It seems that the formal dinner is on life support. No one is setting out different wine glasses or (horror!) seating interesting strangers next to one another if they have special things in common. Entertaining is now informal, from a buffet to a casual get-together.
Here are the modern do’s and don’ts for dinner party guests and hosts:
If someone offers to feed you, accept or decline (hopefully) promptly. Under no circumstances should you start quizzing the host about who else is invited.
When someone tells you to arrive at 7.30pm, the last thing they want you to do is arrive at 7.30pm. They will be in the shower. Or at the supermarket. Give it 15 minutes. In Washington the Brits still turn up dead on time, the Virginians much later.
Keep it simple
Do not be too ambitious. Ultimately, no one cares. They will remember how drunk they got and what a laugh they had. The food is almost immaterial, a framework for social interaction.
Flowers? Wine that needs decanting? A dessert that needs defrosting? Do not lumber your host with extra work.
Bring more booze than you need. Do not arrive with a four-pack of Carling or a Hungarian prosecco someone left at your house three years ago. An easygoing sharing of the wine goes with the territory. But contribute fairly, and in no circumstance try to return home with any of the wine you brought. That alcohol is the host’s to keep, a bonus embedded in law.
Do not cram your beers into the host’s fridge. Buy some ice and bring your chilled drink in a cool bag.
Sharing the load
If everyone is pitching in and you’re asked to bring a starter or dessert, no one will mind how much you spend. This is not a financial quid pro quo. Nor are you under obligation to cook from scratch. This is not The Great British Bake Off. It should be a relaxing meal among people you love, not a high-wire test of your choux pastry.
Do not turn up late with a starter that takes an hour to cook, causing an oven logjam. Bringing paté? Then bring the bits, too: bread for toast, chutneys and pickles. It is the thought that counts. That, and bringing enough to feed everyone. This is a party, right?
Do not bring dishes in fancy cookware. Such things are often mislaid in the melee. It may be weeks before you see your cookware again.
Give kids (cheap, frozen) pizza and chips. Anything else is a waste. On no account give them what the adults are eating. There is nothing more demoralising than watching a seven-year-old refuse to eat as its parents let their meal go cold.
Continued tomorrow…… ( P.S By now you might have guessed where I am going with this)