10/16/2014 05:17 EDT | Updated 12/16/2014 05:59 EST

Five Easy Steps for a Stress-Free Dinner Party

If you're like most people, you've probably hosted at least one dinner party when you spent so much time preparing and serving the food and wine that you hardly got a chance to talk to your guests. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Here are some simple tricks I've learned along the way that should help you to have a stress-free, less-daunting experience. The key is getting as much prepared in advance so you spend less time in the kitchen after your guests arrive and can enjoy your evening as much as they do.

1. Choose recipes you know

When it comes to your menu, I highly recommend going with delicious classics you have prepared before. Some hosts use a dinner party to try out new recipes in an attempt to impress their guests, but this often causes a great deal of effort and frustration. If you do want to try something new, test the recipe a couple times before your event so you know exactly how much time it takes to prepare the items and how intricate they can be.

2. Wine preparation

Wine goes hand-in-hand with the perfect dinner party. For white wine, put at least one bottle on ice in a nice bucket so your guests don't have to see the inside of your fridge every time you want to pour a glass. My go-to white wine for entertaining is Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. The wine is vibrant and crisp with citrus and passion fruit notes. It's a great way to start off the evening and an easy way to impress your guests straight away.

For red wine, open the bottle about an hour before your guests arrive so the wine can breathe, or serve it in a decanter. Either way, you won't have to worry about opening the bottle in front of your guests or any potential spills. Stoneleigh Pinot Noir is a great option for a medium-bodied red wine that is a real crowd-pleaser and a great match for many different types of food.

3. Room temperature appetizers

These are always a great way to start off the evening. Your guests can graze on them at their own pace and it will free you up to make introductions, give tours and chat with your guests. Remember, your guests came to see you, so if you are worrying about heating and plating food right from the beginning, your face time with them will invariably be shortened.

4. Serving plates and utensils

One of the worst things to do in front of your guests is to hunt around for a salad bowl or the proper serving spoon. So well before your guests arrive, plan out which serving plates and utensils will be used for each dish or course. Lay out each plate or bowl on the counter with its respective utensils so that when the items come off the stove or out of the oven, you can get them into their proper serving dish and take them straight to the table.

5. Coffee and tea

These are a great way to end the evening and seem like a relatively simple task, but they can be time consuming if you haven't properly prepared. If you have an espresso machine, make sure the grounds drawer is empty and that the water tank is full. For drip coffee, make sure that the ground beans are already in a filter in the machine, so all it takes is a press of a button for you to rejoin the fun. Have a selection of teas available so you don't have to rummage around in the cupboard for them.

Even the most experienced of dinner hosts deserves a night off of from the heavy lifting. Wine and dine your favourite dinner guests with the ultimate gastronomic experience. Enter for you chance to win a private, five-course gourmet dinner with Stoneleigh Vineyards for 10, personally prepared by Chef Mark McEwan:


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