Looking to host a dinner party for friends but not sure where to begin? Whether you’re planning a formal sit-down menu or a casual pizza and game night, the goal is the same: to treat your pals to a relaxing evening that’s equally enjoyable for you. (Hint: The secret to stress-free success is mostly in the prep.) We’ve put together an entertaining checklist that’s sure to leave your guests feeling pampered, and you feeling like a party pro.

1. Get your invites out early so you can snag a Friday or Saturday. Weekend nights are prime dates, so get on everyone’s calendar early. You and your guests will both feel more relaxed if you don’t have to wake up early the next day. Plus, if you choose a Saturday and don’t work weekends, you’ll also have way more prep time before the party.

2. Plan on providing all the food and drinks. Unless you’ve specified that it’s a potluck (which is a totally appropriate solution if you’re on a strict budget), you’re hosting and therefore on the hook for providing everything. There are tons of wallet-friendly meal options, so pick something in a comfortable price range and head to your local wine store for an affordable import. If someone asks if they can bring something, suggest a bottle or six-pack of a beverage to share; it’s easy for them and won’t disrupt your planned menu.

3. Prep in advance as much as possible. You got a jumpstart by sending out your invites early and snagging a prime date, so don’t lose all that great momentum by waiting until the last minute to do everything else. Nail down your menu a couple of weeks out, do your shopping a few days before, and see #4 for your make-ahead friendly menu.

4. Choose a menu that is mostly make-ahead. The best way to make your guests feel relaxed is if you’re relaxed yourself. Accomplish this by prepping most of the meal in advance and choosing one item to make in “real time.” For example, if you’re grilling, have all of your sides and condiments prepped ahead of time and grill the main course when your guests arrive.

5. Don’t feel pressure to provide an all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet. It’s okay to prepare one generous portion for each guest, and two or three (max) drinks per person. This will help both your meal planning and your budget.

6. Have something non-alcoholic to offer. A carafe of water or some flavored seltzer or juices are perfect.

7. Clean your house, but only the areas you have to. No need to stress about a spotless home. Focus on the areas that guests will see, such as your kitchen, bathroom, and social areas. You have our permission to skip the rest.

8. Prepare your kitchen for easy cleanup. The more you do before the party, the less you’ll have to do afterwards. Empty your garbage and dishwasher so they’re ready for another load, and wash as many of the dishes you used for prep as possible before guests arrive.

9. Think about traffic patterns. Will you be having wine in your living room before dinner? Set some apps on the coffee table. A serve-yourself buffet? Clear off your counter and set up the serving dishes in a line, with plates at the beginning. Placing food strategically will help prevent your guests from getting stuck in clusters and looking at you for direction.

10. Designate a place for coats/purses/etc. Clearing some space and hangers in a coat closet is ideal, but a clean desk or well-made bed is totally fine.

11. Leave on some lights.You don’t need to keep every light in the house on, but doing so in places like the bathroom or wherever you’re stashing coats is nice. You want your guests to feel welcome, so guide them to the areas they’ll need to be instead of making them stumble around in the dark.

12. The small details count. A nice scented candle and extra toilet paper in the bathroom, soft music, or a bunch of fresh flowers placed in your living room are easy additions that make your space feel extra warm and inviting.

13. Save yourself a few minutes to primp. It might be tempting to answer the door in yoga pants and slippers, especially if you’re rushed, but you’ll feel more confident if you give yourself enough time to get primped and polished. Pour yourself a glass of water (or maybe a little pre-party vino!) and do your hair, swipe on some lip gloss, throw on your favorite outfit… whatever you need to do to feel great and party-ready.

14. Keep your guests’ glasses filled. This is the signature move of an expert host. Ask before refilling, and if you run out of alcohol, never fear. You can simply say something like, “I think we cruised through the wine, but can I get you some water or seltzer?”

15. Leave the dishes until the next day, or at least tell you’re guests that you’re going to. Do everyone a favor and end the night on a relaxing note rather than a group cleaning session. After all your guests are gone, put away perishables, do a quick check for stains that need immediate attention, rinse dishes and soak anything really scary, and then call it a night.

16. Don’t plan anything for the following day. This is where a Friday or Saturday night really comes in handy. The next day is not the time to show up to your friend’s 4am triathlon start. Take some time to clean in the morning, and then use the rest of the day to relax and reflect on your awesome party.

Ready to plan your party? Check us out on Pinterest for tons of party menu ideas.

Photos via Jazmin Quaynor/Unsplash, Andrew Langfield Petrides/Unsplash, Rhianon Lassila/Unsplash, Janko Ferlic/Unsplash, Jason Briscoe/Unsplash, Kari Shea/Unsplash, Jamie Street/Unsplash, Anthony Tran/Unsplash, +Simple/Unsplash