Entertaining is an art form many people have lost or forgotten, but when you’ve attended a well-balanced, thought-out dinner party, you know it. There’s not a much higher social compliment than to be called an excellent guest. But, as the upcoming “Dinner for Schmucks” cleverly lampoons, that is an increasing rarity.
Invite the right people
The first step to throwing a party is also the first opportunity to avoid an awkward dinner guest. Take the advice of Tamie Adaya, owner of the Shangri La hotel in Santa Monica, CA when she throws dinner parties.
Well, I find that there’s a place for all types. Ideally you want to know about 1/3 of the personalities that you’re inviting. So if you’re inviting eight people, you’re going to want to know at least three of those guests to be people that you’re familiar with. You want them to be the ones that can hold the salon down – the anchors. And then, you want to have two or three different people from different areas. What I like to do is invite one person from the technological field even though I can’t understand it to save my life I just appreciate it. Then, somebody from film and TV (another interruption from a DJ here).
Tip: The opposite of an “anchor” is the anchor of the sky, the wrecking ball. This is the person that destroys and explodes every social situation they’re in. You know who they are – avoid them.
RSVP enforcement agency
Writing RSVP required probably won’t do the trick. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know that RSVP is an abbreviation of the French Répondez s’il vous plait which translates to simply “respond please.” That is, whether the invitee intends to come or not, they ought to respond in the positive or the negative so that the host is informed.
Tip: Cite a specific example of why you need to know how many people are coming. Say you’re making your special man-food, and you need to know how much bacon to buy.
Close the bar
A little social lubricant is always a good idea to get the good times and conversation going at your dinner party, but a lot of social lubricant can make for a very slippery slope. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have all the booze you possibly can. Check out our tips for stocking your home bar on that front. But, as host, you need to stay pretty straight, and keep an eye on your merry makers.
Tip: Keep non-wine drinks in the kitchen or behind the bar so you’re the arbiter for refills. Also distracting livers and minds with an activity (like this new version of Pictionary) keeps peoples’ drinking hands busy.
Light it up
Plenty of restaurants in L.A. do this, and every dance club on the planet does it. If you’ve experienced it, you know it works. First of all, start the night with the lights somewhat lower than you usually have them. Keep doors to the den and dining room closed to keep light from leaking in, and use a candle or two. Then, at 2 a.m. when somebody suggests another bottle gets opened, turn on the lights before you do.
Tip: No special nuance is required for this. Just light it up. In fact, the more abrupt the light change, the better.
Slip into something more comfortable (like mock turtleneck)
Nothing signals a scene change like costume change. If you come back to the table in your footie pajamas, a slanket, or maybe a smoking jacket, it’ll let your guests know discreetly that you’re thinking about transitioning to a non-party environment. Either that, or you’ll slip into something more comfortable, and you’ll end up having a romantic dinner for three.
Tip: Ask your guests, “Do you mind if I change into something else,” and remind them that, “it’s just we’ve been at it for a while.
Take the party outside
Here’s a good way to get people to get their jackets on and head toward their cars – tell them to get their jackets on and head toward their cars (for a drink or a smoke outside). Obviously this isn’t as effective during a New York winter as it is during a Los Angeles any-time-of-the-year, but getting people away from the table and reminding them that there’s a real world outside your party is a good start.
Tip: If your young enough to pull off owning a hookah, buy one and keep it on your porch. Otherwise, of course, you should have a few cigars on hand at all times for this (and other) occasion.
Set up a stage 2 party
Have an addendum to your party – have most of it at your place of residence, but make sure it’s clear on the invite and throughout the event that, eventually, everybody is migrating to an afterhours spot. If you’re rural, this is a bonfire, if you’re urban it’s a bar. The point is, you and all your ilk are going somewhere from which you can escape when you’re ready to go, even if the revelry is still carrying all its momentum.
Tip: Couch this as a convenience for your guests. The invite should read, “If you’re not able to make it to my place, meet us at 11pm at O’Brien’s just down the street for a cocktail.”
Toast them until they’re burnt
One of our writers learned this in a babysitting camp. If you tell children they’re going to bed in 10 minutes, they’ll listen in 10 minutes when it’s time to go to bed. If you don’t give them warning and tell them simply that it’s time to go to bed. So, here’s a toast you can offer up to your guests to let them know the night is beginning to wrap up maybe a half hour before you actually want them to leave. Hey, if they’re going to stick around all night and cling like kids, they’ll simply have to be treated like kids.
Toast: May you have warm words on a cool evening, a full moon on a dark night, and a smooth road all the way to your door.
Prepare for special needs
You should ask everybody that you don’t know well if they have any special needs or dietary restrictions. Finding out that a guest has a peanut allergy after you’ve planned a fondue and frying party in which ¾ of the available foodstuffs have been cooked in peanut oil (this actually happened) is a recipe for a grumpy guest bringing down the mood of the whole show.
Tip: Have alternative means of sustenance and entertainment. Of course, sometimes you’re just going to get the short end of the stick – like if a guest shows up unexpectedly in a back brace.