The perfect dinner party is startlingly easy to put together. Don’t get me wrong–there’s a lot to do, and it’ll get stressful at times. But once you have a plan in mind, the only thing standing between you and that perfect party is a string of small (if plentiful) tasks.

5. Start planning early

Start planning for your perfect dinner party early. Pick a date that works for everyone (or, at least, as many people as possible), and send out invitations 3-4 weeks in advance.

I’m a big fan of the Facebook e-vite, but to really set the mood for your dinner party, try a paper invitation. A heavy-weight card stock arriving by mail is a nice way to turn any event into a special event, and it’s an unexpected twist to put on the evening before it starts.

The month of your party, consider things like furniture arrangement and decorations so that you have plenty of time to move things around and pick up what you need to. Is your lamp standing awkwardly in the hallway; is your Contemporary Futon positioned for maximum mingling space?

Rearrange your furniture and hang your decorations a few days in advance so that you have less to do on the day-of, and pick up anything else that you’ll need as well. A new room spray for the boot room might be in order, or a cute apron to keep your party clothes clean while you cook.

4. Decide on the perfect dinner party menu

As you plan your décor for the perfect dinner party, start thinking about menu options. I like to keep things nice and light, with a tasty entrée accompanied by some healthy side dishes. In a residential-sized kitchen, it can be hard to cook for a large party all at once, so consider dishes that bake as your main course!

Lasagnas, casseroles, and roasts are all great options, with simple sides like mashed potatoes, garlic bread, and salad. (Bonus points if you have some gorgeous cookware at home to serve your casserole in.) But that being said, the perfect dinner party menu will vary greatly depending on who’s cooking!

The last time I planned out a dinner party, I made a vegetarian lasagna with plenty of hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, and sides. The last time my partner did, we had seared scallops with risotto, a wine pairing, and gourmet ice cream after dinner.

As he would say: “#cheflife”.

While you’re planning, make sure you check with your guests for any dietary restrictions or allergies, too. When I throw a dinner party, I know that I have to plan a vegetarian menu with no nuts or soy due to my friends’ allergies, so adjust accordingly!

3. Set the table (and the stage)

The easiest part of the evening, in my eyes, is setting the table. The table linens and centrepieces that you choose will set your theme, whether that’s just a simple dinner party or an event-inspired extravaganza.

Coordinating table linens are a classy way to finish off a table, and if you go with subtle enough colours, you friends won’t even notice that the table is Gryffindor-themed. Make sure you’ll have enough plateware and cutlery to sit all of your guests, and an extra couple of sets to accommodate any surprise attendees or slippery fingers. I really like the look of the ceramic Cuisinart Anais Collection available at Best Buy, or (for charger plates,) the gold Brilliant Glass Charger Plates.

For a more casual dinner party, using a buffet or side table for all of your little accoutrements can be handy. A wooden salad bowl like the Natural Living Acacia Wood Large Salad Bowl is as an attractive serving piece, and an intricately patterned cutting board like the Madeira X-Large Chop Block can double as a cute cheese board.

Turning on a quiet playlist when you set the table is a great way to fill your home with ambiance before the guests arrive, and while you’re at it, why not light a few candles as well?

2. Drinks for everyone! Glassware and other essentials for the perfect dinner party

Once you’ve planned out your food and decor, you’re pretty close to being done! The perfect dinner party is just steps away, and glassware is your next challenge.

First, determine what your guests will be drinking. It’s a good idea to have wine glasses on hand and extra space in your wine rack, just in case your guests bring wine as a hostess gift and they don’t all get opened. I was completely enraptured by two of the wine racks that I saw on the Best Buy site while putting together this post: the rustic, dark oak Traditional 12-Bottle Wine Rack, and the gleaming rose gold Fable 6-Bottle Wire Wine Rack.

For those who won’t be having wine, it’s a good idea to have a set of basic mugs (for an after-dinner coffee) and tumblers on hand as well. Make sure you have a non-alcoholic option in the fridge, and consider choosing a signature cocktail for the party. It’s a trick that’s rising in popularity, and it’s super handy. A single, signature cocktail gives cohesion to the entire evening while shortening your shopping list.

1. Plan where the perfect dinner party will take you

Finally, make sure you have a vague schedule for the evening. If you know what’s going to happen and when, it’s easy to stay on track and make sure that everyone’s fed, happy, and entertained.

A stash of after-dinner board games will fill up any awkward airspace as new friends meet each other, with games like Reverse Charades and Catan. And when you know what’s going to happen next, you’re not doing any planning in the moment–so you can focus on the important stuff, like enjoying the perfect dinner party that you’ve been planning for so long.

So pour yourself a glass of wine, start writing the checklist for your next dinner party, and pick out a new cake pedestal to get you started.