The INSIDER Summary:
• Before the meal, ask about dietary restrictions and tidy up.
• During the meal, let guests help and make the rounds so no one goes unnoticed.
• Don’t apologise for the food — it’s probably fine.
• After the meal, let people hang out and walk them to the door when they leave.
I come from a big Jewish family that hosts big Jewish meals.
With all of us, plus extended family and friends, holidays can easily include over 20 people at two long tables spanning two rooms.
It took time for me to feel comfortable planning a dinner party of my own from start to finish, but the more I hosted, the more I learned how to make everything run smoothly. Now, having a bunch of people over for a festive meal is one of my favourite ways to celebrate any occasion — my current record is a potluck with somewhere around 40 people.
Here are 10 things I do to make my guests feel comfortable and welcome — and to ensure that every event I host is a roaring success.
Ask about dietary restrictions
Try to make sure that the menu consists of things your guests can actually eat. I make it a point to find out if anyone is vegan or allergic to nuts and accommodate accordingly.
Clean the bathroom
It doesn’t need to be spotless, but it does need to be adequately equipped. At the very least, I put in fresh hand towels and extra toilet paper, take out the garbage, and wipe down counters and mirrors.
Do an icebreaker
Chances are not everyone at the table knows each other. Going around and sharing names, hometowns, and what people are up to in life can unearth random connections that will give everyone plenty to talk about as the meal goes on.
Let guests help
You might feel like you’re being an awesome host if you don’t let guests lift a finger, but many people would rather feel useful and express gratitude by lending a hand. If they offer to help, I ask them to dress and toss the salad, bring out the next course, or consolidate leftovers.
Don’t apologise for the food
Yes, having a bunch of people over and serving them food you prepared can be nerve-wracking, but don’t set yourself up for failure. If every dish has a disclaimer, that doesn’t leave a good taste in anyone’s mouth. For me, even if I tried a new recipe that didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, I own it. It’s probably fine, and I haven’t poisoned anyone yet.
Change seats halfway through the meal
At long tables you can easily go the entire night without saying much to those sitting at the other end. Even at round tables, multiple conversations can be happening at once. Try spending a little bit of time making the rounds so that no one goes unnoticed.
Steer away from unsavoury topics
Heated political debates, gossip, or anything so gross that it would ruin someone’s appetite are best avoided. If controversy seems to be taking over and making people uncomfortable, I have no qualms about gracefully but determinedly changing the subject.
Watch body language
It’s human nature to rush through something out of nervousness, but there’s no need to speed through dessert if conversation is flowing and everyone is having a great time. If people are yawning or staring off blankly into space as the night goes on, keep things moving with the next course.
If you’re not totally exhausted, hang out with anyone who wants to schmooze after the table is cleared. Making tea and moving to the couch doesn’t involve extra effort, and it can be a great way to get to know people better once you’re done worrying about the chicken being warm enough.
Walk people out
Walking guests to the door is a nice way to make sure they didn’t forget anything they came with and take the time to thank each of them personally for coming.