Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hosting a Dinner Party: Fancy Style


The Fancies host a lot of dinners and after the first hundred or so, you pretty much have it down to a science. Why so many parties? Are we that popular? No, because if we were we’d be attending parties, not hosting. Ha. In truth, our social life is pretty active, although not to the degree that many Fancy Couples have. But there are two main reasons why we are always having people to dinner: 1) we like our food and we like to cook and 2) hosting the dinner at our place erases the uncomfortable “Who pays the bill?” issue. We have friends of all types and not many of them are Fancy. Rather than force someone into a restaurant that is beyond his budget or see a pal look nervously at H when he orders another bottle of wine, we just bring everyone to our house. I can throw a £100 worth of steak on the grill, toss a simple green salad, open a couple bottles of mid-priced wine and right there we have a meal that makes everyone happy and for a heck of a lot less than if we’d picked up the bill at a steakhouse. (Not that I mind but I’ve found that picking up the bill makes people uncomfortable. And when we’re out with Very Fancy People and they pick up the bill, I get embarrassed. So it’s better to just avoid the whole conversation.)
So anyway, what’s the secret to hosting fabulous parties? (I am assuming our parties are pretty good; people come back looking for more.) I’m going to share it with you right here: start by being Not Fancy. What? Yes, you heard me. A good dinner party should be about food, friends, and laughter. Not about matching cutlery or Riedel glassware (although that is all I have--wedding gifts). So start by going barefoot and putting on some jeans. Minimal makeup. One squirt of perfume. However, do hang a fabulous sweater and some heels within reach, just in case your guests arrive in more stylish gear. The last thing you want to do is make anyone uncomfortable.
Secondly, get as much done as you can before the guests arrive. But not everything. Leave yourself something to do last minute. Why? So that they immediately see that your hands are full and you can’t possibly serve them all drinks or refill empty glasses. This sends home the message that we are an “our house is your house” kind of family and makes your guests feel more at home reaching for another bottle of booze.
And that brings home the next point: enough booze. It doesn’t have to be Fancy. Pick up an issue of Olive and flip to the page with cheap wine picks. Then go get a minimum of 1 bottle per person. And then add another bottle. Yes, you will likely have leftovers, which you can enjoy while reminiscing over your perfect party. But the worst (and I mean WORST) thing you can do as a host is run out of liquor. Seriously.
Oh, while I’m apreachin’, have a Plan B. I had guests over recently and served bars of baking chocolate for dessert. My “sugar work” wasn’t up to par that day and after two failed attempts at something that should have been simple, I moved on. Know when you’re in over your head. Take a breath, have a laugh and call for pizza or find those little restaurant mints you stuck in your purse. They’ll do just fine. (So long as there’s enough booze. Full circle we come.)
Finally, to avoid the need to call for take out, keep the food simple. Go family style. Easy food that tastes good. It doesn’t have to be steak; properly cooked pasta can be a work of art. Forget warmed plates and Fancy sauces. Do what you know. Do it with confidence. Everyone will love it. (This is assuming, of course, that you’ve checked beforehand regarding allergies and aversions—nothing worse than serving a seafood feast to a person who goes into anaphylactic shock at the sight of a crab. Very bad form, that is. )
And that’s it. If you are Fancy, have your housekeeper come the next day to clean up. If you aren’t, enlist your friends to help load the dishwasher and promise to do the same at their place next week. (I always do the dishes when I’m invited to dinner---gets me closer to the leftovers and open bottles of wine.) And there you have it: dinner party (Un)Fancy style. So with that, I hope I’ve given a few of you a little confidence and inspiration to become fabulous, Fancy hosts. Ooh, do invite me over! Sounds fantastic!
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