As guests arrive, prime their taste buds -- and the mood -- by serving canapes or an amuse bouche (a single bite of food to entertain the senses -- sort of like a teaser for the coming courses) and sparkling wine -- cava and prosecco are budget-friendly alternatives to champagne.
Prepare as many dishes as you can ahead of time. This will ensure that you won't spend the entire party tucked away in the kitchen instead of out where the action is. Plus, you can invite guests to help prep the salads or plate the courses. This way, you won't have to be host, sous chef and waiter all rolled into one.
As for presentation, keep the dishware simple. Solid colors are typically better than patterns -- patterns may detract from the food itself, which should be presented with a garnish or drizzled with a sauce near the edge of the plate. Be sure you have plenty of cutlery; guests should receive a clean knife, spoon and fork before each course is served, along with any specialty tools like a demitasse spoon.
You might also consider serving a palette cleanser between courses, such as sorbet, gazpacho or even a small glass of champagne. This will add a feeling of decadence to your tasting menu, but also allows guests to better taste the subtleties of the next course.
And when it comes to the courses, be sure to vary the textures or serve surprising combinations of ingredients. This way, just as guests begin to think the next course is predictable, you can wow them. This is especially true for the dessert course, which can be a real showstopper. For example, serve beer as dessert by drizzling a strong, dark stout over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or try poaching fruit in a thematically appropriate wine. Whatever ingredients you incorporate, remember that fresh, in-season herbs and fruits pack the biggest flavor punch.
Although a tasting menu can be a complicated affair, it doesn't have to be. The key to keeping it manageable is to plan ahead, select a theme and give your guests an evening they won't soon forget -- filled with fabulous fare.