If you are a seasoned veteran of throwing dinner parties, having seemingly served as many people as the burger joint on the local corner, chances are you know what you’re doing (or your guests are just too nice to say otherwise). For the first time thrower, or the thrower who has yet to find their favorite pitch, dinner parties might come served with a plateful of stress. They are supposed to be fun, but the act of getting everything together and making sure everyone is happy can weigh on you. That is, unless you have some help.


The following are our dinner party tips, tips aimed at helping you to keep your guests coming back for seconds.


Plan Ahead, Way Ahead: An improv dinner party is a bit of an oxymoron, it’s just too hard to pull off without planning. Having said that, planning ahead is the first step in throwing a good dinner party. Not only does this involve inviting guests weeks ahead of time, and making sure they RVSP at least a week before, but it also involves making lists of everything you need (don’t rely on your memory), and leaving yourself plenty of preparation time the day of the actual party. Know how long everything will take to cook, and add two hours.


Know your Cooking Skills: You may think of yourself as a bit of a cooking wizard: your friends love your cookies, your spouse never complains about supper, and people, namely your mother, say you are the best cook they know. Though you may be a wonderful cook, don’t assume you can cook everything. A person who cooks a mean roast beef may not fare so well with seafood. Instead of challenging yourself at dinner parties, stick to what you’re good at and leave the challenging for times when your twenty closest friends aren’t present.


Have a Theme: Pick a theme, any theme. Though there are times of the year, such as the holidays, when the theme of your dinner party is virtually handed to you on a silver platter, this isn’t always the case. You may throw a dinner in August for no particular reason. Even so, picking a theme helps you not only with decorations but with food preparation. Having a Hawaiian theme, for instance, allows you to decorate with flowers and serve a pig with an apple in his mouth. A theme makes things go that much smoother. Still, be sure that you serve some un-thematic alternatives for people who might not eat certain things or for those with food allergies.


Have Enough Supplies: Hosting a dinner party involves more than just making sure you have enough food; you also have to have enough plates, silverware, glasses, and, of course, chairs. Before you throw your party, inventory your supplies. If you are short, or think you’ll be cutting it close, either borrow or rent.


Relax: Dinner parties are hard work, but they are still parties nonetheless. Even if something goes wrong, it won’t be the end of the world. Relax, have fun, and, if the night really starts to sour, open more bottles of wine.