(With special guest topic: What Your Bartender Might Really Be Thinking While They Serve You)
"Hospitality is making your guests feel at home , even if you wish they were."
That quote became a mantra for me on my longest nights behind the bar, keeping me sane by reminding me why I was serving drunk assholes waving their credit cards in my face. It was all in the name of hospitality. Now that I spend my time writing recipes instead of on the front lines facing guests, I actually miss doting on people. Somehow serving others really is the most fulfilling thing to me - knowing that I curated a space, a flavor, an experience that made them feel good is intensely rewarding. So, I've returned to the roots of hospitality: the dinner party. And then went further and added the cocktail party, lunch, brunch, and "just because" parties to the repertoire. As it turns out, I picked up some of my best hosting tricks from some of the worst guests I had in the past - so even if they didn't tip, at least they were good for something!
Exhibit No. 1: "Can you change the music?" When dining at a restaurant, chances are high that the server or bartender is not in charge of the music, and even if they are - it's not considered cool to ask for a change. Same goes for making requests to the DJ - it's a club, not a wedding, pal. With that said, music plays a huge role in atmosphere and can be distracting if not done right.
Set your playlist ahead of time, and choose it to set the mood you desire. Making pasta for a dinner party? Crank up the Sinatra. Hosting a morning-after brunch? Try something fun like 80's jams. Choose your music based on your guests as well - a more serious group calls for background music, but if you're just having wine with your girls throw on something dance-y. Make sure that you have the volume low enough to talk over - you can always turn it up once the party is going!
Exhibit No. 2: *A guest moves multiple restaurant tables without asking* Revamping a restaurants interior design of your own accord can be considered a faux pas - but if you call ahead most places can accommodate you with the perfect seating arrangement for your group.
Before your guests arrive, make adjustments to your living space to allow it to accommodate more people than usual. I switch the positioning of my ottoman to open up seats on the couch, swivel the coffee table to allow space for drinks and games, and re-purpose a bookshelf to stock extra glassware, napkins, ice, and any other cocktail needs. Having a purposefully arranged party space will help your guests feel more comfortable.
Exhibit No. 3: "Do you have a phone charger?"
Be prepared for your night out with a fully juiced phone, or bring your own charger along. There are no guarantees that the bartender will have one to share, and you don't want to be stuck with a dead phone and no way to hail an Uber at last call.
It's easy to get wrapped up in the big picture of your dinner party but the devil is in the details - when you are hosting people as your guests, consider small conveniences that will make them feel at home. Go the extra mile for your friends by making amenities readily available. I keep a stash of water bottles in plain sight so people can help themselves, and make sure the bar area is well stocked and inviting so guests can refresh their drinks at their leisure. In the restroom, I keep extra goodies like phone chargers and breath mints.
Exhibit No. 4: "It's too cold/warm/windy/sunny in here!"
Story time: Once, while I was tending bar, someone told me the fire pit they were sitting next to at an outside was too hot and could I please ask management to "turn it down." Unfortunately it was, in fact, a *fire* so we couldn't fulfill that request.
In your home take advantage of the temperature control you do have! Before any more than a couple of people come over, I adjust the heat or A/C to be two degrees colder. Between cooking and people milling about, you'll be thankful you got ahead of the inevitable rise in temperature. For another atmospheric touch, soften your lighting - I like incorporating string lights and candles into my decor during a party, and skip the overhead lighting in lieu of lamps.
Exhibit No. 5: "What do you have that is vegan/vegetarian/gluten free?" If you have serious dietary restrictions, be sure to reach out to restaurants ahead of arrival (when possible) to ensure that you can safely enjoy a tasty meal! Most chefs are happy to be accommodating when they get a heads up. When hosting, avoid any last minute menu changes by planning ahead.
Plan your food situation well in advance, and give your guests a heads up on what the menu will be. Overwhelmed by the idea of cooking (and cleaning) for a crowd? Organize a pot luck! Sharing a meal pieced together by everyone is a great way to bond.
For larger parties, I try to keep small bites available to everyone before and after the meal, especially if we will be drinking. Starting with a cheese board and ending with a dessert platter is sure to impress, and a little clever styling can turn cost efficient foods into works of art. (Case in point ↓)
Once you have your party plan in place, let your hair down! The prep work should be 95% of the effort, so that you can enjoy yourself with your guests instead of worrying. And should your motivation to play Martha Stewart for the evening go south, you can always take your party to the nearest restaurant and let those hospitality professionals do what they do best.