Last week I shared a blog on things great dinner party guests do. Today I’m sharing a counterpart to that blog, things that great dinner party hosts do.
I read a story once about a couple who moved to a new town. Trying to make friends they kept inviting new couples over for dinner. They would eat in the dining room and the whole affair felt stiff and forced. Right before the third dinner their dining room table broke and they were forced to move to the kitchen table. Conversation flowed effortlessly and they laughed until midnight. They realized after that evening that moving to the kitchen table removed the formality of the evening and helped their guests feel comfortable and at ease.
Creating an environment where your guests feel welcome and at ease (the cardinal rule in hosting) is a learned skill. My mother taught me everything I know about being gracious (which despite her great effort, is still lacking) and my husband has taught me the subtleties of making a guest feel at home. Here are some of the things I have learned.
Here are five things all great dinner party hosts do, but they are all done under the one cardinal rule. Great dinner party hosts make their guests feel comfortable. Your goal is always to make your guest feel at home. Did they spill red wine on your brand new white couch? Doesn’t matter, you wished you got a red one instead! Did they cut the point off the brie? You’re so glad they feel comfortable enough to do that! Make your guest feel at home.
Great Dinner Party Hosts Do These 5 Things
- Never Open the Bottle of Wine Your Guest Brings. What if the wine is terrible? What if no one drinks it and instead prefers what you served? Your guest would be so embarrassed. The worst thing you can do as a host is to make your guest feel embarrassed.
- Never Apologize For the Food. Julia Childs said, “Never apologize for what happens in the kitchen.” When you apologize for the hard work you put in, it makes it awkward. Your gusts feel the need to over compensate and praise your cooking. And then all of a sudden everything is about you. You are the hidden force that makes a party successful, not the center of attention detracting from the fun. If the food is truly dreadful, call an audible and go grab takeout. But no one is going to sit around criticizing that the cookies were a little brown or the meat had too much sauce. They’re just happy to be there!
- Thoughtfully Prepare Your Guest List. Do not, under any circumstances invite 20 of your friends who are strangers to each other. The evening will be awkward and forced. It’s great to host a party so your friends can meet one another, but you should not be the only common friend they have. When I invite someone who might not know everyone, I make sure to invite a few other people that they might know from another setting to make them feel comfortable. The purpose of a party is not networking, it’s for people to let their hair down, relax and have fun.
- Go with the Flow. At my last dinner party I intended on playing fishbowl (one of my all time favorite party games), but as the evening progressed, people were really enjoying talking with one another. There were little groups throughout the house of people laughing and sharing life. Pushing my own agenda would have meant asking people to stop conversation and do what I wanted. I would have ruined the party. (The flip side of this of course is to have an agenda to steer the evening with should people be staring at their hands the whole night.)
- Make Your Guests Feel Pampered. Good hospitality is subtle. It isn’t accomplished in sweeping strokes, but in a carefully woven strategy to make your guest feel comfortable. Take their coat when they walk through the door, make sure the temperature in your home is comfortable enough so they don’t need their coat. Offer them their favorite drink and bring them to their friends. The sooner they are laughing the better.
When I visit my in-laws, my father-in-law has stocked the fridge with all the things he knows I like to eat plus my favorite champagne and sparkling water. We might not even get to the champagne (although who are we kidding, we always get to the champagne), but it’s always there just waiting to be opened. He thinks about all the creature comforts I might want.
When Joe’s cousin got married, they opened the bar before the ceremony even started. I loved that! Everyone is always waiting to get to the reception so they can have a drink anyway. His cousins thoughtfulness immediately altered the mood of the entire event. People relaxed, they laughed, they were not uptight.
Sit down enough in advance to think about what your guests might want. Will you have a lot of people creating extra body heat? Consider turning down the thermometer, even if you like a warm house. Does one of your friends not drink? Make sure there’s sparkling water for them so they still have a treat. Are you serving cookies for dessert? Bring out a carafe of ice cold cow’s milk. Think about the little things you would want at someone else’s home and try and provide them for your guests.
Being a good host doesn’t come naturally (for most) but when learned can help create a welcoming and safe atmosphere for conversations to occur and friendships to form. And those friendships are what change the world. If you’re learning as you go you’re in good company.
What do the great dinner party hosts that you know do? What do you have to add to this list?