filed under Hosting & Entertaining

5 Entertaining Rules That Were Made to Be Broken

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Photo by Rachael White

Sometimes throwing a party for a group of friends or family can feel like more than we bargained for. What was supposed to be a simple gathering with a few laughs, good conversation and tantalizing food can quickly become a game of sifting through endless rules. Between deciding what time to have the party to what to serve and which conversation topics are considered “safe,” it can be overwhelming to say the least.

I remember the first party I ever hosted. I was in 9th grade and had decided to throw a holiday gathering inspired by some of my mom’s Southern Living books. Let’s just say that homemade chocolate truffles are totally wasted on 9th grade kids. Also, I invited about 10 friends. Only 4 showed up. And I had leftovers for what seemed like forever. It was awkward. But, as with all mistakes, I learned a valuable lesson. Since then, with every gathering I host, I try my best to simplify the rules that I have to stick to in order to ensure the best time for my friends and myself.

To help you entertain more effortlessly (or at least without the awkwardness of a 9th grader), here’s a look at some old-school rules that you can toss along with the party leftovers. No offense to traditionalists out there, but some of these rules have got to go!

Rule #1: (Don’t) Use Cloth Napkins

When you were growing up, did your mom take out the cloth napkins on special occasions? And then promptly panic when they got dirty? Yes, cloth napkins make us all feel a little more fancy. However, what good is a napkin that your guests are afraid to use? It used to be true that cloth napkins were the most appealing way to set a table, but today there are many paper napkins that are not only beautiful, but are also made of eco-friendly materials so you don’t have to feel guilty about using them. Save time on laundering and sidestep your guests’ stress by purchasing some fun, earth-friendly napkins that are made to get down and dirty!

Party tip: Don’t forget to recycle the napkins or compost them (if they’re soiled with food).

Rule #2 : (Don’t) Set the Table

It used to be crucial that every person had a full place setting at a dinner party. Multiple plates, glasses, and a full set of silverware were required in order to have a successful gathering. As most of us know, these days it’s less likely that that formality is expected. Instead, we flock to parties based on small bites that can be enjoyed standing or sitting as well as those featuring meals served family- or buffet-style. If you’ll be having a sit-down dinner party, tables can be minimally set with only what is absolutely needed for the main course. Dessert may require a new place setting, but that can be simple as well. This will save you prep work as well as clean up time. As with the cloth napkins, you can relax this rule by choosing eco-friendly dishware made from bamboo or another green material that won’t sit in a landfill forever.

Party tip: If your local party store doesn’t carry planet-friendly party wares, simply do a Web search for “eco party supplies” and you’ll be rewarded with a treasure trove of options.

Rule #3: (Do/Don’t) Bite Your Tongue!

OK, this rule is still relevant. Sometimes. Confused? Let me explain. Discussions that are based on politics, religion and sex should be kept at bay when you’re unsure about your guests’ viewpoints. Even (and especially) if there’s only one person who has a differing opinion, try keeping things quiet on these fronts, and as a host, steer the discussion back to inclusive topics if the conversation veers off track. There are times when you may be surrounded with people you feel completely comfortable discussing and debating until dawn. In that case, go for it! But only go down that road if you know that there will be no hard feelings and other guests won’t be uncomfortable.

Party tip: When in doubt? Bite your tongue!

Rule #4: (Don’t) Make Your Place Look Perfect

The reality is this: no one feels comfortable in a home that feels more like a museum than, well, a well lived-in home. Clean is one thing, but if your guests question whether a dropped crumb might trigger your alarm system, the mood of the party has officially been dampened. If you’re short on time, prepare for your party by getting rid of clutter, vacuumming and dusting the rooms that will be used the most, and cleaning the bathrooms. If your home feels clean and comfortable, you’ve succeeded.

Party tip: Don’t sweat the mess that occurs during your get-together, either. A quick sprucing up of the bathroom and primary party areas halfway through the party will suffice.

Rule #5: Don’t (Do) Burden Your Guests

There’s a fine line between forcing your guests to help and accepting offered assistance. Don’t be too proud. Allow your friends to help if they offer. Or, ask one or two people to help you get things under control so your clean-up will be minimal. Once one person starts helping, the numbers usually multiply. And it can be a fun bonding experience, too!

Party tip: Be open to allowing your guests to contribute in other ways, too. If you need a hand prepping for the party or could use an extra dish, ask a friend who you know would be delighted to help.

There you have it: five entertaining “rules” that were made to be broken. Keep in mind that there really aren’t any set rules for hosting a successful get-together. You know your friends better than anyone and can judge what they will or will not be comfortable with. As long as everyone is comfortable, happy and enjoying scrumptious eats, you’re on the right track!

Editor’s Note: Are you a rule-breaker or a traditionalist? When you’re entertaining, what “rules” do you adhere to?

  • http://twitter.com/10ecgrl Jan

    All good points. I sometimes miss the traditional ways, but appreciate the trend toward breaking some rules in favor of less work and a more relaxed gathering.

  • Tmcheesebrow

    I’ve never felt comfortable at stuffy formal dinners, but the casual dinner party is one of my favorite events to throw. When planning there are a few other rules I like to employ…

    The guy to meat ratio. You may call it sexist, but in my experience it is the men who drool over thick cuts of beef and women, though they like it, are just as happy with something else. So, the more the gender ratio tips in favor of the male persuasion, the more meat-central the meal becomes. 

    The indoor/outdoor rule. In MN we don’t get that many nice days that also fall on weekends. Basically if it’s nice out, the party goes outside as does the meal. I like to be in the same room with guests while preparing the food so I can talk with them and not just appear, like some restaurant staff person, when the food is done. So if it takes a little last minute planning, so be it…if it’s nice out, we’re cooking the whole meal on the grill, baby!

    Price per pound. As the number of guests go up, the price per pound of the expensive items goes down. For instance a dinner for 4 might be lambchops, asparagus and lemon-leek-red pepper risotto, if we added another 4 couples to that party it would be pot roast or pulled pork, potatoes and green beans. 

    Gotta get the right groove. For a classy party jazz is nice, for a casual one, you can’t go wrong with acoustic folk/rock and for a fun/energetic party Blues Brothers and that era of lighter rock is the ticket. I find classical to be prohibitively formal, rock to invoke memories of doing construction projects with my dad and metal/rap/pop to be so annoying that people suddenly find excuses to leave early. 

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  • J. Fishler

    Enjoyed this very much.  Rules that make sense.
    The times, they are ‘a changin’…

Rachael White is the author of the blogs Set the Table and Tokyo Terrace. After four years of living, eating, and entertaining in Tokyo, Japan, she and her family have relocated to Denver, Colorado. Rachael is constantly searching for new ways to make entertaining easier and more interesting for guests in a variety of environments and situations. In addition to food blogging, her recipes have been published in cookbooks including Foodista Best of Food Blogs and Peko Peko: A Charity Cookbook for Japan and in Japan’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper. Originally from Minnesota, Rachael strives to recreate recipes and settings that reflect Midwestern comfort with a modern twist.


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