Apart from at Christmas, most of us don’t really go all out to create an excessive dining experience.
If you’ve watched any telly in the last 10 years at all, you’re most probably frightened of the idea of hosting a dinner party for friends, family, bosses or work colleagues for fear of the scathing critique of your white wine jus or your untidy storage systems in your airing cupboard.
Of course, most formal dinners are not the be all and end all for a social life, many opting for a casual ambience of a few friends, a buffet or even a takeaway. Anything goes! Even if it’s Bridget Jones’s blue soup. If they’re our friends, they will still love us and forgive us the inedibility.
But what if you do have someone around for dinner who you don’t know and who you are trying to impress?
There are a few rules you can apply.
The Traditional Rules for Impressing the Boss
- You can wait 15 minutes for someone who is late, and after that, start serving up
There is nothing more irritating than waiting for a late guest when you are starving. They have 15 minutes of grace and no more. Serve them the food that you are serving the other guest, e.g. don’t give them a starter if they arrive during the main course.
- Serving should be done anti-clockwise, starting with the most important guest, and to the left-hand side. Plates are collected from the right.
Yes, it doesn’t seem that important, but if you are hosting the Royals for supper, you can keep this nugget in mind. And also, it does give you an easy process to follow.
- It’s advisable that your courses cater for different tastes
This is so if you have a spicy course for the main, people who don’t like this can at least enjoy the starter and dessert and won’t go home hungry.
- You don’t have to wait ‘til everyone has been served to start eating
If there are a lot of guests at your dinner party, don’t let the first guests’ dinner go cold. Instead, suggest people start eating after a few plates have been put out.
- Guests shouldn’t feel obliged to help the host
While it’s polite and kind of you to ask, the host most likely finds it easier to do it themselves, and if they need help, they will enlist the aid of someone close to them, so just relax and enjoy!
There are a lot more rules you can go into, but unless you’re attending finishing school or expecting a foreign diplomat for dinner, you probably don’t want to waste precious brain space memorising these customs.
The Modern-Day Rules for the Chilled-Out Dinner Party with Friends
The Guardian recently published an article highlighting the appropriate etiquette for our modern age, in reference to the less formal gatherings we are more familiar with. And it’s not so much about worrying which fork you should start eating with and more about how to host a dinner party and still keep your friends.
- Hide your stress
Cooking for friends is like a performance. You go through the following stages:
- It’s a great idea; let’s do it
- Why did I agree to do this?
- I’ll never get all this done.
- I can’t wait ‘til it’s over
- That was amazing, let’s do it next month.
As much as we enjoy the memory of great conversation and bonhomie, the process of hosting is horrific for the less-seasoned. The entire duration from choosing the meal, to shopping to cooking the darn thing is litany of mini panic attacks. But you cannot let that show to your guests or you will make them feel unwelcome. Take a deep breath and remember, you can relax right after dessert. Yes… three whole courses away.
- Make something you have done before
Don’t feel obliged to cook something you’ve seen someone attempt on MasterChef: The Professionals. You are not cooking for Marcus Wareing. And even if you were, he’d probably be glad to have someone else cook for once. Prepare something you know you can do well, but ultimately, don’t stress. There’s always the takeaway around the corner for any fiascos.
- Music is a must
Your music choices used to be a token of your hosting sophistication. Now no-one cares. But there should still be standards! No YouTubing the latest parodied Eminem. Or any other Eminem. Music in the dining room needs to be loud enough to mask the eating sounds but not too loud to make everyone’s ears bleed to make conversing a challenge. Chill-out or jazz is your best bet.
- Food intolerances
People are vegan, on diets, cutting out gluten and have a range of allergies. You can and should make an extra effort for any friends who have intolerances if you love them enough to want them to eat with you. Where you know in advance, you can opt for a meal with primarily veggie/vegan ingredients and serve a portion of meat to the other diners as an addition, with a meat-free alternative for your vegan or vegetarian guest. This will save you cooking two entirely different meals.
- Don’t keep the guests waiting
Don’t keep the guests waiting too long for food and ensure that if there is to be a wait, that they can have some drinks and nibbles to enjoy in the meantime. Conversation dies when people’s energy levels are low.
Not cooking for 20 any time soon? Store the banquet table with us.