We want to give the impression that we’ve thrown this fabulous do with a minimum of fuss; that your innate taste has made everything come together effortlessly. The subliminal message with every canapé is: “I am a domestic goddess who manages to juggle job, children, life, husband, house and this party with ease.” So why do so many hosts after waving everyone off, drag themselves into the kitchen and wonder whether the event was worth the effort? How can seating a few friends around a table be so tricky – and so exhausting? Here’s how to whip it all up at the last minute.
Get the broad strokes right first. Turn the lights down: soft lighting is the quickest way to create a great atmosphere. Soft lighting makes everyone (and everything) look beautiful. Burn some candles. Grab a few big bunches of leaves from the garden and put in them in jugs. The secret to a good time, is to make everyone feel relaxed. The first few minutes of a social event set the tone for the rest of the evening. There’s no point having everything just so if your guests don’t feel welcome.Once guests arrive, keep your time in the kitchen to a minimum. Relax! Don’t leave your guests on their own, lonely, embarrassed and trying to make polite chitchat, while you vanish to cook. Prepare something that will allow you to stay with them and talk, especially in the early stages of the evening
The hostess who greets you with a booming ”Your forty five minutes late!” but then rallies with an Oscar-worthy round of introductions scores zero for manners, completely wiping out the marks she gets for etiquette. How much better everyone would feel is she just said, ‘Darling, how lovely to see you. Don’t you look gorgeous,” and proceeded with introductions. Beautiful manners make everyone feel loved, honoured and interesting. (Remember etiquette and manners are not the same thing. Etiquette is about knowing which fork to use and the right way to introduce people. Useful, yes – but only when accompanied by manners. Luckily anyone can have beautiful manner, whatever their background or back balance). People with good manners might not know how to pass the port (it’s clockwise) but they will always offer a guest a drink, then sit and chat – and not just about themselves. They know how the tilt of the head can express empathy, or when it might be rude to use a mobile. Etiquette is nice, but it’s manners that make you fabulous and take you and your parties to the top.
Crucial for entertaining and helping your guests relax, you should never underestimate the power of a very good playlist when throwing a great party.
Drink and be merry. Serve pre-dinner drinks in big, well-proportioned glasses and make sure thay are full. Nothing looks meaner than handing someone a half-empty vessel. Forget fancy stemware. It makes everyone tense and your evening will be ruined if a lead-crystal heirloom is broken. Keep the drinks flowing all night. Never leave your guests looking forlornly at an empty glass. Alcohol is the great ice breaker, don’t underestimate it.
Dinner party food should be simple, generous, easy to serve and easy to eat. If you want to be Martha Stewart on steroids, become a professional caterer. The higher quality the ingredients, the less you have to do. The food should be good, but not complicated, either for you, or your guests. If you want complicated food, go to a restaurant. Only do what you can. If that’s just a few chicken filets doused in lemon juice and thrown on the barbecue, do that. Serve them with fresh bread and a green salad, and explain that is was the best you could do but, goodness, isn’t it great to catch up. They’ll probably be relieved. You’ll be relaxed, you can al chat while it’s cooking, and you’ll be surprised how many people ask you for the recipe.