Food from the Hart

Posts Tagged ‘étiquette’

10 Questions NOT to Ask at a Dinner Party

In Features on April 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm

It might seem like common sense but it’s always nice to have a little reminder. When at a dinner party, especially with folks you don’t know, avoid getting into deeply personal issues or cracking that joke that’s just a little insensitive.  You never know how people might react and in some cases the wrong comment or question can throw the mood of a party.  Especially when you are in a small space and it’s difficult to gain distance between you, the inappropriate comment and the offended party.

Do your best to gauge the mood of the party and let the host be your barometer for where the conversation is going.  On the flip side, if you are the host think about the group you invited and make a judgement call.  How personal / political can we get? Sometimes it fun to get into a heated conversation with the right group, but again know your audience.  And if there is ever a question, air on the politically correct side of the fence.  While there could a number of questions that might turn an evening, here are a few key ones to avoid:

  1. You look different, did you lose weight?
  2. You look terrible, are you feeling OK?
  3. How much does someone in your field of work make?
  4. How much does an apartment or house like this cost?
  5. Why aren’t you drinking?
  6. Should you be eating that?
  7. Isn’t that your (pick a number) glass of wine?
  8. Why aren’t you seeing anyone?
  9. Who did you vote for? / What party are you affiliated with?
  10. When are you due? / When are you going to have kids?




Entertaining Etiquette: How to be a Larger than Life Host in a Smaller than Most Space

In Features on April 9, 2011 at 11:17 am

Remain Calm

I know I have mentioned this before, but it’s true. Your mood sets the tone of the party.  Take time to enjoy the guests you’ve invited and the work you put into crafting a beautiful party.  Your relaxed and joyous attitude will radiate to your guests, ultimately making the party a great success.

Be Warm and Welcoming

Make sure every person feels welcome and at home. Greet all arriving guests with a smile and a hug – even if this means excusing yourself from another conversation. If you are co-hosting the party, one person should be in charge of greeting guests at the door while the other works the room and tends to guests needs.

You’re the Glue

Circulate among your guests.  Provide introductions to newcomers, try to offer more detail than just, “Bob this is Jim”. Point out any commonalities or shared interests.  Make sure to stick around long enough to help the conversation get flowing and then gracefully make your exit.

Keep an Eye Out

Stay on the look out for guests that might need a refill.  On the same token, watch out for anyone who has had too much. Rescue others from long, boring conversations and draw shy guests out of the corner.  Most importantly try to spend time with all your guests so everyone feels involved.

Make a Toast

Even if you’re simply having a cocktail party, it’s still nice to kick off the evening by saying a few words.  Don’t feel you have to deliver a long diatribe, but welcome everyone to the party, thank the chef (if it wasn’t you) and certainly thank you guests for coming.  If you are celebrating a special event such as a birthday or anniversary make sure to mention it.  Toasting turns any ordinary party into an occasion and is a great way to connect with your guests.

You’re the Leader

As a host, it’s your job to invite guests to sit down, start eating, begin another course and give directive to when the meal is over.

Be Appreciative

This is the most important!  Make sure your guests know you appreciate their attendance and tell them how much you enjoy their company (even if you don’t). Don’t forget to send thank you notes to anyone who contributed or brought a gift. It might seem old fashion, but a personal note goes a long way.



And That’s Why you Have a Plan B: What to Do When Things Go Wrong

In Features on March 30, 2011 at 9:18 am

Ok, so throwing a party it’s a matter of national security.  If the evening takes a wrong turn chances are no one will suffer.  However, even the best laid plans can be derailed by unforeseen circumstances.  In the event you happen to find yourself in the middle of an entertaining Bermuda triangle, remember there’s always a way out.  Good hosts always have contingency plans. Here are a few to keep in your back pocket:

Someone Needs a Watch

Guests are late? Don’t panic.  Better late than never, right? Wait 20-30 minutes and then start without them.  Make sure you keep the booze flowing for the guests who managed to make it on time.  This would also be a good time to break out emergency hors d’oeuvres.  The last thing you need is a small room full of people drinking on empty stomachs!

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner… Bet You Can’t!

All the guests have arrived, plus some you didn’t expect! Greet the unexpected additions with a smile and do your best to quickly rearrange the table.  If you’re table is already at the max, roll out plan B.  Move everyone to the sofa and floor and gracefully turn your dinner party into an indoor picnic.

Party Foul

The party gets going and one too many hand gestures later a guest spills a glass of red wine on your white sofa or breaks a piece of Aunt Margaret’s china sending penne marinara all over.  Avoid yelling profanities, though it might be what you’re thinking.  Quickly clean the mess up and do your best to breeze over the incident.  Ideally, the guest should apologize profusely and offer to do what they can to fix the situation.  If not, chalk it up to the cost of entertaining and don’t tell Aunt Margaret!

Burnt Chicken Sucks

With the disruption of late guests who bring friends then spill on your carpet, you over cook dinner.  Don’t make excuses.  Best course of action, laugh and pull out the take-out menus.  If you seem ok with it, your guests will too!

One Serving Short

Your Osso Bucco might be getting better with time, but when you go to serve it your realize there’s not enough.  If you’re plating the meal simply serve less to each guest.  You might even consider serving on a smaller plate.  This will give the illusion the portions are bigger.  If you’re going buffet style make sure you and any family members / co-hosts take last.  Last resort supplement the meal with extra salad or bread.

He’s Been Over-served

There’s always one guest who over-indulges. If you know this person is a usual offender, cut the problem off before it gets going. “Forget” to serve he or she that second glass of vino. If things get out of hand take away the car keys, cut off the booze, and start pouring the water.  Try not to let someone else’s misstep transcend your party.  Contain the situation to the best of your ability and worse case put drunk Debbie on the sofa or in a bed to sleep it off.

And the Politically Incorrect Jokes Come Out

In most cases there’s nothing you can do to avoid someones’ inappropriate humor.  However, once the off-color comments start rolling do your best to interrupt the story.  If that doesn’t get your guest to cease-fire, politely ask for their help in the kitchen and gently explain their quirky sense of humor is making other uncomfortable. And before the night is over make sure to quietly apologize to any guest whom might have been offend.

Hate Awkward Silences? Make the Most of Small Talk

In Tips on March 28, 2011 at 8:31 am

Entertaining guests in a small space can be fun and intimate, but there’s no avoiding the dreaded small talk! In larger venues it’s easier to navigate around the folks you don’t already know.  Not the case when you and your guests area all in one room.  Small talk can be uncomfortable especially if you don’t have much to go on besides the age-old topic of the weather.  Here are a few tips to help you rev up any conversation:

Know your Current Events

Keep up to date on whats happening on a local, state, national and international level.  This can be a simple as reading the front pages of your local paper and a national paper like New York Times.  The evening news will also do the trick.  While events and facts are good, try to avoid sticky topics like politics.  Stick to neutral issues. Nothing ends a conversation quicker than a divisive subject like politics or religion.

Know your Guests

Think about who you’ve invited.  Consider their jobs, hobbies, interests, and accomplishments.  This gives you an endless sea of things to talk about.  Ask questions and search for commonalities.  See if you can connect guests based on these things.  Trust me, your guests will be flattered by all the attention!

Questions, Questions, Questions

Everyone loves to give their opinion. Asking questions is the easiest way to get a conversation started. Bring up pop culture topics like celebrity gossip, sports, movies, etc and instead of giving your thoughts ask theirs. The flood gates will open and you’ll move from awkward small talk to full-fledged conversation.


Focus on the person you are talking to.  There’s nothing worse than chatting with someone who is looking around the room.  Give the occasional head nod, this lets people know you’re engaged and actively listening.  If you notice a situation that needs tending to, excuse yourself, but return and try to remember where you left off.  This will make guests feel you were truly interested in what they were saying (even if you weren’t).


While there are a number of great topics for small talk, these eight subjects should be avoided at all costs. If you find yourself in a situation where one of these comes up, gently steer the conversation in a different direction, or when in dire straights excuse yourself and go to the bathroom!

  1. Finance
  2. Politics
  3. Religion
  4. Death
  5. Age / Appearance
  6. Personal Gossip
  7. Offensive / Off Color Jokes
  8. Past Relationships

Tip of the Day: How Can I Help?

In Tips on March 19, 2011 at 4:08 pm

How many times have you had dinner guests ask, “how can I help?”

At casual events most people want to participate in some way.  Even when in desperate need of an extra set of hands we tend to be reluctant to take guests up on the offer to help.  After all, they’re guests, not hired help.  Plus, it’s hard to give orders when you’re in the middle of prepping for dinner.  But don’t turn down a well-intentioned offer.  Small space cooking and serving is a challenge so welcome the assistance.  Allow guests to take on some easy but important tasks. Here are some chores that will keep extra bodies out of small kitchens and won’t make guests feel like party staff.

  • Lighting candles
  • Dimming lights
  • Making or switching music playlists
  • Filling water glasses
  • Opening and pouring wine
  • Bringing food to the table
  • Clearing between courses
  • Serving dessert / coffee

Tip of the Day: Closing Time, How to End a Party Gracefully

In Tips on March 12, 2011 at 9:49 am

All great things must come to an end.  Even great parties.  It’s always a good idea to have some exit strategies in your back pocket for guests who show no sign of leaving.  If you are ready to party till the sun comes up then this is not an issue.  But when you need to call it a night, follow these suggestions.

  • Close the Bar – Put away any liquor, beer and wine. Make sure you leave out plenty of water for those who might have overindulged.  They will appreciate the extra hydration before they hit the road.
  • Turn off the Music– This is usually a great way to break up a party. Once things quiet down, people will begin to filter out.
  • Start Cleaning Up– As the host, once people see you cleaning they will get the cue it’s time to get a move on.
  • Be Direct- For those guests who still aren’t getting the clue it’s closing time, try saying something like, “Look at the time! I have an early meeting (yoga class, doctors appointment,etc).  Let’s call it a night.”
  • Turn off the Lights- If all else fails, shut it down!
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