fancy dinner party timing
Holidays and Special Occasions

Five Steps to Perfect Fancy Dinner Party Timing

Fancy dinner party timing can be a real hassle. Last week I talked about the basics of hosting your party, but if you want it to be successful and not pull your hair out, you will need to be a timing pro. You’ll want to write things down. I mean with a pen and paper. Do you remember those? You probably have some in a drawer somewhere. You may glance at them every once in awhile and think of throwing them out, but you never do. And now, vindication! You can use them! I know you’re wondering why someone who frequently talks about her automated to-do list suggests paper, but think about this. You’re going to be cooking all day. Your hands are going to be gross. Do you really want to constantly check your iPad or Galaxy or whatever gizmo you have?

time to write our your fancy dinner party timing
This is what paper and writing utensils look like.

That’s not to say you won’t need your gizmo – you probably will, unless you are a recipe printer. I’m not. But it’s just easier to have a piece of paper stuck on the fridge or taped somewhere when you only need to do a quick glance. Memorize it if you prefer, but you risk a really long gap between meals, or something burning, if you don’t. So, there’s that little tidbit of advice. Now let’s talk about the good stuff. I do have a Disney-themed fancy dinner party coming up, but I’m going to use last year’s French menu as an example for now. Feel free to steal it.

How to Plan your Fancy Dinner Party Timing

1. Pick when the guests will arrive.

Oh hey! Guests! When should they show up? You might think this should be the least of your concerns, but unless your friends love last minute invitations, you’re going to want to give them a heads up at least two weeks in advance. If you have an event with a dress code, make sure you give them time to prepare. They might also want to get a baby-sitter. I have no problem hosting kids at my dinner parties (they eat pizza), but I can’t watch them, not even my own. I also serve a lot of wine. My friends know this, so they don’t always want to drag the kids along. Maybe you don’t want kids there at all so you ban them. Whatever, it’s your party.

The reason this makes a difference in your timing is that once you send out those invitations, your start time is set. Now you know exactly how much time you have to get things done. Personally, I like to invite my guests to show up at 6:30 P.M. Most of them will be there by 6:45, and all of them will be there by 7:00, even the perpetually late ones. I will have the appetizers ready by 6:30, 6:35 tops. I will also be dressed, the table will be set, and the kitchen will be as cleaned up as it can be (the rest of the house will be clean, but I won’t do that – the hubby will). Anything else may or may not be prepared, but at least I have a goal time.

2. Write out your menu with active time & cooking time separated.

This is probably the most important step if you want to get your courses out at different intervals. Actually, if it’s your first time, you might need this step just to get everything completed before the guests show up. You may think you’re a great prepper, but you will find out otherwise if you’re trying to put together an entire salad while your guests are waiting on you. They may not notice – serve enough wine, they probably won’t notice – but you don’t want to be serving the last course at 11:00 at night. So, as soon as your menu is set, go ahead and write out this part.

My handwriting is strangely similar to the Excel font.

You may remember last week I said to practice practice practice. I hope you did! Sometimes when you use a recipe the timing will be completely off. Whoever wrote it may be able to make their cheesecake in ten minutes, but I sure can’t! The ones I find are the worst are vegetable-heavy recipes. These cookbook writers are obviously much faster choppers and dicers than the rest of us, so they can’t be trusted with times. When you practice, try to remember how long it takes you. You can copy times over from the recipe, but you can also tweak them once you’ve seen you in action.

3. Decide what to do in advance.

Now that you have a nice schedule of how long everything is going to take you, you can decide if you want to try it all at once or prepare in advance. My fancy dinner party timing is designed to take place over two days. Am I cooking the entire two days? No. But it gives me a break in between things, and who doesn’t want that? If possible, I like doing desserts entirely the day before. Once I picked churros, which have to be fried, and that was the worst decision I ever made at a dinner party. I was so tired of cooking by then, I gave up trying to make them look beautiful and just served blobs of fried dough. I did creme brulee last year, and it did have to be broiled at the last minute, but that was totally doable.

These are my actual churro blobs. Don’t be like me. Serve nice churros.

One other thing I really like to do to keep my fancy dinner party timing in check is early morning vegetable chopping. That goes for all recipes. I’ll put them in baggies or bowls or something to keep them separated. For the most part veggies stay fresh looking after you cut them, so it’s one less headache later in the day. Soups are usually good in the slow cooker, so that’s another thing to think about doing early in the day. I rarely do the main dish or the side dish ahead, besides seasoning. Obviously this will all depend on what you’re cooking; a roast will go in the oven a lot earlier than something would go on the grill.

4. Set the table and get ready at the last minute.

Get ready at the last minute, you say? Are you crazy? I’m asking everyone else to dress up and I will barely have any time to look my best? Yep, sorry. Pro tip: You’re the one cooking. That means spills, flours, oil, sauces all over the place. Prolong the mess as long as you can. You can invest in an apron if you want, but taking it on and off every five minutes while you switch courses is going to get annoying. Also, this must be said – keep your hair back. No one wants a hair in their food. If you’re wearing an up-do, you can do that once you’re up for the day and it will stay. Probably. I don’t know your hairstyling skills. Mine are generally terrible, but I can still keep my hair in a bun.

Having perfect fancy dinner party timing isn’t really going to be affected by setting your table, but I would suggest doing it last, doing it first, or having someone else do it. I can’t do it first at my house because we’re a madhouse and something will mess it up, so I stick to last minute. If you’ve never read anything by me before, you might not know this, but I hate decorating. So my centerpieces will usually be something simple and a couple of bread baskets. Super easy. Waiting til the last minute doesn’t hurt me at all, although it might change how fancy my napkin folding gets. Yes, I use real napkins. I bought them for my wedding, so I might as well use them.

5. Keep your clock out while you eat.

You spent all this time scheduling it, now you have to keep your fancy dinner party timing perfect by watching the clock. Does that suck a little bit while you’re hosting all your friends? Yes, kind of. But someone always volunteers to help, so it could actually mean one-on-one time with people. Fun! You can have Siri or Alexa or whoever time things for you, but I feel like that would ruin the ambiance. Now, how long should you have between courses? I guess that’s up to you and how fast you eat, but I like about fifteen minutes between the end of one course and the start of another. I swear, it doesn’t make the meal last forever.

What? You think I own paper AND an actual clock? Don’t be crazy.

Let’s see how this works. I have people showing up at 6:30. My appetizers have to be ready to go. They have half an hour to eat them. Then at 7:00 I serve an amuse-bouche. No need for a fifteen minute break here; I tell them my rules (you have to try,  no offense taken if you don’t like it), then move on. So, we’re serving salad around 7:05. We have a lot to eat so courses are small. Assume everyone’s done in five minutes. That means soup needs to be ready at 7:25, a main course at 7:45, and dessert at 8:05. Everything’s done by 8:10 if I’ve planning my fancy dinner party timing correctly. That’s a great time to play a game or something, plus you only had to sit at the table for a little over an hour. Wah-lah! Dinner has been served.




Throwing a fancy dinner party can be a hassle, so follow these steps to make yours flow smoothly. #dinnerparty #fancydinnerparty #time #organizations #party #dinner

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  1. This is such useful info! Thank you for sharing. Will definitely help in the next gathering we host. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Beth Davidson says:

      Glad you think so! Have fun at your dinner.

  2. This seems really well organized, thanks for sharing. Reminds me of when I was a kid. My parents used to throw dinner parties a lot, mostly for their work colleagues. My mother was very much a perfectionist and didn’t have a particularly keen sense of humour (Something which I think should be added to your list – remember to laugh off the not so perfect things.. stuff will happen and that’s ok!), anyway, at this particular party we were having, my mother went through her checklist of everything to be completed, food done – check, house clean – check, kids bathed – check, check, check, check. At the very last minute, she went to put on her dress for the party. As the first of the guests arrived she came rushing down the hall from the bedroom to greet them at the door and lead them down the hallway to the dining room….. the one thing she didn’t check??? The back of her dress was tucked into her pantyhose…. My father’s boss, his wife, a few other people, and the whole family watched on in horror as my mother paraded the dinner guests through the house, underwear fully visible and all. ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, sorry for taking up space on your blog, but, I just thought I would share. Cheers!

    1. Beth Davidson says:

      Thanks for sharing! It sounds like your mom and I would have gotten along. I can imagine that story has been shared quite a few times over the years! Lol.

      1. It’s truly a family legend now! Thanks for the opportunity to recall it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. This will come in handy for the holidays! Other than that, I don’t really host dinner parties that often!

  4. Timing is definitely what I’m worst at when it comes to cooking. I like the idea of including prep times and serve times in a plan on paper. I’ll have to try that next time!

  5. This is great to know! If I were a social person, I’d so do one of these dinner parties.

  6. wow you are so organized! great tips, I will use them next time I throw a party!

  7. These are all good tips to prevent too much stress planning a party. I am all for writing stuff down, because I am a big stress ball anyways. Writing it down will help me stay organized. Very nice.

    1. Beth Davidson says:

      Thanks! Don’t let dinner stress you out! Remember, if something goes wrong, you can always order out. Lol

  8. I have never hosted my own dinner party but I know this would be something I would love to do if I owned my own home. I love the idea of a timer too x

    1. Beth Davidson says:

      I own my home and a dining room table now, sure, but I used to do them in a rental with a tablecloth over a couple of folding tables in my living room. If you want to try it, no time like the present. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Yum, I love having dinner parties and this will help out a lot.

  10. I know I have done a few dinner parties for myself and I admit that far too often I have shot from the hip and just kind of winged everything. These are such great tips when putting together one I will have to remember this should I do one in the future.

  11. Hannah Marie says:

    It should be that organized and planned. I always fail in that aspects, I love cramming, lol! But I love all your tips ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. This will deff come in handy! We always want to have parties but never really know what to do.

  13. I love these preparation tips and timing for a successful dinner party. Planning is definitely essential for success.

  14. Very useful tips!! I have to be organized with time or else I start freaking out! Haha

  15. Love hosting dinner parties but you are far more organized. I’m never this detailed. I like to serve soup first and pre-set the table with a salad. Makes life so much easier. Interesting idea to time each course. Usually I just wait until people are done.

    1. Beth Davidson says:

      Oh no, I can’t trust my friends to finish a course on time. And who knows how long they’d be wondering around before they got to a preset salad! Lol. Normally I don’t do any of this, but it’s my annual “fancy” dinner party, so it has to stand out. You did remind me though, I completely forgot to talk about bread. I do put the bread out on the table before we start. It’s the only thing I don’t time.

  16. Really helpful tips to plan the next dinner with guests.I always like to pen down the things to do including the menu before I plan any event with guests.Here,I found some new tips for me to try…

  17. RaNesha says:

    Thanks for sharing these tips I believe their very useful and easy to following especially for beginners like me

  18. Wow! You are so organized! I haven’t had a fancy dinner party at home yet but I’m planning to so I’ll be on the look out for more of your awesome tips.

  19. Elizabeth O. says:

    It’s nice to have schedule that you can follow. Creating a time frame will definitely make hosting easier for you.

  20. I haven’t hosted a dinner party in a while. These are very good tips. I really enjoy stress free guides like this!

  21. Blair villanueva says:

    Hosting a party is quite tedious for me, so I always ask some friends to do it, or just book a reservation in a nice restaurant. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. CourtneyLynne says:

    Awesome advice!!!! I love throughing a good ole dinner party and you nailed it!!

  23. Jenny says:

    This is so smart i think you area planner! Would love to be your friend haha keep writing!

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