Let Me Entertain You
The holidays are a great time to entertain. But hosting has morphed. COVID took its toll. But the cost of food, opposing politics, and even global warming have also changed the way we gather. Here are some new “rules.”
Plan. There will always be punting as your gathering unfolds. But you’ll roll with it if you thought ahead as much as possible. The menu, shopping list, and timeline certainly. But good planning goes further. Be proactive to avoid decisions on the fly.
Our sweet spot is 10 people for dinner or 20 for an intimate party. But we’ve also thrown huge bashes. We commonly plan for enough seating, close parking for guests who need it, and trash containers in strategic places.
Who you don’t invite matters. Joan Crawford is quoted as saying “Take some corporation presidents, add a few lovely young actresses, a bearded painter, your visiting friends from Brussels, a politician, a hairdresser, and then toss them all together.”
Some of the best parties are people soup. But a likely failure is mixing those who don’t get along. For instance, I’d be hard-pressed to invite anyone who’s ever donned a MAGA hat.
Don’t be dependent on pivotal guests. Certain people make a party very special. But life happens, and invariably that all-too-important person gets sick.
Think even broader. Do you have activities for children? Do you want furry friends? Football party? Yes. Sit-down dinner? Fido stays home.
Keep your invites in the high regard they deserve. Stop inviting people who never RSVP. Or those who don’t show and never explain why.
Never repeat. Just because a party rocked one year, doesn’t guarantee it will be epic the next. Change up the theme, menu, and entertainment. One year have a fire pit with s’mores. Next year pumpkin carving with corn hole.
Use icebreakers! We label wineglasses with Christmas characters. Picking “Grinch” or “Vixen” ensures total strangers start throwing shade. We’ve had folks wear name tags including a single word describing themselves. Let’s just say people get very creative.
Avoid “you’re at our house, eat what we eat.” More people are now gluten free or vegetarian. Ask guests to be specific about what they don’t eat.
Think environment. Waste and excess have become off-putting. Consider compostable plates, cups, and flatware—just make sure they’re sturdy. Nobody likes bendy forks.
Borrow chafing dishes, coffee urns, and table linens. Buy cheap catering glasses and pass them to friends for their parties. Buy neutral servingware that can be festooned by what surrounds them.
Place recycling containers next to the trash bins. Serve water with lemons instead of plastic bottles. And give extra food away.
Say yes to more than the dress. When someone offers, say yes. Come early for setup? For sure! Stay late for cleanup? Hard yes!
Wallflowers like having something to do. Let them pick music, take coats, butler snacks, and refill wine. Or help you replenish garbage, fireplaces, ice, and punch bowls.
I remember a quiet friend who insisted on washing dishes. People lingered at the sink and laughed with him all night. They grabbed dishtowels and yelled over the din for where stuff goes. It was great fun.
Don’t overreach. If you’re a gourmet chef, have at it. I’d rather cook within my wheelhouse. And pocketbook.
Like Ina Garten, buy a few items, cook a few staples, and experiment with a dish or two. Or go potluck. Everyone loves them and it’s some of the best food you’ll ever eat.
Casual, homey fare is always a hit. Even throwbacks like meatballs in chili sauce and grape jelly. Everyone says “ick” as they go back for seconds.
If you can only afford beer and wine, boom you’re done. Or consider “well drinks” like winter sangria. One of my most sought-after recipes is my champagne punch. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll share it with you. Teaser: don’t skip the almond flavoring!
Exhale often. Nobody likes an uptight host. Setting the tone starts with you.
The greatest compliment we hear is people feeling at home in our house. Because we work to stay chill. The food isn’t magazine worthy. Drinks get spilled. And grandma’s tchotchke invariably breaks.
Your house is not a museum. Did you and your guests laugh? Smile? That’s all that matters.
Gracious hosting never ends. When people choose to leave does not reflect the time they had. Resist “you’re leaving already?”
We once invited an elderly couple who stayed less than two hours. For years, they talked about it being the best party they ever went to. Allow people a gracious exit. Tell them you’re glad they came.
Lastly, send thank yous! Do this for people who traveled far, helped in even the smallest ways, or left special gifts. Your event is over when your last thank you is in the mail. ▼
Ed and his husband Jerry split their time between homes near Harrisburg Pennsylvania and Bethany Beach. Ed builds websites to pay the bills but loves to cook, garden, hike, and dote on their dog Atticus. Recipe requests and feedback welcome: email@example.com.