Welcome to “In Good Taste,” where we’ll explore all things mannerly pertaining to food and how to enjoy it with others. Today we’ll explain how a host can make dinner party guests feel welcomed.
Do prepare, but don’t obsess. Today’s guests understand that everyone leads busy lives, thus hosting a dinner party in one’s home is already a step ahead of most “meet-out” invitations. While no one wants to pick pet hair out of their crème brûlée, it is not necessary to clean your baseboards with cotton swabs. Get the house tidied up, organized, swept and dusted, get Fluffy and Barky settled where they won’t be obtrusive, scrub the guest bathroom and put out numerous hand towels and fresh soap, then concentrate on getting the food prepped as much as possible in advance so you can then…
Greet your guests at the door decked out in your party best. This should not be delegated to a non-resident, but a spouse might do until you can break away from stirring the roux. Whether your crowd prefers black tie or black denim, be sure you don clean, pressed clothes that look presentable. Yes, a little flour on your cheek for effect is permissible, especially for those hosts who are aspiring – but not well-known – gourmets. Strands of hair dropping from your forehead are not permissible.
Learn before you burn (your bridges). A successful and popular host who wishes never to be short of hopeful dinner party attendees will take time to know guests’ individual food likes and dislikes before planning the menu. While it used to be the norm to avoid combining political contrarians on the same evening, these days one will do better to avoid pairing those with incompatible palates. An evening featuring a survivalist huntsman seated beside a vegan back-yard gardener will not end well, most certainly.
Allergies seem to be rampant, so a host will assure guests feel comfortable by offering fare that can be enjoyed by all in attendance. Don’t believe the popular wisdom that your menu must be extravagant or difficult. Few of us will attend a dinner for European royalty, but if you learn to prepare several great dishes that suit your friends’ tastes, they may consider you epicurean royalty.
Use place cards. Quaint as it seems, they serve a useful purpose. There is a natural tendency for people to sit next to those whom they know well. It also results in silos of deadly dull dinner conversations. Separate, gently of course, those who have apparently become joined at the wrist. Let them sit catty-corner from one another if that will decrease their initial discomfort.
Place cards also come in handy to connect two people who have something in common that would be worth exploring. Point this out as you direct guests to their seats by saying, “Oh, Beth, I am seating you next to Tom, who shares your avid interest in architecture. Tom, Beth is making a trip to Barcelona and I’m hoping you can tell her about buildings she should not miss!” They’ll be off and running before the first salad fork is lifted.
Now that you know how to be the perfect host, next time we’ll discuss how to be the ideal guest.
Etta Kate is the nom de plume of a business consultant who maintains anonymity to protect her clients’ privacy. She is pleased to be so warmly welcomed into the WFAEats family of contributors. If you have a question about food and dining etiquette, Etta Kate will be happy to help. You can post your messages in the comments section of this page.