cos leaves into smaller pieces. Toss leaves together in a large bowl.
- Place egg yolk, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard and tarragon in the bowl of a small food processor (or use a stick blender), and process for 30 seconds. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in extra virgin olive oil through the feed tube. Add the watercress and process for 30 seconds. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. This should be quite a thin dressing.
- Toss the salad with just enough dressing to coat the leaves and place on a large platter. Slice the lamb fillets and scatter over and around salad. Serve remaining dressing in a small bowl alongside the salad. I also scatter over 2 handfuls of podded fresh green peas when in season.
To favourite, print or share this recipe, go to the recipe page.
Roasted eye fillet of beef with rocket and shaved parmigiano reggiano
This simple presentation of succulent eye fillet of beef is a winner. It is hard to overcook and holds well — in fact the longer it rests the better it is. It can be served within 10 minutes of cooking, served warm or cooked ahead and served at room temperature.
1.5-1.7kg Quality Mark eye fillet of beef, silver skin trimmed
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 large handfuls rocket leaves
Parmigiano reggiano for shaving
- Heat the oven to 210C fan bake.
- Heat a large frying pan or char grill until hot. Rub the beef with 1 tablespoon oil and grind over plenty of black pepper. Brown beef on all sides then transfer to a shallow roasting dish.
- Place in oven and roast beef for 18-20 minutes for medium-rare beef. Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt, cover loosely with foil and a clean tea towel and leave to rest. Rest for at least 20 minutes if you are serving at room temperature.
- Slice beef and place on a large platter. Scatter over rocket, shave over some parmigiano reggiano and drizzle with remaining olive oil.