Read an Excerpt
Do's and Don'ts of Holiday Parties
From International Etiquette Expert Jacqueline Whitmore
By Jacqueline Whitmore
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Jacqueline Whitmore
All rights reserved.
THE DO'S AND DON'TS OF HOLIDAY PARTIES
Entertain with Elegance and Ease
THAT'S THE SECRET OF ENTERTAINING. YOU MAKE
YOUR GUESTS FEEL WELCOME AND AT HOME.
IF YOU DO THAT HONESTLY, THE REST
TAKES CARE OF ITSELF.
--BARBARA HALL, WRITER AND TELEVISION PRODUCER
Entertaining clients, customers, and coworkers in a restaurant can be a lot of fun, but did you know that one of the most generous gifts you can give to others is an invitation to your home? W hen you entertain in your home, you reveal a more personal side of yourself, which in turn can build camaraderie and trust with your guests. My husband, Brian, and I love our home and we take a great deal of pride in sharing it with others. Our house is neither big nor fancy, but it is comfortable, tastefully decorated, and we always have something good to eat on hand.
It's not necessary to be a gourmet chef or a professional party planner to coordinate a casual or elegant event. All you need is a little bit of planning and preparation and an adventurous spirit. I've learned that the best host is someone who entertains with heart and soul and happily pays attention to the details. The first step is to be as organized as possible to keep your plans from going awry. Unfortunately, many of us learn this important lesson from experience, and my hope is to help make you look good and avoid embarrassment regardless of how much or how little you entertain.
Before you invite your boss or an important client over for dinner, it's best to practice on your friends first. Friends tend to be less discerning and more forgiving. During the early years of our marriage, Brian and I needed some practice, so we decided to host a dinner party for twelve of our friends. My first mistake was deciding to serve something I had never cooked before--beef tenderloin. My second mistake was asking Brian how long he thought it would take to partially sear it on the grill and then finish baking it in the oven. He said it would take approximately forty-five minutes total.
Today I know better than to ask my husband for cooking advice, and here's why. Our twelve guests arrived and the tenderloin was still rare. (It needed at least another hour to cook.) I hadn't planned on serving any hors d'oeuvres, but I found myself frantically scrounging around in my pantry until I found a half-eaten bag of chips and some stale nuts. Out of necessity, I served these humble munchies to my guests while plying them with a few extra cocktails until the meal was finally ready to serve. Fortunately, our friends still had a good time and never knew that a culinary catastrophe was narrowly avoided.
If something like this happens to you, keep your anxiety to yourself and your guests will never notice. Let go of the need to be perfect, embrace your sense of humor, laugh at yourself, and, I promise, you will get through it. Entertaining a few friends can be a good dress rehearsal before you have to put on a big show for important clients or colleagues. You'll know how to set the stage and serve something you've had success with in the past, and like me, you'll know where not to go for cooking advice.
Top Ten Tips to Being the Hospitable Host
Rest assured, in today's fast-paced world, where most of us are short on time and resources, there are no absolute rules about parties. But the best rule to keep in mind is the five Ps: prior planning prevents poor performance. After all, the purpose of entertaining for business or pleasure is to show your guests a good time without getting too stressed out. Here are ten tips to help you get started.
1. Do your homework. Find out ahead of time if any of your guests have food allergies or other dietary restrictions and plan your menu accordingly or prepare a buffet with a variety of items from which to choose. My advice is to keep it simple and serve what you know. Don't be like me and try to serve an unfamiliar, complicated, or labor-intensive dish your first time out, especially if you are entertaining your boss or an important client. One of your tried-and-true recipes is best. If you want to live on the wild side and serve something exotic or extra special, prepare it at least two or three times before you decide to serve it to guests.
2. Keep a list. Just as you would with a business plan, write down all of the items you need to make your meal complete. It's especially frustrating when you think you have all of your ingredients and then discover in the midst of cooking that you don't have enough salt, sugar, or butter. If that happens, I hope you have a good relationship with your neighbors, or you'll be making a mad dash to the store at the last minute.
3. Have a variety of beverages on hand. The mark of a good host is to have a few bottles of red and white wine along with plenty of nonalcoholic beverages for the teetotalers in the group.
4. Stock up on snacks. This includes nuts, chips, salsa or dip, one or two different cheeses, crackers, and one or two kinds of frozen appetizers. Choose hors d'oeuvres that are easy to eat and require only one bite. This will ensure that no one gets crumbs on his or her nice outfit or on your floor.
5. Do as much as possible the day before. I like to set my table the night before. I also prefer to clean and polish my serving pieces and fill my salt-and pepper shakers a few days before the party to avoid last-minute flurries.
6. Iron your linens. When you are serving cocktails, provide linen cocktail napkins or, at the very least, decorative paper cocktail napkins. For dinners, I prefer linen napkins because they're more elegant than paper ones.
7. Set the mood. Candles are an easy, inexpensive, quick way to make any home more inviting. And we all know that everyone and everything looks better by candlelight. Buy as many candles as you can and place them throughout your house. Remember to reserve a few unscented ones for the dinner table. Light your candles approximately fifteen or twenty minutes prior to your guests' arrival, and then light the candles on your dinner table just before everyone sits down to dine.
8. Choose your tunes. Music is a vital element in the staging of a good dinner party, as it sets the tone for the evening. Create a dinner party playlist on your iPod or iPhone or preset your CD player so there's music in the air when your guests arrive and keep it playing throughout the evening.
9. Preset your coffee and tea service. A bout an hour before your party, set up your coffee maker and put cream, milk, sugar, and sweetener in decorative containers. Put condiments in attractive bowls or containers rather than placing bottles directly on the table. Put your coffee cups, saucers, teaspoons, and assorted teas on a tray on a side table.
10. Don't put fragrances on the table. Scented candles and flowers can compete with and even overpower food aromas. I say this on behalf of anyone who's ever been over whelmed by the scent of stargazer lilies or a scented pine candle while attempting to enjoy dinner.
Bonus tip: Make time for yourself. Allow plenty of time to shower, get dressed, and look your best for your party. You'll want to greet your guests at the door with a relaxed smile on your face. The more prepared you are, the more comfortable you will feel, and the better time you'll have at your own party.
Sensible Seating Arrangements
A nice mix of different professions and personalities can be the perfect recipe for a terrific dinner party. Whether you're entertaining at home or in a restaurant, it's important to put some thought into the seating arrangements. Avoid the overly casual "just sit any where," because this can put people in an awkward position. Pay special attention to the chemistry between your guests. If you know your guests well, you'll have a sense of who will blend well with whom, and that's why place cards work so well. The nice thing about place cards is that everyone knows where they should sit the minute they approach the table; otherwise, you may have to quickly direct your guests to their proper seats. Another advantage of place cards is that when guests see their names they can't help but feel special and welcome.
The order in which your guests are served depends on whether it's a social or business event. If you are hosting a business dinner, seat your guests according to rank and status. If you are hosting a social dinner, seat your guests according to gender and age. In both cases, you should sit at the head of the table and your guest of honor (if there is one) should sit on your right side. Serve your guest of honor first and then proceed to serve your other guests in a counterclockwise direction. In both situations, protocol dictates that the host is always served last.
Here are some seating tips to help make the table talk flow smoothly:
* Separate couples. Protocol and common sense decree that guests who are married or living together should not sit next to each other. I once made the mistake of putting a married couple together at a dinner party and they bickered all evening. The exception to the "couple rule" is if two people are engaged they may sit next to each other.
* Seat the most talkative person in the middle, preferably next to a shy person.
* When two tables are used, sit at one table and seat your cohost (if you have one) at another table. When there are three or more tables, assign a table host to each table.
Wine Wisdom 101
Did you know that the old adage about serving white wine with fish or chicken and red wine with red meat no longer applies? If you're in a restaurant, it's always better to order what you like and what you think your guests will enjoy than to follow this outdated rule. In my home, I offer both red and white wine and then I let my guests choose what ever they prefer.
If your guests don't drink alcohol, offer a nonalcoholic beverage and refrain from making any comment about their choice. People can become very uncomfortable if someone makes an issue about their not imbibing.
If you know that your guests enjoy a glass of wine or two with dinner and you want to appear more knowledgeable about wine, you'll appreciate the following tips. To help me compile the most accurate information, I conferred with Mark Spivak, wine expert and author of The Affordable Wine Guide to California and the Pacific Northwest.
* It's a host's responsibility to choose the wine. It's wise not to let your guests choose because they might order something out of your price range or outside the limits of your expense account. If you decide to show off and order the most expensive bottle of wine, you may be sending the wrong message to your guests. You don't want them to think that you're the type to spend money carelessly or take advantage of an expense account. If you're not sure what to order, choose something moderately priced or ask the sommelier for a recommendation. If you want to stay within a certain price range, discreetly point to a price on the wine menu and ask the sommelier, "Do you mind recommending something in this region?" (Your guests won't know what you're pointing to.)
* There's no need to fill your guest's glass all the way to the top. Fill a champagne flute approximately two-thirds full. Never fill a white or red wine glass to the top. Allow enough room to swirl the wine and appreciate all the nuances of the bouquet. Remember to hold both red and white wine glasses by the stem so the warmth of your hand doesn't warm the wine.
* Wine won't really "breathe" after you open the bottle, given the small amount of air that can interact with the wine once the cork is pulled. That's why it's best to pour red wine into a decanter before it's consumed. There are three traditional reasons to decant: to separate older wine from its sediment, to aerate younger wine, and to raise the temperature of a bottle taken from a cold cellar. If you're serving a young Cabernet, Syrah, or blend, decant it about an hour ahead of time. Many sommeliers automatically decant all younger reds. Older wines are much trickier. The older the bottle, the less time you should allow for aeration, as the wine will deteriorate when exposed to air. Be especially careful with anything older than ten years, particularly if it's a more delicate variety, such as a Pinot Noir.
* It doesn't happen often, but it's possible that you might occasionally get a bad bottle of wine. The mark of a contaminated bottle is unmistakable. Sniff the wine (never the cork) after it is poured, and if you notice a foul or "off" aroma that resembles that of a wet, moldy basement or sweaty socks return it or send it back if you're in a restaurant.
The secret to elegant entertaining is surprisingly simple: Be artfully attentive. If you are hosting a large party, don't be afraid to delegate. If you have an experienced friend or colleague who offers to help, say yes. If not, consider hiring someone to help you set up, serve drinks, take coats, and clean up, so you can shower your guests with attention.
With a little planning, preparation, and organization, you can create a relaxed, hospitable atmosphere where everything will fall into place. Don't waste precious time running back and forth to the kitchen throughout the evening. The dirty dishes can wait until after everyone has left.
Your guests are there to enjoy being with you, and chances are, they'll enjoy many of the other people they'll meet. And thanks to your welcoming tone and attention to detail your guests will be eternally grateful you invited them, and so will you.
THE DO'S AND DON'TS OF HOLIDAY PARTIES Copyright © 2011 by Jacqueline Whitmore.
Excerpted from Do's and Don'ts of Holiday Parties by Jacqueline Whitmore. Copyright © 2011 Jacqueline Whitmore. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.