I’m an adventurous cook and I know my favourite dishes aren’t always to everyone’s taste. Is it okay to ask them to step outside of their comfort zone, or should I play it safe?
A dinner party is the perfect time to push the boat out with daring and adventurous dishes that leave your guests amazed, however take into consideration who you’re cooking for.
Try to strike a compromise, where the main element of the meal is a statement crowd-pleaser that you know everyone will like, but introduce different flavours and lesser-known ideas into the side dishes and accompaniments.
Let guests help themselves, giving them flexibility on how experimental they want to be and how much they want to try. Your unusual cuisine will be a conversation starter – plus you get the chance to show off your unique cheffing skills!
Is it okay to ask people to contribute food and drink if there are a lot of guests coming to a gathering?
Asking for contributions really depends on who and how many people you have invited.
For a group of guests the majority of whom you don’t know very well, you should provide all of the food and drink yourself. For a large group of close friends, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for contributions.
Be sensible, plan well and have the confidence to politely ask people what you would like them to bring. For example, you could ask a one friend to bring cheese, another to bring a salad and another to bring a pudding etc to avoid repetition.
It is worth pointing out, however, that as the host, you should provide the main element of the main course of the meal, and that contributions should just be accompaniments and extras.
What should you do if the conversation turns political and people start falling out? Is it acceptable to provide guests with a list of topics to avoid?
Dinner parties are a combination of personalities, experiences and opinions – an exciting mix that can make or break an evening, especially after a few glasses of wine.
Prescribing a list of banned topics of conversation would most likely cause surprise, awkwardness or, if your guests are particularly strong-willed, even provoke people into disobeying your wishes and sparking debate…
Instead, as a host, be on your mettle and steer the conversation from the outset to try avoid any divisive issues.
Keep chat general: upcoming holidays, latest box-set binges etc. If you are very worried about fiery tempers, you can humorously set some rules at the table and – ensuring you keep your tone fun and jokey – announce that debating politics and religion, for example, is not allowed.
If things to start to get intense, you can then cheerfully and light-heartedly remind people that heated discussion is banned, and move things swiftly on to safer ground.
I love having my friends round for a nice meal but there are one or two that always outstay their welcome. How can I subtly let them know that the evening is coming to a close without sounding a ‘last orders’ bell?
If you know you have invited some night owls round for dinner, you need to be prepared to compromise. Be realistic in the fact that you will have a later night than you may wish, but also try to tactfully manage their expectations from the outset.
It is wise to casually drop into conversation that things may wrap up earlier than they might expect. Provide a sensible and decent reason, for example that you have an early start in the morning or are tired from a busy week. Hopefully, at the end of the evening when other guests on their way, they will also follow suit.
If things are getting late, however, a good trick for getting guests to leave is to close the bar and stop opening bottles, along with dropping some not-so-subtle hints such as ‘is that the time! I had no idea it was so late…’ A more drastic action might be to offer to order them a taxi – but turning off the lights and heading up to bed is probably a step too far.
What’s the etiquette around seating couples and single people if your guests are a mix of both? If you’re inviting all couples, should you split the couples up?
In Britain, couples traditionally sit separately at seated dinners, whether it is a dinner party or a wedding reception. Historically, the exception to this rule was that they could sit together if they were engaged or during their first year of marriage (as it was assumed that the woman would need her husband’s support and guidance!), but it is safe to say that this idea is now out-dated!
So, when putting together the seating plan, it is still good form and usual to split couples up.
However, consider carefully all of your guests, look at the different personalities at play and aim to strike a balance: mix quiet with loud, introverts with extroverts and the socially confident with the shy ones.
Think about who would get on well, who have something in common and even try some surreptitious matchmaking… As a host, you want the evening to be social and convivial, and a well-designed seating plan is a key element to success.
Jo Bryant is a British etiquette consultant who runs courses on British Table Manners and Afternoon Tea Etiquette.