Be a Better Host: 14 Professionals Tell You How
March 9, 2016
Michelin-starred chefs, party planners, food writers, and etiquette know-it-alls share their hosting tips
Be a Better Host: 14 Professionals Tell You How
Have you ever wondered what the secret to hosting a successful dinner party is? That secret that all those calm, elegant hosts seem to know, but you just can’t figure out? The party professionals are here to reveal their dinner party tips to help you become a better host. From Michelin-starred chef David Chang, to professional event designer Camille Styles, these hosts’ simple tricks will rid you of your dinner party nightmares for good.
Camille Styles is a hugely popular event designer and a respected expert in all things lifestyle and design. She recommends giving yourself less to do, and allowing more time to get everything ready at the start of the evening by allowing your guests to help themselves to drinks: “The key to a simple drink service? Set up a self-serve bar so guests can be their own mixologists.” As a professional party planner and creator, we can definitely trust Camille’s top tips for simple, modern, stress-free entertaining.
Charles MacPherson has spent years as a butler, in charge of household management in some of the world’s most opulent homes. He has even published a book on hosting etiquette, called The Pocket Butler. Charles’ number one dinner party hosting tip is to always make a seating plan. Even if this seems too formal for the event you’re hosting, it will help to prevent awkward pairings, and will help your guests to connect with new friends.
Despite being a multiple Michelin-starred chef, successful restaurateur, and founder of Momofuku restaurant group, David Chang does not want to do anything complicated when he’s hosting dinner at home, or on vacation. With a group of friends and family to feed, Chang says “If it can’t be made in one pot, I don’t make it at all.” We think that’s a perfect motto to host by.
Deb Perelman of the award-winning food blog Smitten Kitchen, swears by buying as many ready-made items as is socially acceptable. “There’s no reason to bake a homemade baguette,” she explains. And she should know — it’s something she’s tried. Instead of trying to make a complex appetizer, Deb prefers “a platter of cheeses, nuts, cured meats, and pickles,” and says this “makes an excellent first course, and requires minimal extra work on your part. Nobody is going to be disappointed you didn’t cure your own meats.”
Diane Phillips, also known as the “Diva of Do-Ahead,” has got party-hosting down to a fine art. She swears that “the key to a great party is a relaxed host.” The easiest way to achieve that? By doing as much prep as you can ahead of time.
Cookbook author and culinary genius Dorie Greenspan splits her time between New York, Paris, and Connecticut, and is convinced that Parisian women are the perfect, cleverest hosts. The trick, she says, is to copy the Parisians: “Keep it simple,” and cheat as much as you can, “especially when it comes to a dessert.” There’s no harm in buying something from your favorite bakery, just make sure you hide the evidence — you don’t want anyone to know your secrets.
Emily and Lizzie Post
Emily Post was a hugely popular and much-loved writer on all things etiquette, in the early twentieth century. Today, her great-great granddaughter Lizzie Post continues Emily’s work, hosting a podcast on American Public Media called “Awesome Etiquette.” When it comes to hosting dinner parties, both Emily and Lizzie believe that not running late is absolutely essential: “One of the easiest mistakes that hosts and hostesses make is that they’re not ready on time.” If your guests can get there on time, you should be able to too.
As a leader of the molecular gastronomy movement, and one of America’s top chefs, you would think that Grant Achatz’s top dinner party hosting tip would be about the food preparation and plating. But it’s not. Achatz believes that the atmosphere of the room is so important, and one way you can control this is with the aromas: He recommends pouring boiling water over some rosemary sprigs to perfume the air.
Jamie Oliver is no stranger to hosting dinner parties, whether they’re for his family and friends, or for a huge fundraiser for his Food Foundation charity. He recommends that you spend time thinking about your ingredients: “Seasonal ingredients are the most delicious, and the cheapest, so hero them and use them as a good excuse to keep things simple.”
Julia Child was famed for bringing French cuisine into American kitchens. There’s no doubt that she was a phenomenal cook, with a sparkling personality. She was known to be extremely talented at making jokes about her kitchen disasters, mistakes, and mishaps at every dinner she hosted. But another reason we admire her is that she wasn’t scared to take a few shortcuts in her cooking when she deemed it necessary. One of these was using canned broths and bouillons, which she highly recommends, as long as you make sure no one knows what you did: “To disguise your use of the can, simmer the broth for 15-20 minutes with a handful of minced carrots, onions, and celery, and perhaps a bit of dry white wine or dry white French vermouth.” You’ll have the most flavorsome soup or stew, and no one will know your secret.
TV star Lauren Conrad runs one of the most successful lifestyle brands, blogs, and websites out there. She loves hosting friends at home, and shares many of her top tips on her website. No matter what the occasion, Conrad loves to decorate the table with fresh flowers: “Arrange some fresh blooms for the centerpieces,” but make sure to “keep them low enough that guests can talk over them.” Your room décor needs to be beautiful, as well as practical. Simple fresh flowers will be perfect every single time.
Food writer and former New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman has so many tips for the stressed out dinner party host in his book How to Cook Everything Fast. His key recommendation is to not try to do too much, or to attempt anything too complicated: “A dinner party is rarely a time for spontaneity, even for veterans,” he writes. Instead, Bittman recommends that, “if you focus on one thing that you’re comfortable with, you make it well, your kids enjoy it, your friends enjoy it, and you enjoy it, I don’t think that it needs to be much more complicated than that.”
Food writer Nigella Lawson’s first cookbook was inspired by a dinner party host who burst into tears because the crème caramel hadn’t set. This clearly wasn’t the way to host a successful dinner party, so Lawson set about writing down what was. Now often referred to as a true domestic goddess, who champions simple, but chic food, Nigella’s top dinner party tip is to limit the number of dishes: “I don’t do appetizers,” she explains. “I’d rather have fewer dishes in large quantities.” Separate out the food into lots of different serving bowls, and fill in empty spaces with lots of condiments and sauces to stop the table from feeling minimalist.
American chef, food writer, and cookbook author Ruth Reichl is happiest when at home, busily cooking in her kitchen. Having friends round for a relaxed dinner is something she talks about often. She recommends that you keep things simple, and don’t overstretch yourself. Make sure you can relax and enjoy yourself with your guests. One way to do this is to not “serve soup or any kind of first course that means jumping up while everyone else is seated to prepare the main course.” No one wants you to leave the table, so make sure you don’t need to.