Here's how to court disaster with food:

* Plan a first-course souffle' for a sit-down dinner for 10. Or a first-course anything that requires careful timing. Unless you've spent years on the prairie rounding up cattle, there is no way you'll get all your guests hauled into the dining room and seated before the souffle' gets tired and falls down.

* Serve sea urchins. Or tripe. Or anything else that many people view with suspicion.

* Invite guests at 8 and don't serve dinner until 10:30. This will assure drunken rowdiness and a lack of interest in food. (This is one disaster, however, that can be used to cancel another. If dinner is burned, or in any other way inedible, delaying its arrival guarantees that the guests will be unable to tell whether they're eating charred meat or chocolate.)

* Oversell your cooking ability. People who declare what marvelous cooks they are, set up expectations that can rarely be met.

The best way to avoid dinner-party disasters (short of never ever inviting anyone named Cassius to drop in on March 15) is to plan them. One hostess, an excellent cook who gives very enjoyable dinners, decided long ago that the thing to avoid at all costs is the reputation as a perfect hostess. She keeps guests off balance and forces them to lower their expectations by always having something missing.

Most recently it was ice: Guests who made so bold as to ask for it were told that they must choose between warm whiskey or a drink chilled by chunks of orange popsicle her daughter had frozen in the ice-cube tray.