Face it. It’s November. And in just a short couple of weeks, you are going to have people over – you’ll be expected to not only feed them but keep them slightly entertained. This is the season for having company into your home. And it’s the time of year that you also go to other people’s houses – over the river and through the woods as the song would say.
And so, for this month – since I understand this is the “food and drink” edition, I thought I would detour a little bit from my usual recipe collection – since this edition has an entire menu of amazing places locally to dine – and offer some tips I have learned (sometimes the hard way) when it comes to “having people over.”
The first thing you need to do is take a look at your space – you need to prep your house for company coming over for a complete meal or even cheese, crackers, and drinks. So take a look around and decide what you need to clean up. Do you have to pick up toys, vacuum cat hair off the couch, launder the lace tablecloth? Have you ever gone to an event at a hotel or a private home and marveled at how wonderfully the whole event flowed throughout the evening? That was what we in the hospitality and restaurant business call “effective preparation of public space.” The way you prepare your home for company speaks volumes about your commitment to ensuring that your guests have a fantastic time.
I once taught a class called Holiday Entertaining 101 at Allegany College of Maryland. We prepared appetizers and drinks for a small dinner party but I also offered some tips for those in the class on how to prepare your house before you even get started in the kitchen. Some of those tips include:
Clean the porch and walkway. Sweep. Shovel. Whatever it takes to make a clean and clear and unobstructed path to your front door.
Light the way. Make sure that all exterior lightbulbs are working.
Put out a clean or new “Welcome” mat. This time of year, opt for something fun or festive. Then place a rug right inside the door too so that guests can wipe their feet.
Designate a place for coats. If you don’t have a coat rack in your front entrance, assign someone to collect coats and stash them in a bedroom until they are needed again.
Guests probably will want to take in your decorations but make sure the location of the main party space obvious. Use all the senses to direct your guests - platters of food in visible areas, music that is coordinated if your party is themed and the proper lighting.
Offer your guests a beverage immediately upon arrival. Or have a beverage station set up where guests can clearly help themselves. Make sure you have a variety and plenty of ice at the ready. Place tongs near the ice so folks are discouraged from digging in with their hands.
Offer an appetizer. Or if food is already prepared, escort your guest into an area where the food is available. Either create a station-based setup where you would have your appetizers in one area, your main meal in another, and your desserts in a third area. Conversely, you could set out your food in one larger area, and perhaps scatter bowls of snack foods (chips, nuts, candies) throughout the party space.
Select your style of food center based upon the floor plan of the party space, your menu and the timing of the event.
Tell your guest where the restroom is. You don’t want someone wandering around your home and into your bedroom looking at unwrapped gifts while they search for the facilities. And make sure the powder room is clean – fresh hand towels and use liquid soap in a dispenser if possible.
Make sure your guests are aware where your trash containers are for the party.
Be prepared for some type of spill. As the host, have the proper “arsenal” at the ready should someone spill a meatball on the carpet or red wine on your favorite chair. Have white towels, paper towels, dish soap and seltzer water handy for messes. And don’t panic or make your guest feel even more terrible than he or she already does for the accident. Clean spills up calmly but quickly.
Consider rearranging furniture. Look around your house. While those chairs may be great when just you or the family is home, that big easy chair may be interrupting the flow. Consider taking it out of the room for the night or moving it to a different location to promote party flow. There should be at least 18" of clearance for pathways between furniture.
Remember to also create “conversational groupings”, (seating for 2 or 3 in fairly close proximity to one another), to allow for your guests to talk.
Do you have valuables in your home that you are worried about someone toppling over? Do you shutter at the thought of your 6-year old niece grabbing that glass bowl from the coffee table? Just move it out of the way. If you think it could break during your party, wrap it in newspaper and put it in an empty laundry basket in a safe place until the party is over.
Take time to enjoy the party yourself. Often times, hosts are so busy fretting about food and drink or making sure each guest is happy that the host himself or herself forgets to eat, or even sit. Work the room. Make sure you visit with each guest and that each guest is comfortable. And then take time to enjoy the evening yourself. Grab a drink, a plate and settle into a conversation. But not for long. If you see folks are clustered in groups in smaller conversations, spend no more than 15 minutes in one small group before visiting with another. Your ice breaker as you enter a conversation is simply “Can I get anyone anything?”
And I couldn’t let this November column sneak by without offering a quick recipe or two. Here are a few party favorites: