Just a few notes on making a successful dinner party which have served me well over the years. I make no claim for originality about these observations, but they might just help!

You might also be interested in my Kitchen Tips for Men notes.

Cook things you have done before (successfully). Don't be tempted to cook something new for an impressive dinner party. There are far too many things that could go wrong and, even if it does all work out well, you will be under loads of stress and not enjoying it.

So, cook things you have managed at least once before - practice on yourself, or at least on very close company who will not mind if dinner is very late, or burnt! It's OK to scale up a recipe later for a larger number, but you want it to be easy so that you can relax and enjoy the company.

Cook easy things. Err on the side of simplicity when selecting your menu. Your guests will be much more impressed with simple dishes, prepared well, than with botched attempts at elaborate items.

Selecting your guests. This is of course a matter of personal taste, not to mention what your objectives are! You could be more relaxed in the timing and seating if everyone is a close friend; if you are out to impress someone, then a little more formality may be called for.

If at all possible, get firm acceptances, so you are sure exactly how many people you are feeding, and how many places to lay at the table. Don't invite more than you can comfortably seat around a single table - or the closest approximation you can manage. And specify clearly an arrival time with the invitation, so that the food can be properly cooked at the right time.

Make sure you invite at least one close friend to act as an assistant host while you are slaving away in the kitchen.

Washing up. Clearly, this is one of the most tedious parts of hosting a dinner party - although also an excellent argument for buying a dishwasher! Try and make sure that all crockery and cutlery is dishwasher-safe - even the best stuff you keep for special occasions. Make sure the dishwasher is run through and empty before your guests arrive, all ready to be filled up as you remove the plates from the table.

Relax and enjoy! It's important to enjoy your own parties. After all, you're spending a lot of time and money on the food and drinks, so it's important you get something out of it, too. Following the tips here should make it possible for you to enjoy the great food, fine wines and excellent company as much as your guests.

Timing. Kitchen timing is important. The is no point in starting all the cooking at the same time of some things take five minutes and others take an hour! So, work out ahead of time when dishes should be started, so that all the individual pieces are ready to be served together. (Practicing beforehand helps here too!)

Shopping. Make sure you have everything you need. Check the recipes carefully, and then the store cupboards. Make a list - and check it twice (cue song!) - of all the items you need. Get the shopping the day before - or at least the morning of the same day as the party - so that everything is fresh.

Give yourself enough time. Rushing the preparation of food is a sure-fire way of making a mess of it! Make sure you've plenty of time to get everything ready. Plan to have everything as ready as possible half an hour before your guests are due to arrive. Then, go take a shower - kitchens are typically hot places - change your clothes and chill out for a few minutes. Enjoy!

Drinks. Find out what your guests prefer to drink and cater to their tastes. There's absolutely no point in spending a fortune on an expensive bottle of red wine or the finest champagne, only to be told "But I only drink beer" (or alcopops).

If you have the time, tempt your guests with cocktails and mixed drinks before dinner. Serve snacks and nibbles with the drinks, so that people are not entirely ravenous before they get to the table.

Make sure you have plenty of soft drinks, chilling in the fridge - at least some of your guests are likely to be driving home afterwards. In any case, drinking water as well as wine is good for you - put out separate glasses for each of these. Offer both still and sparkling bottled water, orange juice and perhaps a caffinated cola drink.

Guest Preferences. There's nothing more embarrassing - for all concerned - than slaving away all day cooking a wonderful meal only to encounter one of your guests saying "I can't eat shellfish" or "I'm a strict vegetarian". It is essential that you ask - as directly as necessary - about any dislikes or allergies that your guests might have. And, of course, plan your menu accordingly.

Prepare early. Try and prepare as much as possible before your guests arrive, so that you are not spending every moment in the kitchen rather than chatting to your friends and acquaintances. Besides, having everything ready will give an - admittedly false - impression of effortlessness!

Have an "Assistant Host". Even with the the best preparation, cooking for a dinner party will require you to spend some time in the kitchen, concentrating on the cooking. So what you need is a spouse, partner or just a close friend, who makes sure your guests are looked after - glasses topped up, and so on - while you are attending to the food. Then you can focus on the finishing touches in the kitchen and whisk out your wonderful food to general acclamation.