Entertaining at home with friends is one of life’s small pleasures and is, even today, more popular than ever for a multiplicity of reasons. Entertaining at home is attaining more attention these days due to current economic climes and so now is the time to start thinking of how to achieve the best and economically sound results.
Ever heard of the “The Five P’s”? It is a desperately important factor in a successful dinner party. (It stands for Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance). One cannot prepare enough in order to make things go smoothly. Simple factors like… have you chosen the wines well enough? Have you plenty of exciting non alcoholic drinks for the drivers and Tee-Totallers? Also… music. Have you done your homework on the musical tastes of your guests? A balanced menu is most important with a variety of tasty and memorable dishes. Have you planned for any special dietary requirements of your friends? Speaking as a time-served Vegetarian (40 years!), I have been put on the spot when being asked to stay for lunch or supper when the host has reeled in horror at my “habits”. You can see a pallor come over them as they panic. “Well you could have this… there’s not much meat in it” they say, hopefully!
Another success factor is choosing the right guests. One must endeavor to select carefully. There is no point in inviting people who are likely not to get on with each other, this could cause a catastrophe in the well planned evening! When you have chosen your guests, aim to seat certain people together who in your mind, go well together. If you know that someone drinks heavily at dinner (and we all know someone who does… especially if the wine is on free-flow!) then perhaps you should think again about inviting them, as this could ruin the event.
Apart from the meal, the most important characteristic of a successful time is the exchange of conversation. Good conversation makes for great time had by all. So aim to choose a few subjects which you know have at least some common ground with everyone present. Carefully interject with a subject during a conversation and it is amazing how quickly the conversation takes shape! Also have a few subjects up your sleeve which are likely to create a reaction (a good one) so that those stymied and “tumbleweed” moments, when the conversation reduces to an awkward silence, can be prevented. It’s not a good idea to let the conversation turn into a joke telling event but sometimes it pays off when it all goes quiet. (Keep it clean).
People do have a habit of telling short stories about what happened to them. You mention that “you were stopped by Police whilst driving home the other day” and in moments all the others are telling stories about their encounters. A story about a rude Supermarket Assistant… and suddenly everyone has had a bad supermarket experience. To be quite honest, nobody actually cares about what happened to other people, they simply talk about themselves, as this can be the most interesting subject they know of! (And the easiest to talk about I suppose).
Entertaining with friends, obviously not a recent activity, has now become an immeasurable attribute of our relaxation time. Entertaining at home is far less expensive than you might care to imagine. It is cheaper in most respects and yes indeed… you can actually have a Cigarette after the meal (if a smoking household of course) without anyone suing you!
Whilst drinks are obviously far cheaper at home it can mean that more drinks are available for your guests. More choice and variety or better quality at least. Consider entertaining at home more often. You will be surprised as to how an excellent host you can be. For many, entertaining at home is the better choice, and I couldn’t be of the same mind more as I have experienced some wonderful get-togethers with friends over the years.
Obviously the best route to a successful evening is to have someone else do the work for you. A Chef friend of mine developed a highly successful business, running dinner parties for other people. He prepares everything from the invitations to the washing up and polishing the glasses! The food and wine is chosen with the hosts, tastings are done, table decor arranged, staff employed… so the hosts may sit back and simply enjoy.
However, many of us prefer to prepare everything ourselves, as this too is an essential ingredient of a successful evening! There are many books available on the subject, so many people advising and telling how best to do it. You will never go short of advice! Please don’t forget though, that this is your evening, so do it your way.
Omit all those pricey cocktails, as they don’t add a lot to the value of the evening. Serve a small selection of aperitifs to begin with. Then provide your guests with a small selection of reasonably priced wines that will go with almost anything you serve. (When I say small, I mean only small in variety. Make sure you have far more than practicably possible for anyone to drink, so you can never run out). I remember as a boy, my parents going to many dinner parties. One evening in particular my parents came home early with some friends who had been at the same dinner party. Apparently the host had run out of wine as he was rather famous for underestimating and under stocking. So the party continued to the early hours in the west drawing room, with much mirth and merriment (and our wines)!
Some people insist on having a different wine for each course. I find this rather complicated as a lot of people really don’t care these days and one could be wasting time and money here. So choose wisely and choose well. If one is unsure of one’s wines try to involve a friend or colleague who knows something about the subject.
I tend to prefer red wines from Burgundy or Bourgogne. Wines from Burgundy tend to be rich and extremely provocative, with sharpness and rounded oak flavors. They are also unbelievably mystifying, extending over three Departments in France, with nearly perhaps a hundred varieties of wine.
These wines contrast in quality from the magnificent to the appalling, and so do the prices! If truth be told, to enjoy these wines, one must first be aware of these regions in France.
Notwithstanding a mounting interest in cooking at home, by and large the trend continues to shift away from conventional forms of cooking towards more convenient and simpler options. People are cooking more and more at home and would, to a certain extent, prefer to spend their money on things that will improve life at home, or at least in the kitchen. Toaster type ovens, microwave ovens and the many variety of grills available on the market, seem to be the most popular purchase these days.
Aim to identify recipes which can be prepared in advance of the event, giving one the time to enjoy the party. Whatever the occasion, you should find recipes that can be put together easily and quickly to ensure maximum time to entertain one’s guests. People are not all experts. They don’t have time to look for ingredients and simply require recipes that work first time with no mistakes.
Being from a Vegetarian household, my Mother used to plan the most scrumptious menus for her dinner guests… without a scrap of meat involved. Believe it or not many failed to even notice! I have done this myself on numerous occasions and the compliments have been well received. I have no objections to preparing meat for guests personally but it is done at arm’s length. I prefer to have someone do this part instead when possible.
When one has finished the main courses, you can serve coffee or tea. One is aware of the existence of a large variety of teas & coffees but most people serve the “safe option”. More often than not people simply prefer something uncomplicated. A decent cup of “industrial tea” is my all time favorite! Simple, full flavor coffee is easy to find and prepare. However one particularly fun way of serving unusual coffee is by using one of those fabulously delightful coffee makers which use small disposable containers of coffee varieties. This way you may entertain even further by offering several coffees which the guests may prepare themselves! Such novelties never fail to please!
One should, in my mind, withdraw from the table to a lounge area, to take coffee. Here you may relax and “loosen one’s corsets” so to speak! It may be a great idea at this point, to offer a choice of striking, homemade desserts or elegant chocolates to round things off. I also make a point of giving my guests a large hand rolled Dominican Cigar… not to smoke in my home I’ll have you know, but to take with them and smoke somewhere else!