It is a good idea to start cleaning and clearing your place so that you do not have too much to do the day before the event. Kitchen and bathroom should be impeccable on D-day.
You may even move your furniture around for a homy and comfy set-up. Lamps and cushions will definitely help you to create a cosy atmosphere.
Make sure your guests feel comfortable at all times.
Prepare your vases as you may receive flowers, pamper your plants. Check your plates, silverware and glasses. They have to be spotless and silverware may need a little polish...
You may want to ask your guests if they have special diets or food constraints. Make sure they have your full address and way to your home. Confirm the time they are expected.
This is where I advise you to buy a small notebook dedicated to dinner parties and invitations; in addition you may want to use a folder with colored plastic enveloppes to store the recipes/menus you have used on a reception day. List the names of the people you meet or invite, where and when you met them, and all relevant culinary information about them. For your dinner parties, keep track of your menus, type of wine, the clothes and jewelry you wore on that evening, or any other useful detail...You will be glad not to wear the same clothes you wore at the previous dinner party with them.
Decide on your menu. Evaluate how much time it takes to prepare it, how much space your need in the fridge, the space you have in your cupboards to store the ingredients. Decide on the wines and spirit you will offer. Make sure you have coffee and/or herbal tea.
Make a list : spare some time in your agenda to do your shopping or to place orders if needed. It is better to plan simple meals than sophisticated recipes which could keep you away from your guests.
Think about the clothes you will wear. Make a selection of 2 outfits and accessories to select from, depending on your mood, on the weather...Manucure, hair dresser, take time to pamper yourself. You should feel at your best and not stressed during dinner.
If you have kids or pets, think about how to keep them busy that night to avoid tension. Have a plan B.
Second step :
Have a playlist ready : a little background music is always pleasant.
Write on a piece of paper the seating arrangement and the timely order of execution : it is better to decide prior to dinner on the schedule of the beginning and of the end of dinner. To me, aperitif should not last more than 40 minutes. Then, try to time all the steps : cooking, change of dishes, when to put the cheese platter at room temperature, timing for dessert, etc...
Jot down all this into folder, it will be useful on D-day. Not only will these notes be handy, but they will spare you stress as well.
A few tips
A Week ahead of time
Select your candles, buy a few flowers. Set your table if possible. Start cooking what needs to be cooked ahead of time. Select the dishes and platters you will need to serve. Prepare space for the bottles and room to open them. Prepare the nice coffee and herbal tea china. Think ahead of a place to store coats, umbrella and bags if needed.
Relax, everything is under control...
The day before
Up to one hour before the guests arrive :
Try not to stress and enjoy your day. Leave all your worries behind.
Jot down what you are afraid of forgetting. Be organized.
Be comfortable to cook. Prepare what can be prepared ahead of time. Throw away the various packagings, and keep the kitchen tidy. Keep the matches at hand to light the candles in a split second. Display the aperitif.
Go get changed when ready. Nothing to worry about, everything will go according to plan.
If possible, try to rest a bit before the arrival of your guests.
Keep your phone at hand, in case a belated guest wants to reach you.
When your guests arrive :
Keep the coasts in the ad hoc place.
Open the gifts and be discreetly thankful in order not to embarrass those who did not bring anything. The flowers are immediately placed in a vase. The chocolates will be offered at coffee time.
Do not ever leave a guest alone in a room. Invite him to follow you to the kitchen if need be.
Always introduce your guests one to another : the younger will be introduced to the elder, a gentleman to a lady. The one with the lowest rank will be introduced to the one with the highest rank.
It is your responsibility to keep the conversation going and to make sure that every one gets to participate.