Miss Debrett on... Entertaining
The burdens of being a perfect host all
too frequently prove too onerous. As
the evening grinds on, pressures
build and standards slip, drink
takes its toll, and chaos ensues.
The tired and emotional host
swears never to do it again,
blaming the behaviour of
the unruly guests for the
But it doesn't have to be
like that. Good entertaining is
about realistic expectations. Take a long look at yourself, and make a hard-nosed appraisal of your abilities. You may have fantasies about being a Nigella-style domestic goddess, but if your claim to deity is aspirational rather than actual, think again. A dinner or drinks party is no place to experiment.
If you're feeding your guests, only serve food that you're capable of preparing. Ideally, the food you serve will be tried and tested - hysterical recourse to recipe books as your guests chatter nearby is not relaxing. If you're not much of a cook, make a virtue of it. Do something really simple - bangers and mash, for example - but ensure that your ingredients are of the highest quality, and that the food is complemented by excellent wine.
If you're quite incapable of cooking - or catering for unfeasibly large numbers - then go to the professionals. Serving food that has been prepared by a delicatessen or outside caterers is not an admission of failure. Just don't try and carry it off as your own (and if you insist on hamming up the gourmet cook role, ensure that all packaging has been excised from your kitchen).
Ensure that you have laid in adequate supplies of wine (and beer, spirits and liquors if you consider it necessary). Have plenty of sparkling and still water to hand. Give yourself time to tidy up the house, lay the table, arrange the flowers and generally set the scene. Try and relax beforehand (have a bath, spend a bit of time getting dressed).
Prepare as much as possible beforehand, so that you can socialise and conjure up the food with a magician's ease. If you're relaxed, your guests will sit back and enjoy the ride, confident that the evening is in safe hands.
Miss Debrett's Top Tips
- Assess your own abilities, and don't take on ambitious cooking projects that are well beyond your means.
- If you can't cope with the cooking, think about buying in food, or bringing in professional caterers.
- Do as much as you possibly can beforehand, then you'll be able to serve up food with a conjuror's ease.