Hospitality & Manners

The Ten Commandments of Entertaining

With the holidays just around the corner, I thought I’d share with you my list of the top ten things you can do to make entertaining fun and easy for you and your guests.  These are just off the top of my head and I may drop a few more on you as we draw nearer the holidays.

1. Do as much ahead of time as humanly possible.  I can’t emphasize this enough.   If it can be frozen, freeze it.  Except for lighting candles, almost everything can be done ahead of time.  I have even set the table a week ahead and covered it with a sheet.

2.  Start with an empty dishwasher. Always, always, always start with an empty dishwasher no matter you are serving 4 or 44.

3. Let people help. If someone asks for a job, give them one:  put ice in the glasses, pour water, etc. – anything that requires little instruction.

4. Music is lovely, but make sure guests don’t need to shout to be heard.

5.  Use the good stuff. That’s why you have it.

6.  If you can only clean one room, make it the bathroom. Put out fresh hand towels. This is not optional.

7. Keep the lights on the low side and no one will notice that the only room you cleaned was the bathroom.

8.  Receive compliments graciously.  When someone says, “Oh your home is lovely!” the only acceptable response to this is “Thank you!”   Do not say that you wish you had a larger laundry room or that you hate your kitchen layout.

9. Never ever stress about something not turning out right in front of your guests.  They won’t remember what wasn’t up to par.  They will remember that you fretted over it.  A harried hostess makes guests uncomfortable.

10.  The single most important thing you can do as a hostess is to enjoy your company.  Once your guests arrive, it’s time to focus on them.  Whatever is undone shall remain undone.

10.1 No flaming pineapples.

45 thoughts on “The Ten Commandments of Entertaining

  1. Such great tips! We had guests over this past week and as the first couple showed up, I was shoving dirty dishes in the oven. (Don’t ask.) The husband was just laughing and telling me how glad he was that I didn’t have it perfectly all together. It made him feel more at home. I told him if he really wanted to feel at home, I’d take them back out and let him wash. I’d dry and put up. =)

    * * *
    For some reason my husband always seems to want to defrost the fridge or some other similar task 10 minutes before guests arrive. I tell him it won’t look good if he has to answer the door with claw marks on his face. KIDDING! He has yet to adopt and embrace my list.

  2. Oh, man, that dishwasher tip is a MUST!

    And I’ll tell you the one that, in my mind, matches up with it.

    Make sure you’ve got containers for leftovers and room to put them in the fridge. Nothing makes cleanup easier than being able to whisk dirty dishes AND leftover food immediately out of sight.

    To me, it’s the “Huh. What do we do with this?” that’s the rub. And while plastic wrap and aluminum foil are quick fixes, I LOVE assorted plastic containers with matching lids.

    I just got a super cheap set of like 14 containers and I give thanks for them every night after dinner. Even the little tiny ones have come in handy for those little bits of sauce or gravy. Mainly, though, I find they keep everything so much fresher than just covering with wrap. Plus, you don’t have to be so careful with them because of possible spills.

    If you’ve got a huge assortment of mismatched containers and lids, which I end up with every year it seems like, then do yourself a favor and pick up a new set. The cheapest at discount or grocery stores work just fine, I can attest to that. However, I did struggle with the set of 4 I got at the Dollar Store. Just sayin.

    * * *
    I file my sizeable collection of Gladware lids by size and color in a large pullout drawer. It’s a thing of beauty that someone like you might appreciate, unlike “some” people who live in my house. It’s a vision to behold. I also file my herbs and spices alphabetically, also awesome to gaze upon.

  3. Owning a really small home has its advantages….like…not having to entertain large groups of people. The most we can fit around our table is two more place settings. And that is if we use the computer chair! 😛 Love it when is is nice outside…we can throw a mean picnic!!

    I agree with the planning ahead. Last year everything was homemade so planning was a big part of our gift giving. This year we are “upcycling” all our gifts. You just might receive a milk jug converted into a lamp shade!! Never know!!

    Oh and I told my kids last year, “Jesus only received 3 gifts. What is good enough for Jesus is good enough for you guys!” Keeping it real!! One present from us (the parents), one from sibling, and can only ask Santa for one gift! Made Christmas a whole lot easier!!

    * * *
    It’s not the size of your home, it’s the size of your heart. Having had the pleasure to meet you, I’m sure gatherings in your home are absolutely lovely.

  4. Amen to #1, and I think it goes double if your guests are kids. Leaving them to themselves while you run and get matches for the candles, a blindfold for the game, or whatever is an invitation to mayhem by the time you get back 45 seconds later. There are always more “last minute” things than you ever remember. I can’t exactly set the table ahead because we have only one eating space in the house, but, if we can spare them, I count out plates, napkins, etc and put them atop the fridge. Somehow every little thing counts. (I’m taking a break from party prep right now, in fact!)

  5. Okie, here is one that goes along with the “focus on your guests and forget the rest”…..

    We had a rather large Open House, full food buffet last year, to celebrate our son’s upcoming wedding. I hired two college girls (daughters of friends) to be in the kitchen and make sure there was food on the table and hot coffee and cider available. (All food made ahead of time – and frozen – to reheat the hour before the event.) In the slow moments, they were to whisk the dishes away, wash them and restock if we were running low, and walk the rooms and offer to get coffee or cokes for our guests.

    When the party was over, my family was still there – gifts were opened by the happy couple (not the intent of the party but a few people brought wedding gifts) and I could still sit and enjoy the moment while my kitchen helpers put the food away, washed all the dishes and put everything away. EVERYTHING.

    It was the most brilliant of all my hostessing moments – planned ahead because I didn’t want the evening to rush by without me noticing the guests. I was able to take mental snapshots (and real ones!) all evening long.

  6. This is great. We may have a very full house for Thanksgiving this year, and since it’s our first in our new home, I’m already wanting it to be perfect. But I need to just remember to be thankful for the wonderful family I’ve been blessed with, and a beautiful (if not perfectly laid out) home to host them in.

  7. I’m lovin’ number 7, and I’m taking notes from you and Kathy — as I am the worst hostess. I’m the one who is noticeably fretting about everyone and everything. But, hey, hire a girl to handle the kitchen stuff (my nemesis, along with all the house cleaning) and the stress is gone. Thanks, gals!

  8. It took me a long time to get over my pride and accept that people came to see me and didn’t really care if my house was perfect. Once I did that, entertaining became so much more enjoyable. And more frequent! I’ve also noticed that the more often I have people over, the easier it gets.

  9. I love your list! I try to do all of the prep work in advance so I can pretend that it was a breeze to prepare everything. I agree that once the guests arrive you should be focused on them and NOT chopping lettuce or some other task!

  10. This is a good list. Regarding #9– most of the time the guests don’t know how it was “supposed” to be and won’t know the difference unless you point it out. So just go with the flow!

    Also, I don’t mind having a few last minute things I’m doing in the kitchen when guests arrive, because it gives me an excuse to invite them in to help me and make them feel at home. However, that works best with a few guests, not a houseful…

  11. Great tips! I am hosting Christmas for our family this year and I am planning already. The more I can do now, the less I will have to worry about then. And I just need to remember that they are coming here to relax and be with family, and that’s what is important.

  12. What a great list…we entertain a lot and you hit most everything that we live by. We also write a list the day that we are entertaining to make sure everything gets done (prioritized!) as well as the menu. Can’t tell you how many times we got to the end of the evening and figured out that we had forgotten to serve something!

    * * *
    Same here with the list and forgetting to serve something. And if no one noticed that something wasn’t served maybe it wasn’t really needed?

  13. Oh…what a great list…and slap in the face at the same time! 🙂 And you are so spot on with everything! Killing yourself at such a fast paced before the guests arrive is no fun for anyone!!

    Enjoyed it!

  14. I have had SO much trouble with #10 in the past! Stressing & fretting & worrying & trying to scramble to get something done beyond the last minute. I’m trying to do better.

  15. Oh, but I so badly wanted to flame some pineapples! I think my guests would remember that 😉

    You forgot one thing: if you have a choice between having the food ready and yourself flushed, still in sweats with a smear of flour on your left eyebrow, or yourself calm and lipsticked and still doing last minute things in the kitchen, always have yourself ready first.

  16. Great tips.

    Now can you clear a couple of things up for me?
    Regarding clean up, I like to stack plates, put the food away and give the surfaces a quick wipe down, then go back to my guests. My friends, however, do a full blown clean up – making sure every dish and servig utensil is cleaned or put in the dishwasher, and every last item is cleaned before getting back to the entertaining. This can sometimes take an hour and by then it could be time to go home. Which way is better?

    Also, how do you handle guests who ask to tour your home or, worse, begin giving themselves a tour? I’ve read this is not polite behavior but how do you stop it?

    Thanks again.

    * * *
    You are right. You do not do a full blown clean up. It’s the equivalent of turning the lights up at closing time. The stack and wipe is fine if you can do it quickly and discreetly and not leave your guests unattended.

    On touring – depends on the guest who asks. Sometimes I say feel free to look around. Other times I’ll say let me take care of a few things and I’ll give you a tour. The hostess usually doesn’t have time to stop and give a tour if she’s pouring drinks and receiving guests and all kinds of other things, so I personally wouldn’t ask. If someone goes on an uninvited and unescorted tour, I usually tackle them from behind and give them a wedgie.

  17. These are great tips! Thanks for the post! I used to be the hostess that fretted about everything but I have stopped worrying about it and just try to enjoy my guests. I laughed at the PP that put her dirty dishes in the oven. I have so done this before. 🙂 We also use our laundry room as the “hide all the stuff” room when we are rushing around last minute. No one ever goes in there. I also love your comment on the last post about giving univitd tourers a wedgie. 🙂 I have had someone do that to me before and if I’d only read this sooner I’d have known how to stop them. 🙂

  18. Seriously, no flaming pineapples? What kind of hostess are you??
    Haha! Just kidding. I need to print the last few out and tape em to my forehead. And, WHY do men need to defrost and such? My favorite story regarding that topic is when my in laws were coming to our place for dinner for the very first time – 10 minutes before they arrived my husband was outside with all of the window blinds, washing them with a hose and a scrub brush! Meanwhile, the grease from my roasted chicken had dripped onto the bottom of the oven and created a hiroshima-sized cloud of burning smoke, filling the entire tiny little apartment, so we had to open all the windows and the blinds got pulled up and no one could see them (in all of their clean glory) anyway. AHHH!

  19. Wow! Great advice. I am so tense when anyone is here…so afraid I’ll mess up. Thanks for the list.

  20. If you don’t have time to clean the bath fill up the tub to the line (you know where the line is) and place a couple three floating candles in it and no one will notice it’s not clean unless you tell Then wipe down everything else.

  21. We’ve had family dinners at Christmas and on Easter for 24-27 family members starting when my son was 18 months and I was pregnant with our second son. Needless to say, this kind of event with two boys underfoot is always an adventure. One year while I was hysterically cleaning the day before in hopes it would last til the next day, my 8 year old reminded me that “our family comes because they like us, not to see how clean our house is”. Out of the mouths of babes…I enjoyed our dinners at a much more relaxed pace ever since. And no one has ever commented that something wasn’t spotless…

  22. I do what I can to keep our home neat and just greet guests with this poem…
    “welcome to our mess. Come in, sit down and converse. It doesn ‘t always look this this, some days it’s even worse!”
    LOL with a 1 and 3 year old, mess is a relative term.

  23. I used to be a fretter and apologizer. But have learned that it only makes others uncomfortable.

    We have a huge Before Thanksgiving Pie Night gathering. Last year the younger girls (about age 10) gathered in my daughters room to “hang out” They were playing in her make-up (she is 10 and was there too). Some lipstick was unknowingly dropped on the floor and stepped on. Subsequently tracked throughout the house. Yes, on the carpet. Lipstick. I knew there was nothing that could be done right then (once the tainted shoe was found and removed)so I just smiled and continued to enjoy our guests. I can’t believe how much nicer it was to ‘put off’ the fretting that caused!

    * * *
    Yes, going nuclear in front of the guests is kind of bad form. But lipstick all over the carpet. I might have cried. Just a little. But then again, being the optimist that I am, better lipstick than poo.

  24. A tip I stumbled upon from experience:

    At a dinner party I hosted last year, one of the guests offered to decorate the table. Cooking is my thing, getting all Martha on the table is hers. The shared responsibility was wonderful. Allow others to help and use what they themselves are good at and passionate about.

  25. I learned early on that stressing before a party was a useless waste of energy. As for guest – if you don’t enjoy their company, and you feel they may find fault – don’t invite them. Also, always clean up before you go to bed, even if that means staying up really late – it only takes once to wake up to a mess. Relax and enjoy!

  26. This is great! Just great. I wish I had this list when I was newly married and frantic about cleaning every little thing before people came over. Seriously. I would scrub every floor even if some friends were just coming over for pizza.

    I’ve come a loooong way since then! 🙂

  27. Excellent! Thank you for the humble reminder – especially regarding fretting in front of guests and leaving undone whatever is undone once guests arrive.
    When we lived on the farm several years ago, I was so harried and “in the zone” so to speak with last minute preps for our annual family Christmas party. When my unmarried brother-in-law arrived early and asked if he could help, I made him clean the toilets, which I had stupidly postponed until the last minute.
    He did it without complaining, but with a few crude comments.
    I owe him one.

  28. “For some reason my husband always seems to want to defrost the fridge or some other similar task 10 minutes before guests arrive. I tell him it won’t look good if he has to answer the door with claw marks on his face. KIDDING! He has yet to adopt and embrace my list.”

    That made me laugh really hard. My husband usually picks really important tasks like rust guarding the gates, cleaning the garage or vacuuming under my feet before guests arrive.

  29. My mother always told me, “Never clean your house before a party, they’ll just mess it up and you’ll have to clean it again.” But I always clean the bathroom ; )

  30. My biggest tip, don’t entertain outside your comfort zone.
    We are jello and burger people. We are just not fancy. I used to try and do fancy and all I got was frazzled. Now when people come over, they know us and know to expect hamburgers, chips and paper plates.
    If one likes to decorate , then go crazy, but if one is simple, they should stay simple. WAY easier on the hostess. AND the marriage.

    * * *
    I agree 100%. The “rules” for gracious hosting and guesting are the same no matter your style or what you are serving.

  31. I completely agree with receiving compliments graciously. I wish I had learned this years ago, but I am still working on it. It’s so easy to see our flaws, isn’t it? But no one else does… except dirty bathrooms, of course.

  32. AM, thanks for these helpful posts re: entertaining. We entertain a lot, often large gatherings of church family, or my own large family (40+), but as I get older (another antique mommy here), it gets harder to do “it all.” So I have had to learn to let some things go. I don’t panic about floors that didn’t get vacuumed or windowsills that weren’t dusted. We haven’t quit hosting any of our parties, but I do less of the prep I used to think was absolutely necessary. And guess what? No one has noticed! We have just as much fun as we always did and people seem to want to come back for more. 🙂 Relax and enjoy! I should have learned that a long time ago…

    That said, my number one helper is the list. I write down everything that needs to be done. And a list of everything that should be set on the table, down to salt and pepper shakers. If it’s written down, it’s easy to delegate, it’s easy to see at a glance what is accomplished and what is left to do, and it’s easier to relax, knowing all is covered.

    Another tip: My mom used to say “every recipe starts with a sink full of hot soapy water” and I find that’s a good place to start when I’m putting together a meal (for my family or for guests). So easy to quickly wash up a utensil or bowl used in prep and then it’s done!


  33. Another tip is to have a list of all the menu items, and do a quick check an hour or so before eating.

    That way you’re not all sitting down to eat, and you remember that you forgot to put the (pre-prepared) squash in the oven, and it’s still sitting in the refrigerator.

  34. Came here via I’m An Organizing Junkie. What a fantastic post and a wonderful reminder of what is important. I so needed that!

  35. Perhaps this was already mentioned, but having just hosted (Canadian)Thanksgiving at my house I have realized that starting with an empty garbage can is also critical. Thanks for all the other great tips!

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