Dinner Party

The New Manners: How to Be a Great Host

December 14, 2015

No matter the space or the size of the soirée, being a great host has less to do with being extravagant in the traditional sense (caterer! florist! Beef Wellington! lots of space!), and far more about being extravagant with your attitude. Here are some ways to do so, plus tips for navigating take-home presents, invitations, and food allergies.

Photo by James Ransom
  1. Invite a mix of people who know and don’t know each other. I’m a firm believer in cross-pollinating groups of friends.

  2. Have flattering light—not too bright, and not in anyone's eyes—and a delicious smell (be it dinner cooking or a great candle). Both work wonders making people feel confidently relaxed.

  3. I love the word “abundance” when it comes to a party—there should be a feeling of abundance. Cook more than you think you need or buy armloads of flowers from the corner store to put around the house (you can always send leftovers home with people at the end of the night). Remember that no one likes to be the one who takes the last roll in the bread basket.

  4. Put a refreshing beverage in everyone’s hand within five minutes of arrival.

  5. Enjoy your party—and plan the food/drinks/activities (and your outfit) accordingly so you can: Your guests came to see you, so don’t spend all night in the kitchen sweating the small stuff!

Photo by Mark Weinberg

On Take Home Presents

I’m always shoving some sort of treat into people’s hands as they walk out—a case of beer from the evening to my friend’s boyfriend everyone met for the first time; flowers wrapped in paper; slices of pie in paper takeaway boxes. Or I’ll put something at everyone’s place-setting: For a dinner party where everyone was asked to bring an interesting, new-to-the-group friend as their +1, they sat down to an artful-looking vintage copy of The Mystery Guest (bought on Amazon for $1 each!) atop their plates.

On Invitations

On the topic of invitations, there’s nothing wrong with inviting someone via text message the day before—but only if it’s for close friends and a casual Sunday supper situation (and not, say, your black-tie wedding!). The formalness of your event, your familiarity with the guests, their age (grandmas really love a handwritten note), and travel plans should dictate the level of tradition of the invitation itself and when and how you send it.

Herringbone Thank You Letterpress Cards from our Shop. Photo by James Ransom

On Allergies

If you’re not comfortable or it’s not possible to ask guests about food restrictions, avoid basing the meal around any common allergens—like shellfish, gluten, dairy, and nuts.

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I love a build-a-meal approach, so guests can pick and choose what they want—whether it’s because of allergies, food preferences, or even to appeal to hearty and light appetites alike. For instance, on fondue night, there was a cheese fondue and an oil-based fondue; meat, bread and vegetables for dipping.

How do you make guests feel at home? Let us know in the comments!

Jen Ford is the Editorial Director at Kate Spade, whose new book All in Good Taste is on shelves now.

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Jen Ford

Written by: Jen Ford

Jen Ford is the Editorial Director at kate spade new york and author of All in Good Taste, the brand's New York Times best-selling book on entertaining, wining and dining, manners and style in the 21st century. A graduate of the Central Saint Martins MA Fashion Journalism program, she was previously the Fashion News & Features Director at Lucky magazine, fashion features editor at Harper's Bazaar (heralding in its "entertaining with style" pages) and Wallpaper* magazine. Her work‹on topics ranging from evolving retail landscapes to the true cultural significance of "sex and the city”—has appeared in American Vogue, British Vogue, The New York Times, Financial Times,Time, and Elle. She’s a New Yorker by way of Seattle, Chengdu and London whose fondest memories always involve snippets of inspired conversations and thoughtful gestures. She has a "all dressed up and everywhere to go" personality that's at dire odds with a desire to stay in, watch french new wave films and eat takeout on fine china. She also has four fondue pots (all gifts), glassware for 50 ("just in case"), and can be spotted from anywhere in a crowded cocktail party by the black bow in her hair and swipe of red lipstick.