If you love to cook, dinner parties are one of life’s great pleasures. It’s an excuse to bring people together you love (or maybe just mildly tolerate) and really give them a culinary show. You can let your creativity flow with a well-planned menu to delight the taste buds. At the end of the night, your guests will realize how talented you are and your enemies will hear about your success with envy.

You know what’s not fun, though? The cleanup. The more complex your menu is, the harder it is to keep things under control as the night goes on. Keeping a constantly tidy station is impossible. Any praise from your guests will be slightly corrupted by the overwhelming sight of dirty dish stacks and sauce stains on the wall.

You don’t have to compromise your love of hosting dinner parties with your aversion to endless cleaning. Just like that menu you’ve so diligently worked on, a little planning can go a long way.

Before the party

The real cleaning starts before you’ve ever dirtied a salad fork. Prep work means that taking care of dishes as you go is effortless. Make sure that you’ve cleaned every dish in the sink and emptied the dishwasher completely. That way, anything dirty can be quickly thrown in the dishwasher. Get your counters clean and free of clutter. You’ll find it much easier to cook your meal when you’re not fighting for space.

When you’ve done all of the obvious cleaning, think about your meal. Are there things you can combine in advance to cut back on the dirty dishes? Maybe you can measure out all of your ingredients beforehand and consolidate containers. Put dry ingredients in one and wet ingredients in another. You would be amazed how much preparation can cut back on mess.

During the party

There’s a fine line between being proactive about cleaning during your dinner party and completely ignoring your guests. Don’t get so caught up in cleaning that you forget to enjoy yourself. If you prepare enough, you won’t need to spend all your time tidying up.

To make clean up of surfaces easier, lay out some parchment paper on your countertops. Or, to be eco-friendly, line surfaces with some kitchen towels and throw them in the laundry bin at the end of the evening. This is a game changer if you’re working with sauces or other messy ingredients.

After the party

Time to see who’s a true friend and who you should write off from your next invite list. When the dinner is over, start grabbing plates and see who joins in. Don’t wait until everyone is gone. If they’re close friends or family, shame them into helping. One or two extra sets of hands can truly speed the process up.

Finally, if you had a big party and the end of the night has left you exhausted, give yourself permission to do what you can! It’s okay if every single dish and pot doesn’t make it’s way back into the cupboard cleaned and dried. They’re not going anywhere. Go get some rest and reflect on your successful dinner party.