For years, people have been saying that the dinner party is dead — those darn millennials killed it, they rage. But in the year 2023, that’s far from true. As long as you listen to your grandmother, of course.
Not everyone is a born entertainer, but you can inherit the mantle as a gregarious host by following a few rules. While some of the tips from our grandparents’ generation feel too antiquated for a modern soiree — any “lady-like” codes of conduct should be ignored — the rest are timeless social mores that can elevate a dinner party like it’s not 1956. Have you ever thought about requesting the favor of your friend’s company with a handwritten note and not a lazy text, or investing in special dishware reserved for guests? With the holiday season upon us, there’s no better time to put grandma’s bygone protocols into practice. Allow us to help.
Grandmothers spend years honing their craft, but that “hostess with the mostess” energy can be easily channeled, provided that you have the proper tools. If you’re already planning your next Target run to pick up ingredients to remake one of grandma’s iconic recipes, you might as well make a few pit stops in the home and kitchen aisles to gather the rest of your hosting essentials. There are few things grandmothers love more than a one-stop shop, right? You may not be able to find the exact fancy dishes or wine glasses she reserved for guests, but you can come pretty close.
Invest in Handwritten Invites
Handwritten invitations may take more time to compose, but your guests will appreciate the effort. For those who are artistically inclined, try making your own invitations from scratch. This could include hand-painted borders, multi-colored script, and, if you’re feeling creative, personalized doodles. A custom, even if silly, portrait of each guest will make everyone feel special — and probably more likely to RSVP on time. Grandma’s calligraphy skills don’t come as naturally to you? A simple scribble in black ink on a 5x7 sheet of cardstock will work just fine, too.
Dress Your Table with Festive Settings
To some people, holiday plates may seem superfluous, but settling for everyday dishware for a party between the months of November and December is a missed opportunity. Spread the holiday spirit by dressing your table with festive plates, tablecloths, placemats, napkins, and glasses. Even if understated, the holiday iconography can add to the familial energy of the evening. There’s just something comforting about a plate stamped with a Christmas tree, don’t you think?
Remove the Cocktail Guesswork
There’s a reason you see so many signature cocktails at weddings: They take all of the guesswork out of ordering. At a dinner party, no one wants to play bartender all night, making up 20 different concoctions based on everyone’s personal preferences. Instead, settle on a few options that suit everyone’s tastes. Stick to the classics — martinis and old fashioneds will appease both the clear and dark liquor camps, while red and white wine can cover the oenophiles — or offer drinks particular to the holiday season, like eggnog and hot toddies. It doesn’t hurt that the more festive options taste just as good without alcohol — an added bonus for sober guests.
Avoid a Snack Table
We know, we know, cheese plates this, charcuterie boards that, but this isn’t a cocktail party. Sequestering the snacks on a table can also force people to congregate by one area, making your dinner party look more like an awkward middle school dance. Opt for a few easy hors d’oeuvres that promote mingling instead; one-bite finger food is easier to hold while you move around the room. If you want the party to feel immediately intimate, serve appetizers. Appetizers and hors d’oeuvres are often conflated, but the former is meant to specifically complement the main dish. Appetizers are also best served at the table. Conversation can hit a lull once the entrée is served — after all, you’re eating — so an amuse-bouche is like kindling to the fire.
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Make Your Guests Feel at Home
The food is important, but so is the ambience. You want guests to feel at home even when they’re far from it. First things first, holiday decor. Apparently, the mere presence of holiday decorations can trigger a positive neurological shift. Those twinkling lights and stockings won’t just make you happy — they’ll also make you seem more approachable and friendly to guests.
Comfortable seating and soft music can also create a cozy space that can make even your newest acquaintance feel right at home. Double down on coziness by turning off the blinding overhead lights. If we learned anything from the hygge craze of 2017, it’s that candles can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to setting the mood. You might be surprised at how quickly a few flickering flames can transform a prosaic dining room into a convivial supper club.
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