Lynda Reeves’ Best Tips For Entertaining With Ease
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of House & Home
My favorite way to host is always a dinner party. It’s the most relaxed and personal way to entertain, and if you develop a system for being organized, you can actually enjoy yourself and your guests. Here are my best tips — learned largely from clever friends who are wonderful hosts.
Comfort is first. Every time I dine at my friend Nancy’s home, I marvel at how incredibly comfortable it is to sit around her generous, round table on fully upholstered chairs on casters that let us glide and gently turn our chairs with ease. Her table is slightly lower than the standard 30 inches and the casters allow us to pull our chairs up tight to the table, making dining so comfy I never want to leave. Nancy’s chairs are the Serie 142, designed by Eugenio Gerli for Tecno, available at Kiosk Design (see below).
Get the light right. Low, soft lighting with no glaring lamps or bright overhead lights, please. I fuss with my dimmers, adjusting the various sources of light until I’ve got the perfect level of soft, dreamy light combined with the glow of candlelight on the table and sideboard. For candles, I like a pair of pillars in glass hurricanes and several tea lights in smaller glass votives dotted on both the table and other surfaces in the room.
Stock up on essentials. Have all the things you need, well stocked and on hand — at all times. No last-minute rushing around for supplies, and remember to restock immediately after you entertain so you’re always ready for the next time.
- Wine and spirits
- Bubbly water, soft drinks and mixes
- After-dinner chocolates
- Hot jelly
- Boxes of crackers for your cheese tray
- Paper doilies from the dollar store to line trays
- Cocktail napkins
- Hand soap, scented spray and a stack of clean, pressed hand towels for the powder room
- Extra lightbulbs, batteries and two long nose candlelighters
Have your napkins and placemats always clean and ironed, your silver polished and your flower vases ready. It’s worth it to spend a Saturday doing all of this so the next time you host, you can relax and enjoy cooking without stressing about anything else.
The Day Before…
- Set the table
- Arrange your flowers
- Put out your water jug, ice bucket, platters and serving pieces
- Go grocery shopping
- Do any marinating or food prep necessary
Buy at least one course. Assuming this is not a catered meal, a fine, dense cake is usually what I buy. I add fruit and freshly whipped cream.
Find ways to make things feel casual. Inspired by the sharing plates we order in restaurants, I’ve stopped doing plated meals in favor of boards and platters of food served at the table and on a sideboard. Antipasto platters with baskets of flatbreads were a hit at a recent dinner party. It sets the tone for a more casual meal. Included were smoked meats and fish, dips, olives and other nibbly things. Then for the main course, platters on the sideboard with guests invited to fill their plates were the perfect solution. That way I could have some vegetarian options plus main course proteins and side dishes.
One great tip for your sideboard is to use risers. My niece Samantha gave me a set of two marble-topped risers from CB2 (see below) and now everyone who sees them wants them. They elevate the hot platters and make the buffet table look so much more interesting, and you can fit more platters in the same space.
After the main course, I always serve cheeses and a green salad. I send the cheese board around the table, but my friend Nancy does something else that’s really clever. She has individual cheese boards that she preloads with a selection of three cheeses plus some jelly, crackers and nuts. Hers are wood. I have slate ones that are also perfect. They’re slightly larger than individual size, so I place one between two people for more sharing.
Hire a little help. Not having any help for a larger dinner party is too hard for me. I work every day and I tend to make at least a few of the dishes myself so, by the time we sit down, I’m just too pooped to also serve and clean up. I either make the food myself and hire a prep chef/server to help me assemble and serve, or I order the main course from my caterer and fill in with homemade starters, salads and dessert. If I have no help, I just keep the menu simple: a main-course pasta dish, tagine or coq au vin that I’ve made the day before.
Inviting guests to move for dessert is still a great trick, especially if dessert is served buffet style with fresh utensils and plates, prompting guests to find a new seat.
Finally, there is the antiquated custom from English country dinner parties that no one here does but that can be fun. It used to be that ladies “retired to the drawing room” while men stayed at the table for port and cigars. Now it’s apt to be more like, “politics on the terrace and gossip in the living room.”