I love to bake and I love entertaining. So naturally, I enjoy creating parties centered around desserts. Dessert parties are some of the easiest parties to manage since desserts generally require very little last minute attention.
Here are some tips I have found helpful over the years as I have honed my dessert party skills:
Okay, this is obvious and absolutely necessary for any type of entertaining, but making detailed lists can help the process be enjoyable rather than overwhelming. I tend to create a menu first to make sure I have a balance of flavors and textures. From that I create a list with the various components separated out (i.e. cake layers, filling, frosting), and then assign a timeline for each item. From the menu list, create a comprehensive grocery list - nothing is worse than finding you are missing an ingredient in the middle of a recipe! Also, create decor and table setting lists and timelines for those if needed. I like the Evernote app for my lists...having a list with check boxes to tick off as they get done is very satisfying, and it is easy to modify, and I can see it on any of my devices so my phone contains my shopping list. Of course old fashioned paper works too, just keep it in a notebook so you are not forever trying to locate random scraps of paper.
SOOO many things can be made at least partially ahead and frozen. Cheesecake freezes beautifully. I have discovered that most cake layers freeze well with no adverse effects and frosting the frozen layers can sometimes even eliminate the crumb-coating step of icing a cake. Most buttercream and cream cheese frostings can be frozen, though they have to be whipped again before use, so I tend to only freeze leftover frosting. Most cookies and squares can be frozen. You can make efficient use of an extra freezer by stacking cookie sheets on plastic cup "risers" to create more shelf space.
Nothing except maybe fresh flowers is going to go bad if you set the table ahead, even several days ahead. This gives you the advantage of gathering all your utensils and serving pieces to make sure you have everything you planned. If you find something missing, you have time to buy or borrow what you need. Walk through the party in your mind and see if you have thought of everything... does something require a different utensil or tableware to eat it? For buffet style parties, is there space for everything? Do you need auxiliary serving space? Can you commandeer a coffee table or console? I also like to print up label cards or a menu for buffet/self serve parties so guests don't have to wonder what things are and these can certainly be done well in advance. I store the templates on my computer so it is easy to modify them and generate new ones.
Clean up ahead
Cleaning up the kitchen from the pre-party last minute activity before guests arrive not only looks nice, it gives you or your serving help space to work and you don't start at a deficit. Run and unload the dishwasher ahead of time. Empty the trash and recycling. Wash and put away any last minute dirty dishes (tart pan forms, cheesecake pans, cookie sheets)
Hire serving help
I discovered many years ago that if I wanted to attend my own party, I needed to hire help. I always use real dishes and silverware, so for larger parties having someone to keep up with the dirty dishes that guests abandon is critical. Even if you use disposable, someone collecting the trash regularly is helpful. Servers can also keep an eye on things and refill serving platters and beverages. And at the end of the night, they can help pack everything up and wash the serving pieces. Over the years I have hired teen and young adult students and they have done a wonderful job and made the whole process more enjoyable for everyone. The host/hostess gets to enjoy the party and attendees don't feel obligated to offer to help.