Alright, before we get into the ever impassioned topic of the dinner party, please indulge me in a short qualifier of what I mean when I refer to a “dinner party.” Not every get together with friends or family is a dinner party, thank goodness. The dinner party isn’t usually your last minute pizza/take out casual get-together with friends, backyard BBQ, or Sunday evening lazy supper with your dearest friends. And in my world, a dinner party isn’t when my 3 boys (ages 6 and under) are in attendance.:) Don’t get me wrong, I ADORE casual get-togethers with my friends and all of our children. I love the spontaneous last minute porch or backyard dinners on a Friday night where it’s a little hectic, but we don’t care, and we just talk and laugh and watch our children run around the backyard until the fireflies come out. We even (gasp!) use paper napkins sometimes. Those are special times. Those are where the memories are made.
But a dinner party is something different. It often means planning a date in advance, specifically putting together a complementary group of people, getting baby sitters lined up, and having a meal plan. For those of us with young children, it’s a chance to catch up without the interruptions, and to even dress up a little if we want. It’s an adult night out, and it’s special in its own way because of the gracious effort and thought that the host puts into it. She wants you to come, relax, enjoy the food and linger awhile. And if you’re lucky enough to walk home from your host’s house afterward, even better.
Okay now that we’re on the same page, let’s get to the good stuff.:)
The Hostess with the Mostess
I know, I know, you already are the perfect dinner party guest. You show up with the host’s favorite bottle of wine (…under $25 of course, there are many out there). You notice and compliment those new hand towels in the powder bath, and you know just the right moments during dinner to pull out hilarious anecdotes about your in-laws.
But the reality is, we will all experience as many different types of dinner guests as there are china patterns. So, the real skill is knowing how to manage them all with grace (and sanity) on your end, while simultaneously ensuring EVERY guest feels special and counted…even those tough to handle ones.
Here are a few thoughts to help your next dinner party come off with ease, graciousness and sincerity – just like you:
· You are an unshakeable pro – don’t forget it!
The best hosts do not flinch, no matter the guest request or behavior. Your role as the host is to make everyone feel comfortable and valued. You could have invited anyone, but you chose this person. Don’t let anyone leave your home feeling like they were a hassle, burden or second to the rest. You, my dear, are a gracious host. Nothing can shake you!
· Leave the dishes & enjoy the moment
Nothing kills a dinner party mood quicker than a host who starts loading the dishwasher while her guests are still there. Stack the dirty dishes next to the sink, open another bottle of wine, and sit down in the beautiful candle light of the table. The food was wonderful to be sure, but this is everyone’s favorite part of the dinner party, that last glass or two, and conversation. Speaking of…
· Conversation is not a lost art in your home
You’ve probably been rushing around serving your guests and refilling drinks during dinner, now sit and truly talk to them. Find out a bit more about what’s going on in their lives. After all, some of you may have moved mountains to coordinate sitters on the same night. Take advantage of the uninterrupted conversation time and ask your guests questions. Want to get a quiet guest talking? Just ask them about their last/next trip, what’s going on at work (or at home with the kids), or everyone’s favorite topic, “what are you watching on Netflix these days?” Everyone, EVERYONE, has a show they are watching, or just finished, and it always seems to bring out conversation all around the table.
Side Note: It goes without saying, do your best to leave the TV in the other room. This can be tough to swallow for some during Royals baseball season when they are on so frequently. Remember your first rule is to be a gracious host, find a way to accommodate the camaraderie of rooting for the home team while not compromising the conversation at your table. Usually a muted television in another room for quick score checks can do the trick. And probably don’t schedule dinner parties during the playoffs.:)
· Thank your Guests!
You spent your time and money on this dinner party because you wanted to. But your guests had a choice, and they chose to come to your home over other social gatherings, or at minimum, a rare precious quiet evening at home. Make sure you thank them on the way out the door for spending the evening with you and adding to the dinner atmosphere that made the party. It’s not really about the linens you used or the scrumptious cheese board you set out, even though it was all just lovely. It’s about the gift of your time that you all gave to one another. Now that is the true essence of etiquette.
AND NOW....The Dinner Party Guest - How to Get Invited Back!
· Bring a Host gift
No one expects this, but everyone loves it. It’s completely unnecessary, and completely thoughtful. It’s a nice way to say “thank you for having me” when you walk in the door. And it absolutely need not be anything big – flowers from your backyard in a mason jar would delight any host. A bottle of wine or prosecco is always a nice touch too. I have oodles of host gift ideas if you want, but the point isn’t about the actual gift, it’s about the consideration toward the host.
· Eat what is served, or eat around it
If you want to select your meal, I’d suggest a restaurant instead. I say that slightly joking, but you get the point. The dinner party is much more about the people than the actual meal. Although many of us have had our best meals at other people’s homes. Your host carefully planned the meal, and so it’s always most nice to eat what is served, or eat around it if it’s not something you prefer. You can do that discreetly. This is what we teach our children, after all. The exception to this rule is in the case of a food allergy. If you have a food allergy, do be sure to let your host know in advance. I promise she wants to ensure your safety and comfort above any desired meal plan.
We had a dinner party not too long ago where we had a shrimp boil…it makes me hungry just thinking about it. We love shrimp boils, and we have friends who do wonderful ones too. Anyway, we had 10 people over and either I didn’t realize it or forgot, but one of our guests did not like seafood of any kind. I had no idea the entire evening. It wasn’t until later when someone told me. She so discreetly just ate what she could and didn’t say a word, even with a mound of seafood on the table in front of her.
· Take the cue from your host
In general, the gracious dinner guest always waits for the host before she begins eating. This is true of almost any eating situation, the same way you wait for mom to sit down before you dig in. But, it’s really most important to take the cues from your host. If your host is plating and serving each guest individually, she may want you to go ahead and start right then while it’s hot. She is the one who planned the meal and it’s timing, which is no easy feat. So, if it’s hot and ready and she wants you to enjoy it right then, then do it.:)
My husband is like that as a host. He loves to cook, and he loves the meal right when it comes out of the pan or oven, and he wants everyone to enjoy in it right then too. For him it’s almost a little frustrating if there is too much time between when his carefully timed meal is ready, and when people actually eat. So the rule is, take your cues from the host.
· Be remembered for your wit, not how long you stayed
This is self-explanatory. Take those cues from your host. Most gracious hosts will never outright tell you it’s time to go. But they will give you subtle clues, like mentioning they have an early morning tomorrow, not refilling wine as quickly (or at all), or beginning to sort dishes in the kitchen.
· Say “Thank you” Again
I know you said “thank you” when you were walking out the door, but it’s always extra nice and polite to thank the host once you’ve arrived home, or at a decent hour the next morning. A simple message telling the host your favorite moment or giving a thoughtful detail is always nice. “I don’t know how you made that beef tenderloin so delicious, but I know I can’t live without the recipe!” You can do it via text or email, and should for timeliness sake. If you follow up with a hand-written note, even better.