If we were Downton Abbey rich, entertaining would be a breeze. We would have our butler greet the guests at the door. They would be ushered into our posh library where one of our staff would offer each of our arrivals a highball and nibbles.
After all of the guests were attended to, Dorothy and I would make our entrance. We would hobnob with the attendees until chimes were struck indicating dinner was ready to be served. All would then drift into the dining room to a large table impeccably set with our best china, silver, glassware, and other finery. After everyone was seated, vintage wine would be served from decanters, and we would sit eagerly awaiting dinner service.
The planning, shopping, and preparation for the dinner would start days in advance by a very efficient and talented kitchen staff, and everything would be shipshape. Everything up to this point would have been handled by valets, maids, servants, and other domestic help. Attention to guest lists and menu decisions would have been our only involvement.
I could take you through the rest of the evening of dining, after-dinner drinks, and entertainment, but by now I’m sure you are getting the idea. We could do this if we were Downton Abbey rich, but we’re not, so it is up to Dorothy and me to take care of all of the duties and functions. While it sounds impossible, with an organized plan. it’s very doable.
You certainly don’t want to be seen as a stressed-out host. This will adversely effect any mood you’ve tried to create, but a host can alleviate much of the stress by doing the following:
Serve a menu containing dishes you have prepared before where success is predictable.
Prepare the food in such a way there is little last-minute fussing. The key is make-ahead recipes which will translate into less stress and less time in the kitchen and more time spent with your guests.
It’s ideal to be able to take the dish straight out of the oven to the table, so avoid dishes that have to have constant attention just prior to serving. Also, avoid dishes that require excessively fussy presentations that must be completed at the last minute eliminating much of the stress.
The exceptions are the crowd-pleasers, such as carving (always a ceremony), flambés (guests love pyrotechnics), or a wonderful sauce that’s prepared at the stove and then immediately spooned onto an entrée. It’s also nice to have a bunch of Italian parsley in a glass by the sink. A sprig or two is a good way to give a final touch to your presentation.
If guests offer to bring something, take full advantage of this. It will relieve you of some duties, and it will make them feel that they’ve contributed to the meal.