Are you hosting a gathering for Thanksgiving or another occasion? If so, there are many things you can do ahead of time to reduce the stress. Here's a quick checklist:
Determine the number of people you're hosting. This will affect your menu as well as your seating and serving plans.
Decide on a menu. A pot luck will reduce the number of dishes you need to prepare - just be sure to make specific requests. For example, instead of "side dish," ask someone to bring the sweet potato casserole they made last year. If your guests aren't great cooks, ask them to bring wine, or a pie or bread from your favorite bakery.
Figure out the logistics of what goes where. Decide ahead of time where you are going to seat everybody, whether the food will be served family style at the table(s) or whether you want to go with a buffet (and if so, know where you are going to locate the buffet), and where drinks will be located (do you want to dispense drinks from the kitchen as guests arrive, or set up a bar where they can help themselves?).
Create a timeline for the day of. I picked up this tip from Ina Garten, who creates a detailed plan for the day of the party. This includes what dish you're preparing at what time, what goes into the oven at a specific time, what comes out of the oven when, etc. This is a great way of ensuring that you don't make one dish that needs to be baked at 350 degrees at the same time that you need to bake something else at 425, or need to use six burners when you only have four.
Get your serving dishes ready the day before. This is especially true if you are using dishes you don't use regularly, like a gravy boat. Use post-its to label platters and bowls with what they will hold, so you (or your helpers) don't have to think about it when you're getting ready to eat.
If possible, set the table the day before. If you don't need the table(s) you'll be eating at, go ahead and set them a day ahead so you have one less thing to do on the big day. This way, you will also know ahead of time if you are short a glass or silverware.
Be prepared for the unexpected. There will almost certainly be a hiccup or two on the day of your event, so just know that and stay calm. Most likely, no one else will notice, and even if they do, they'll think it's not a big deal if you don't make it one!
Original image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Stuart Miles.