1. Take your time. Have fun setting up your apartment or house for the party.
2. Try to have your house and table ready at least one hour before your guests arrive. As for the food, the main dishes should be ready or under way, and the rest should be ready to assemble without much thought.
3. Think through your music choices before a dinner party begins. You don't want to be fumbling through CDs while your guests are arriving or during dinner.
4. Always have ice on hand for drinks, water, and so on.
5. Always have bottled water on hand, both still and sparkling. Also, make sure to have extra mixers and fruit juice for people who want something nonalcoholic.
6. Make an effort to introduce your guests to each other, finding the common thread between them. It seems old-fashioned, but it's one of the keys to having your guests enjoy themselves.
7. Always buy more wine that you think you'll need. You never want to run out during a dinner party.
8. Give yourself enough time to bring meat to room temperature.
9. You can prepare your salad dressing days ahead of time. Just remember to let it come to room temperature for an hour or two before dressing the salad.
10. Salads can be composed without dressing and without nuts hours ahead of time; just remember to cover them with plastic wrap.
11. People feel welcome when you treat them to a special cocktail, glass of wine, or delectable nosh after your initial greeting.
12. Careful planning allows you to purchase many items well ahead of time, like ice wine, water and many of the ingredients for desserts. As for vegetables, meat and fish, they should be purchased right before the party.
13. Remember that large centrepieces make it difficult for guests to converse. The same often can be said for large candles or candelabra. Short candles or votives are a good alternative.
14. Keep things simple and organized, and you will be guaranteed a fun-filled, stress-free dinner party.
Excerpted from Dinner Parties: Simple Recipes for Easy Entertaining, copyright 2004 by Jessica Strand. Excerpted with permission from Chronicle Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without permission from the publisher.