The Art of Entertaining

There are events and there are parties. Every occasion should feel like a party, regardless of its purpose. Of course you don’t want to have a band at a work dinner, nor do you want a policy conversation drag on during a birthday brunch. So to each event, it’s smart to set an appropriate tone. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years.

I moved around a lot growing up but the one thing I learned from my parents was how to bring people together.  This all stemmed from the Greeks in the family, everything was around the world.  I got my first big break as my esteemed job counting coins at Hampton National Bank in New Hampshire when I was a valet at the owner if the bank’s home.  The catering oven broke and things started to fall apart in the kitchen.  With some quick knife skills, outsourcing and being able jump in I was able to save the party.  I worked at the bank after high school and then went on to work for another of Judge Treat’s banks.  We remained life-long friends and shared many of great meals together with both he and his amazing family.

Brand It

Growing up, every event had a theme, whether it was a holiday celebration or just a Saturday night dinner at the house with friends. Back in New England, many people named their homes, land and just about everything else, even their cars. We stumbled into naming the kitchen “Le Poisson Bleu” during a renovation and it stuck, namely because when you enter, an oversized blue fish we found at an old salvage store greets every guest.

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Cocktail napkins with one of the house rules.

Plan ahead in the morning or night before

To take the stress out of it all, map out the party, including a guest list, seating chart, menu and shipping list. Base everything on the time you have to pull it all together.

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Taking 30 minutes to plan out the dinner party saves hours in the end. No one likes sitting around at 9:30 p.m., politely waiting for dinner. Sure they say it’s no problem, but on their drive home, it’s likely a different conversation.
  • Create the guest list so you have a firm count and can start thinking about a seating chart
  • Send a note to any friends who may be day-drinking on the golf course or watching a game: It’s better to decline the invite if you are rolling hot
  • Set the menu
  • Shopping list, broken down by sections, so when you get to the store you can move through quickly without forgetting anything

Be Ready 

When people finally appear (and if they are polite that is within 30 minutes of the start time), everything should be ready — especially the bar, at least one hors d’ouvere and the music should be on. Always have one specialty drink that fits the season and goes with the theme of the party. Don’t forget: It’s nice of you to host a party or dinner, but your guests are also giving you their time.  I always serve unusually large portions to habitually late guests, hopefully causing them mild indigestion.

Get a Housetern

Houseterns are interns for the house.  We created the position a decade ago when I had seven events at my house in one week.  They help clean, cook, serve and shop.  We have probably had 50 or so and they usually start day one with no experience. They are trained not only kitchen chores, but also learn the importance of timing, precision and responsibility. Some highlights of some Housetern disasters or funny incidents:

  • Trying to peel a carrot like a banana
  • First-time use of a dishwasher
  • Taking all the leaves off three packages of thyme then keeping the stems and throwing away the actual herbs
  • Burning bread
  • When sent for nutmeg, coming back with 6 jars. Nutmeg for life.

Stealing a keg, but posting a picture of yourself taking it out of the house on Facebook.  This Housetern is now at Harvard Law School.

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We had a table built for the back yard in Washington that can seat 22 people. Always great to gather with friends to enjoy an outside BBQ.

Make it Fun

It is my assumption that everyone wants to have a good time and if they don’t it’s best not to have them around a party.  So, if there is a way to add some humor or interest to a party then by all means do so.  We were doing a cook book signing party for our friend Jennifer who wrote some amazing recipes on how to create those treats from your youth, such as Twinkies and Cup Cakes.

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So what better way to greet guests then bring some recipes alive, and I mean ALIVE!  Suffice to say, it breaks the slow period of a party into an immediate great time.

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