Regular readers of this space may recall that my New Year’s resolution was to host more dinner parties. Heck, host a dinner party. Check.
We’re talking a casual soiree with an interesting mix of adults around a table dining, wining, conversing, laughing, and generally having a convivial time of it.
That was the idea. Let’s just say that it didn’t prove to be the reality for my first attempt at dinner party fun in 2010 and leave it at that, okay?
How boring. Let’s not. Where to begin? It started with a health scare, cold feet, a dropped dessert, a man shortage, and angst on my end when I realized I’d be feeding three really good cooks, one of whom showed up almost an hour late (to be fair she did call), thus seriously messing with the meal timing.
So by the time all my guests arrived I was just grateful that this group of women made it to my house. And I had a hunch they’d all like each other and hoped they’d overlook any deficiencies on the food front and we’d all just have a good time.
My mistake. The latecomer asked if she could bring a friend. Feeling generous and in the spirit of growing community I said yes.
Here’s the kicker, and there’s no way to sugar coat it: The ring-in showed up absolutely hammered. Who does that?
We’re not talking tipsy and chatty, we’re talking unable to see straight, about to pass out in the plate, please-don’t-throw-up-at-my-dinner-table kind of plastered.
It was uncomfortable and awkward, with my confused friends wondering why I would invite such an inebriated soul to my home for dinner.
I’d like to say I went all Miss Manners and ignored the situation. That would be a lie. I had a brief, terse exchange in the kitchen with my friend who’d brought the offending guest. I said something compassionate and understanding like: “What the %##& were you thinking?”
After devouring almost all the hand-made toffees (but who’s counting?), burping several times at the table (truthfully, yes), and announcing she didn’t feel well (oh, no!), my friend had the good sense to skedaddle out the door with her woozy, boozy buddy in tow. (To be fair, she apologized repeatedly the next day for her friend’s inappropriate behavior.)
Their departure was followed by a sigh of relief, much giggling, and, natch, a discussion about what had just transpired.
Here’s what we learned from the experience: More than food, music, and mood lighting the most important ingredient to a successful dinner party is the guest list.
I’m not the only one in my circle who has had misadventures at the table. At a recent dinner hosted by a friend we’d both tried to redirect conversation when a couple who were a tad boorish talked about themselves a little too much.
While such mishaps make for good blog fodder, we’d all like to avoid such scenarios again.
So my friend and I started mulling over what makes a good guest — aside from arriving without too much alcohol on board.
Here’s our list:
1. RSVP. Do let your host know in plenty of time that you’re delighted to attend her dinner party. Not responding makes meal planning tricky and can hurt feelings.
2. Arrive on time. That means not too early and not too late. As a guide, if you’re asked to come at 7, then, ah, 7 is good. Later than 7:15 and you should call. Earlier than 6:50 expect to find your host scurrying around in her skivvies doing final prep and be prepared to fix your own drink and amuse yourself for a few minutes.
3. Bring a hostess gift. And choose something that doesn’t make work for the hostess. Wine, chocolates, homemade preserves, are all lovely. Flowers are also fine but offer to arrange them, as my friend did, while your host is busy with the business of looking after her guests. Or drop them off the next day as a thank you gift.
4. Offer to help. Dinner parties = lots of dishes so be prepared to pitch in. But do take no for an answer from folk who like to control clean up in their own kitchen.
5. Explain dietary restrictions in advance. Even if your host forgets to ask she’d much prefer to know ahead of time if you’re a lactose-intolerant, gluten-free, vegan, who shuns root vegetables and has a nut allergy. Honestly. She really, really, really wants to know this stuff before she plans her menu.
6. Take a polite bite. Unless you’re going to go into anaphylactic shock, be at odds with your god, or suffer an immediate, unpleasant reaction to what’s put in front of you, then your job is to try what the host may have spent hours making for the night. Or at least cut it up and move things around the plate. You don’t have to eat it all but you may actually find that those veggies you thought were disgusting — say, mushrooms or brussels sprouts — can taste divine when cooked well.
7. Come with an appetite. If you have an event in advance or after that precludes your partaking in the meal, take a raincheck for a time when you can eat what your host has gone to time and effort to prepare.
8. Avoid critiquing the chow. Trust me on this one: The cook will know only too well if the potstickers are a tad burned, the rice a little on the crunchy side, the soup overspiced…you get the idea…find something complimentary to say like “I love butternut squash,” and move on.
9. Show your best self. Plan on having fun. Hold up your end of the dinner-time banter, avoid too much work talk, don’t dominate the discussion, and include everyone around the table, especially shy types who may need some encouragement to join in.
10. Give thanks. A gracious thank you at the end of the night is the least a guest can do. A follow-up phone call, note, or email is extra nice, especially if you mention something specific about the evening that you found enjoyable.
Now it’s your turn: Do you agree with this list? What would you add or subtract? Bonus points for sharing stories, good, bad, or downright ugly. Oh, and if you have words of wisdom about what makes for a good dinner party guest mix, bring ’em on.