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It’s time to entertain. Payback or reciprocation, whatever you want to call it. Or maybe, you just feel like getting the group together for a night of clever conversation and enlightening exchanges. Whether it’s old friends or new, or a need to impress the boss, an elegant dessert party provides a fun, sinfully delicious opportunity to show off your hosting talents.

Why a dessert party? It’s an easy way to invite a multitude of guests when you don’t have enough space or china to serve a sit-down dinner. A dessert party won’t exhaust your entertainment budget, and it’s a wonderful way to test your creativity.

Try out new, innovative invitations. Go for unusual store-bought selections, or design your own. Cut coffee cup shapes from bright-colored paper and hand write the copy, or if you’re able, calligraphy adds an elegant touch. One very resourceful hostess wrote a poem and had it printed on paper dessert napkins.

Begin by assembling your guest list at least four weeks in advance, and mail your invitations out no later than three weeks before the party. This gives time for your guests to save the date, and allows those who need to hire a babysitter ample opportunity. Be sure to provide the date, time and your address. Include your telephone number with a request for a response by a specific day, usually well before the party date. Based upon the number of guests you anticipate attending, you can determine the quantity of food you need to purchase.

Plan on at least one large wedge of cake plus three cookies or candies or pastries per guest. For some people, this is more than they’ll eat, and for some it’s less. Either way, it evens itself out. When you know how much you need—for example, three cakes and three dozen pastries— search your cookbooks for recipes. Be sure to find those that not only look impressive, but that are relatively easy to prepare. Tried and true recipes are the best options. If you’re attempting to bake a new cake, do a trial run to make certain it’s a success. Once you decide which desserts to prepare, make a shopping list. Include some mixed nuts and candies. They look pretty in small candy dishes, and provide a quick nibble when strategically placed near conversation areas. If baking is not your forte, call the nearest bakery and place your order. Be sure to inquire about the amount of advance notice needed.

If you feel confident about baking, go ahead and bake whatever you can ahead of time, and freeze, freeze, freeze. This will save a lot of time and eliminate much pre-party stress.

Choose beverages that will complement your desserts. Coffee, both regular and decaffeinated, is a good standby. For added fun, set up a coffee bar. Include whipped cream, shaved chocolate, cinnamon sticks and colored sugar crystals. Purchase or borrow Irish coffee glasses for the occasion. Bubbly champagne or sparkling wines served in graceful champagne flutes add a bit of glamour to the evening.

Next step? Serving pieces. That means plates, silverware and platters. This is the perfect time to unwrap those wedding gifts and actually use them! Throw in a dose of nostalgia by using dessert sets: the kind where the coffee cup fits into a designated circle on the plate. Borrow these from your mom, or scour antique or resale shops. China, crystal and silver will grace your table with beauty, but don’t be shy about using paper goods—especially high-quality, decorative variations. In either case, colored dessert napkins are very appropriate.

Set the table the night before the party. Make your serving table eye appealing and interesting by incorporating levels. Try different platter heights, including an old-fashioned pedestal tray, and use doilies. Set your table with one white fabric tablecloth, and tape small, sturdy cartons to different places on the table. Be sure their surfaces are large enough to hold a serving tray. Cover the boxes with another white tablecloth. Next, arrange pink tulle (about 50 cents per yard) in bunches all around the covered cartons. When you place the desserts on top of the boxes, be sure to weigh down the tulle so it does not shift. Add small votive candles and holders around the table (away from the tulle) and turn down the lights. You’ll see a beautiful, elegant table that’s ready to be complimented.

The next time you entertain, plan an elegant dessert party. Your guests will be impressed with your creativity and your food, and they’ll truly enjoy themselves. The best thing about a dessert party? All the work is finished before the guests arrive, so you, too, can enjoy yourself.