The Great Entertainer

Consider this your primer on how to host excellent house parties that may not be as riotous as your Animal House days, but no less fun. These quick hosting ideas will keep you cool, confident and collected when the pressure is on to impress.

Good Host

Have you ever been to someone’s house and been peeved about their lack of concern for your experience? Exactly. Think about that next time you invite people over:

1. It starts with the invite. Send those out about three weeks in advance. If you’re too early, people get gun shy. Too late and they’re already booked. Offer an email as well as phone number to RSVP to.

2. Upon RSVP, ask each guest individually if there are any dietary restrictions or preferences you need to know about. Provide driving directions to your home and include your cell phone number.

3. For formal dinners, feel free to let each guest know who the other attendees are. Skip the salacious gossip, but include a brief statement of occupation, prevailing hobbies or interests and some anecdote, like how you met or an interesting travel adventure. This will serve as a preemptive icebreaker.

4. Stock bathrooms with adequate, easy-to-find supplies of TP, soap and disposable towelettes. People should not have to interrupt dinner to ask. And you don’t want them rifling through your drawers, do you? Check up on things in there every so often.

5. Be personable, not personal. Keep in mind that everyone may not know each other very well and it’d be awkward to take the conversation to an intimate level.

6. Be ready to serve both coffee and tea in both regular and decaf. And offer desserts for both the health nuts and the sweet toothed.

7. Want help in the kitchen? Don’t be coy, accept it if it’s offered. If not, ask in a lighthearted way. Best of all, hire a waiter/waitress away from your favorite restaurant and have them man the dishes.

Good Guest

You hate it when people are late for your dinners, get loud, monopolize the conversation, brag and make a mess. Keep that in mind for yourself. While you’re at it, think about this, too:

1. Arrive within 15 minutes of the invited time. Any later than that and you mess up the timing of the food. Not to mention getting in the way of other people’s meals.

2. Don’t bring food, the host has that covered. Bring a bottle of something, bring a gift, like a coffee table book everyone can enjoy, or other non-perishable treats, but don’t impose stray cuisine into the host’s lineup. A classy move: Have flowers delivered to the home before the dinner for the host to have at hand when setting the table.

3. If you kill it, fill it. This goes for TP, towelettes, soap or any other guest amenities. But refrain from rifling through medicine cabinets—if it’s not out on display, it’s not for your consumption. Instead, discretely let the host know what’s missing.

4. Chew. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Don’t drink too much. Don’t wax metaphysical. Don’t bitch. Don’t brag.

5. Be personable, not personal. Unless it’s family, you don’t really know these other people and they don’t want the details about your idiot boss. Besides, what if someone knows him?

6. Want to help? Offer it. If it’s not accepted the first time, don’t push it—some cultures consider it poor taste to have guests on clean up.

7. Leave within 20 minutes of dessert or the table being cleared.


Available at Ambalu Jewelers (East Hills).
photos by Lynn Spinnato

You may be too old to canvass the neighborhood with a pillowcase and mask, but there’s no excuse to miss out on tricks and treats. Hosting a Halloween-themed dinner party is a lighthearted excuse to get people together (murder mystery dinner game optional). Your invites can be appropriately themed—try papers in orange, brown and green rather than an all-out glitter pumpkin card, and the colors can tie all points of the experience together throughout the evening. Tableware in fun, festive, but vivid earthy tones dressed up with gold cutlery and crystal stemware is a good blending of casual and sophisticated. Use linens to offset the formality of fine China by sticking to softer cottons in colors pulled from earthy palettes that tone down stiffer white linens. Dress the table with the season’s top trends—feathers, grasses, dried flowers—cut low to sit below the stemware’s level and act more as an accent than a focal point. Embellish the open spots with natural stones, shiny pebbles or even natural dried leaves. Keep in mind that props like miniature pumpkins, silhouetted cats or witches can be overkill and take things from cool to kitsch. If you really can’t help but introduce something funky, try one fun, artful centerpiece put together by incorporating two or three elements. Just remember that not everyone may have your sense of humor, or your stomach, so the table isn’t the best place for gore.


Dinner Setting Shown Here: Wedgwood Bone China “Pashmina”
Crystal: Vera Wang for Wedgwood “Duchesse”
Salad Bowl & Servers: Julia Knight Aluminum and Enamel Silverware: Ricci “Contorno” 18/10 stainless.
Staged at Ambalu Jewelers, East Hills. photos by Lynn Spinnato

The last few years have certainly taken a turn for the casual in both clothing and home fashions. Whatever the reason, people are responding more to a relaxed atmosphere than the trumped up formality of the past. It’s evident at restaurants, in hotels and, yes, trends in home goods as well. When it comes to Thanksgiving, the biggest holiday dinner most people host all year, the same is true. Relax loved ones at a gathering set with complementary features. Start with China in a simple pattern of flowers or natural elements that is reminiscent of the earthenware in grandma’s kitchen, only made elegant by refined lines, glints of silver or gold and delicate weight. Offset each layer by plating varietal layers of solid colors that create depth and texture. Flatware should call attention to a prevailing metal in the plate, or contrast the main tones, but not overwhelm. Likewise, linens should be an assortment of colors that complement rather than maintain perfect consistency of “matchy matchy.” Similar to the color blocking trend in clothing, limit the number of colors to create a dramatic impact of one piece. Fill in the open spaces with smallish pockets of dried flowers (aka nosegays) and natural pebbles. Caution: Never forget your guests. Chances are men will have to eat at this table. A real man can appreciate décor, but it’s wise to consider whether or not he would like to eat amidst too much pomp and pretense of “pretty things.”


Dinner Set: Phillippe Deshoulieres “Orleans”
Crystal: Vera Wang for Wedgwood “Princess”
FLATWARE: Ricci “Amalfi” Stainless 18/10.
Staged at Ambalu Jewelers (East Hills).
photos by Lynn Spinnato

The holidays are by far the most festive time for friends and family to get together. Perhaps because the people we gather are the nearest to us, we want to impress them with the most special presentation of our planning and attention to detail. Finding the table setting that both honors those assembled and nevertheless says “welcome home” is an exercise in discipline—it all depends on what you put front and center. Since the service is visually the closest, try a setting in white or off-white that has minimal banding on the trim. Heavy patterns, harsh or shiny metallics or extreme shades can be distracting from the ambiance and can conflict with the plating of the food. Instead, save these richer hues for the main tablecloth where there will be less of it visible in any one spot as it rests as a backdrop. Placemats can either complement the China or the tablecloth, and the napkin should follow suit. Handy rule of thumb: Rather than thinking about setting a flat table, imagine it as vertical planes being stacked to create layers. Chances are there will be so many plates, utensils, stemware and food related elements to the table, little space will be left for props. Go with one main centerpiece, (skipping scented candles that will compete with the aroma of the food) and sprinkle festive silk petals throughout that blend with seasonal items. Beware of overkill. Things can go easily go from glam to garish when working with holiday décor that tends to incorporate a good amount of silver, gold and jeweled embellishments. Less is more!

Calling Last Call
10 steps to get the last guest going, going, gone!
You did it! You had a successful evening! Your boss was impressed, your mother-in-law raved, your kids even behaved! All that careful planning paid off. So why are you being punished by Straggler Sam? Because Sam does not want to go home (it’s better here). You’ve yawned, you’ve stretched, you’ve thanked him for coming, dropped many firm and direct hints, even made mention of being ready for bed, but he doesn’t budge. Sam isn’t thinking about you. What do you do? Follow this quick rundown, from subtle to fail-safe, that will get Sam out of your hair when you’re ready to end the night.

1. It’s all about control, and the clear, concise signals you send. After dessert slows to a stop, thank everyone for coming and enthusiastically offer to do it again.
2. Clear all the coffee and dessert plates.
3. Hand out the coats.
4. Blow out the candles and kill the music.
5. If everyone else has left, hand Sam his coat and say thanks for coming. No coat? He keeps chatting…
6. Tell him you’re exhausted and have to get the dishes done. Start doing dishes and make him help (you might as well get something out of it). If there are two of you hosting, one of you should stress exhaustion and go up to bed.
7. Once the dishes are done, interrupt Sam’s diatribe on weather proofing leather with a firm, but sympathetic, “you must be tired, let me let you go.” No budge?
8. Get the garbage and ask him to help you take it outside. He comes back in?
9. Yawn and announce your retreat up to bed. Along the way, turn off all the lights. If you get upstairs and hear the door, quickly go down and lock it. If all you hear is Sam’s continued blathering about the distribution of recycled products in Norway…
10. Return downstairs and shoot blindly until silence prevails.