Who knew that a post on a drunken dinner guest would garner so much attention — and elicit both hilarious horror stories and great tips?
Several readers, including regular Ruth Pennebaker, suggested that a host has responsibilities as well to ensure an enjoyable evening for all.
Below, find advice gleaned from regular dinner-party throwers, etiquette experts, and personal experience.
(Note: It’s never a good idea to put your hand in the blender while it’s still running, no matter how much of a hurry you’re in to make the pesto before the guests arrive. Even if these guests are family, trained nurses, don’t mind staunching the blood flow, or checking to see if stitches are needed. I still have the scar as a memento from this night when I was, indeed, the high-maintenance host.)
Think of these suggestions as hints from Henry, not Heloise. And, as always, feel free to add your own. Here’s to stress-free entertaining.
1. Relax. Easier said than done, my anxious self knows, but no one really wants to spend an evening with a friend who is freaking out about what’s going wrong in the kitchen. Truth be told, it’s the pleasure of your good company — undistracted and attentive — your posse crave, not so much what you’ve got cooking.
2. Give the guest list careful consideration. Do we even need to go there? (See post on this subject for details.) I so appreciate Sean Timberlake’s sound advice on this score. Here’s what the man who writes a food blog called Hedonia, for heaven’s sake, and frequently flings open his doors to diners, has to say about a good guest mix:
For a dinner party of 8, we generally include one couple from our regular rotation (our “anchors,” we call them) who can help set a tone of familiarity; a second couple with whom we’ve socialized but perhaps not entertained frequently; and a final couple who are relative if not total newcomers, but whom we feel would be a good match. And we insist that couples not sit next to each other. This makes for a fun dynamic.
I would add: Think beyond couples; singletons like to eat too. And pay attention to balance. A dinner party consisting of work buddies talking shop all night may not induce yawning, but too many friends prattling on about one aspect of your life can get a wee bit tedious for those who don’t share your passion for stamp collecting. I’m just saying.
3. Plan ahead. Give some thought to menu, guests dietary constraints, shopping, and house tidying a day or two before your dinner. Then you can spend the day of focused on prepping and cooking, thus having a better chance of achieving #1 status. Commonsense, yes, but how many of us have waited until the last minute to figure out what to make, realized an ingredient isn’t on hand at the 11th hour, or recoiled in horror at what’s growing in the loo and run off in search of the toilet brush right before the guests are due to arrive?
4. Keep kitchen time to a minimum. That’s especially true if this room is cut off from the rest of your home and there’s nowhere for guests to hang out and chat with you while you whip up a souffle or whatever you’ve got going on. Of course, completely ignore this advice if the whole point of your dinner party is to cook together with friends. In such cases, I appreciate having a job (anyone who knows me will tell you I’m an obsessive veggie chopper), if the host is the kind of casual soul who’s comfortable with her guests helping out.
5. Think simple. I’m the type who likes to prep and cook as much as I can before anyone even sets foot in my door. I like order, quiet, and concentration when I’m cooking. It helps me reach that #1 state. If you’re the sort who can whip up an eight-course meal while yakking away with your pals without getting flustered, good for you. And where’s my invite? For the rest of us, a couple of courses, one-pot dishes, even accepting an offer from a guest to bring salad or dessert is perfectly acceptable.
6. Save the experiments for later. As a general guide, a dinner party is usually not the time or place to try a new recipe. It can be hard to aspire to that #1 state when you start flirting with disaster with an unfamiliar dish. Know what I’m saying? Anyone?
7. Pace yourself. Learn from the pesto incident. Give yourself ample time to cook. Leave yourself a window in which to shower, dress, or even take a minute to chill before the doorbell rings. You don’t want to be worn out when your guests arrive.
8. Designate a wing (wo)man. No host need go it alone. Solicit your partner or a fellow guest (save this task for close friends). Check in ahead of time so this person knows it’s his/her job to freshen drinks, clear clutter, include an introvert in the banter, or whatever else you think you’ll need help with over the course of the evening.
9. Set the tone. Introduce guests, offer drinks and nibbles, and get the conversation started. Once things start flowing you can attend to last-minute details. Hosts who fret about the food or the red wine stains on the white carpet don’t put guests at ease. Remember, it’s just stuff.
10. Have fun. No one wants tension over the table. The best thing you can do to ensure everyone has an enjoyable evening is to have fun yourself. Be your gracious, good self and people will have a good time, which, after all, is what throwing a dinner party is all about.