Entertaining at Home for the Holidays
It is that time of the year when we will start planning our dinner parties at home with our family, friends, and colleagues. Although the food, wine, service, and setting are certainly the key ingredients of any successful dinner or cocktail party, just as important, if not more so, is an understanding on the part of the host and hostess that their guests need to feel special.
Do you know what it means to be a courteous host/hostess? Do you know what it means to be a gracious guest? Following are some basic tips:
Courteous Host/Hostess Protocol
- Always greet your guests at the door and give them a warm and enthusiastic welcome.
- Immediately take jackets and coats. You can hand them to another person to hang up or put them in a room for coats if you are having a large party and you do not have, or have not rented, a large enough coat rack.
- If you are planning to ask your guests to take off their shoes before entering your home, let them know before the party that you will be making this request. I do not, however, recommend a “no shoes in the house” policy if you are having a large party that includes new acquaintances, colleagues from work, or older people. Save this policy for close friends and family.
- Take any gifts and follow the same procedure as the coats. It helps to have a designated table nearby on which the gifts can be placed.
- Introduce arriving guests to friends standing in the area; and when you introduce them, try to add a little something about each person to your introductions to help launch them into a conversation.
- If you do not have a butler who is offering guests something to drink when they arrive, give your guests directions to food and drinks.
- After all the guests arrive, the host and hostess should circulate to make sure everyone has someone with whom to talk and is enjoying himself or herself.
- Assign someone to make sure there is always enough food and a a variety of drinks out for everyone.
- The host leads the way in to dinner with the female guest of honor. The hostess is always the last to go into the dining room when place cards are used.
- If you do not have place cards at the dining table, let guests know where you would like for them to sit. Place the male guest of honor to the right of the hostess at the table, and his spouse or date/companion to the right of the host at the table.
- Do try to encourage lively, but appropriate, conversation at the table. Topics such as politics, religion, money, diet or health habits should be avoided.
- As a hostess, it is your duty to give the signal when to begin the meal by placing your napkin on your lap; and to give the “silent signal” that the meal is over by placing your napkin on the table.
Gracious Guest Protocol
- Never arrive early for a dinner party, but try not to be more than twenty minutes late.
- Always take a hostess gift if you are going to someone’s home for a dinner party. Do not take flowers, however, since the hostess would have to take time from the party to put them in a vase. Nor should you take wine that you expect to be opened that evening. A box of candy, a decorator candle, a plant, a box of guest soaps, or a gift basket would all be appropriate hostess gifts for the holidays.
- Do plan to bring a pair of ”indoor shoes” with you for the party if you have been walking in the rain or snow. And do take your shoes off before entering the house if asked to do so. (Hopefully, you will have been warned, and will be given slippers to wear in case you’ve forgotten to bring your “indoor shoes.”)
- If it is a large party and your host or hostess is not at the door, work your way through the crowd and say hello to them before eating or drinking anything, or talking to the other guests.
- Do not hesitate to introduce yourself to others and shake hands with them.
- If you are talking to someone and a person unknown to him or her walks up, introduce them, following the rules of proper introductions.
- Do wait for the hostess to give the “silent signal” by placing the napkin on her lap before you do so; and do not place your napkin back on the table until given the ”silent signal” that the meal is over.
- When you are seated at the table, do talk to the person on your left as well as the person on your right.
- Always thank the host and hostess before you leave, and follow-up with a telephone call and/or thank-you note the next day.
To watch my Wall Street Journal video: How to Host a Superior Party
Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick Revised November 25, 2015