Monday, June 28, 2010

The Demise of the Dinner Party?

I have been accused more than once of being a regressive throwback. (In fact, I’m thinking that would be a great title for a new book: “Confessions of a Regressive Throwback”. Hmmmm. . .) This is mostly because I’ve been a stay at home wife and mom my entire married life, and I have a pretty old-fashioned point of view about home and family. But recently I became aware of another way in which I’m apparently outdated.

I like dinner parties. I love to throw them, and I enjoy attending them, too. But it seems that I’m in the minority. During a discussion with girlfriends a few weeks ago, I found that they all had a terror of this kind of entertaining. And when I stopped to think about it, I realized that for years, I have been almost the only person in my circle to host dinner.

My mom used to throw wonderful dinner parties. She was a great cook, and she loved to entertain. I fondly remember her preparations, making the house spotless and bringing out her best dishes, working so that each and every other guest would feel welcome and comfortable.

I love that part of the process, too. Planning the menu, setting the table, cooking the food. . it’s all so much fun.

And of course the actual dinner is always enjoyable, too. The conversation allows everyone to get better acquainted. I always learn something new and come away with an increased respect for my guests.

Following my mother’s example, it was only natural that I wanted to host my own parties after I was married. I remember making a big spaghetti dinner for my college friends who were still living in dorms as well as for my husband’s fellow Army officers at officers’ basic training. I barely knew how to cook, and we had the tiniest of kitchens, with only two burners and an oven whose pilot light went out every time I closed the door too hard. But that didn’t matter—it was the company and the effort!

After we moved to Hawaii and were settled in the Army, I loved to entertain our friends, most of whom were young unmarried officers, homesick and tired of eating fast food or sandwiches. We couldn’t afford anything fancy, but we served dinner with love and friendship, and that’s what made it memorable.

Sharing a meal with friends old or new is a wonderful way to get to know them better or to deepen an existing relationship. The dinner table is the perfect place to share intellectual conversation or even old family stories.

So are you intrigued? Ready to try it out? May I share a few tips that I picked up over the years from my mother’s and my own experiences?

First: Plan. As my friends Lee and Amy say, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Choose a menu with dishes that are simple and familiar to you. This is not the time to try an elaborate new recipe! Anything that you can make ahead of time is a great option. Think about serving a simple appetizer for when your guests arrive. This can be as easy as fresh marinated mozzarella cheese and tomatoes or even crackers and sliced cheese. Also, plan a dessert of some sort, even if it’s just fruit or even if you must buy it at the bakery. Ending the meal right after the entrée can feel awkward. And even if all your guests don’t drink coffee, it’s a nice gesture to have some available for those who do.

Second: Make your guest list with care. Try to invite a mix of people, both those who are more outgoing and talkative as well as those who are a little quieter. You don’t have to invite too many people; more intimate parties are sometimes much nicer. Invite your guests with care and with little fanfare: simply ask them if they’d like to join your family for dinner on the chosen night. Give them the time and be sure to ask if there are any food allergies or specific preferences. Also be clear about whether or not children are included in your invitation. Kids can certainly make a dinner party fun, but if you choose to make this an adult-only affair, give parents plenty of time to find a sitter.

Third: Don’t stress over your house. Certainly you should try to make sure everything is as clean as possible; dusting and vacuuming seems like a minimum of effort to me. I like to clear all the clutter of life out of the way before my guests arrive, and I also try to light mildly scented candles. Don’t forget the restroom; make sure it’s clean and that you have a pretty hand towel near your sink.

Fourth: Pace yourself. Plan plenty of time for all your cooking. Try to set the table ahead of time if you can. Lay out serving dishes and utensils. This will all work together so that when your guests arrive, you’ll be cool and relaxed, not hot and frazzled.

Remember that the most important element of any successful social gathering is the comfort level of the host and hostess. If you are obviously comfortable and relaxed, your company will feel at home. They may not remember your fabulous frittata or your succulent squash, but they will recall a good time with friends. And that’s whole point after all.


Tawdra Kandle is stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of four children who range in age from 9 years to 21 years. She and her husband of over 22 years live in central Florida, where he is in seminary. Tawdra spends most of her precious free time writing and reading, and she loves to travel. She is also a resident writer for Taking Time for Mommy. View more of her Articles HERE. You can also follow Tawdra on twitter and her blog, Publishing Quest

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Luvdaylilies on Sat Jul 03, 10:09:00 PM 2010 said...

I also love to invite friends/family over for Dinner. Now to be honest it's very rarely by written invitation and certainly not dressy affairs but oh so enjoyable! I've been blessed with two other friends who love to have these gatherings as well & we enjoy bouncing ideas between us. We've done (taking turns) Mexican Night, Italian Night, All American Night & French Night with each dinner featuring recipes we've all searched for and enjoyed preparing and eating=)

Christina on Wed Jul 07, 11:49:00 AM 2010 said...

nice tips....i wish more people i know did dinner parties. they were once a common practice and now it seems like only an upper class event (mostly in larger cities) but even amongst good friends....any little dinner will do. I have always wanted to host a nice, somewhat classic- one though. Maybe someday


The Demise of the Dinner Party?

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