Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Anxiety-Free Dinner Party

Sometimes I wish I could have a conversation with the person I was before I started this blog. Oh, the advice I would give myself.

( 6pm, June 3, 2012.)

Old Me: I get so nervous throwing dinner parties.
New Me: Stop right there. That kind of an attitude doesn't help anyone -- especially your guests.

Old Me: But there's so much to d0. It feels overwhelming.
New Me: Entertaining friends is like learning to ride a bike. It gets easier every time until suddenly you don't even think twice about it. In the beginning, K-I-S-S: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Old Me: So what should I serve?
New Me: Something easy. Something that doesn't require lots of fussy timing. And definitely something you've made before. When you're more seasoned, all these rules can be broken.

Old Me: Who should I invite?
New Me: People you love. People who make you laugh. People you're excited to get to know better. 

Old Me: What if they don't get along?
New Me: Of course they'll get along. People can have different opinions and still get along. That's what makes for a fun, high-spirited evening.

Old Me: But there's so much pressure to have it go perfectly.
New Me: That's all in in your head.  Anyway, perfect dinner parties are incredibly boring. Four years from now, shortly after greeting guests, your husband is going to drop a full bottle of red wine on the kitchen floor in front of everyone.

Old Me: Oh my God. What a disaster!
New Me: Not at all. You and he are going to crack a couple of jokes, nonchalantly clean up the mess and open another one. And do you realize how relaxed the vibe is going to be afterwards? Newsflash: An accident is a unscheduled opportunity to make people feel more comfortable. It's not what happens, it's how you handle it that matters.

Old Me: Really?
New Me: Yes. And listen, you're going to have a couple of dessert fiascos yourself --  and from them, you will learn to always keep some fancy chocolate in the pantry. 

Old Me: But what about timing stuff? How can we make it so Piero and I aren't jumping up and down all night?
New Me: A certain amount of jumping up and down is inevitable. But you can make it easier on yourself by serving the food buffet-style in the kitchen so everyone can help themselves. Guests really like this -- it makes them feel at home.

Old Me: What about setting the table?
New Me: What about it? Keep it informal and fun. String a few garlands of ivy from the chandelier. Gather some bougainvillea petals from your garden and arrange them into a rectangle around a bunch of votive candles. Buy some 99 cent trinkets and put them on everyone's plate. Tie the napkins in garden twine. Be creative. There are no rules anymore.

Old Me: What about when dinner's over? When should I clear up?
New Me: Lisa, please. Let people linger. There is nothing sexier than the sweet disorder of a dining table. The light is low and intimate, there are crumbs on the table, glasses are huddled together. Everything is in bewitching disarray. The conversation that floats up from an atmosphere like this is often the most magical of the evening.
(Midnight, June 3, 2012.)

Old Me: (nervously) Do you really think...?
New Me: Yes. I do. Now get on that bike and start riding.


LPC said...

I think as we get older, we understand that free food, prepared by someone else, cleaned up by someone else, is enough. That and someone to listen to us, which I am sure you provide abundantly.

Lily said...

Oh Lisa,
I think to throw a good dinner party, you've got to be a good storyteller... and so I bet you conjure up the most magical & merry & marvelous feasts! Now if you could just conjure up the ghosts of Bloomsbury to pull up chair...
xx Lily

helen tilston said...

Hello Lisa
The new you and your attitude is so welcoming and must make your guests feel at home immediately. Like you said, a simple menu and good conversation, laughter is of prime importance. I am sure your parties are most memorable.

Have a lovely weekend
Helen xx

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

And what if the dog starts snoring underneath the dining table?

"No big deal. Everyone will giggle."

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

An invitation to one of your dinners would be most coveted. You have that "woo" (win-others-over) factor like no other!

Hels said...

I like the last photo a lot.

Turn off the room lights and leave just a few side lamps on. Light heaps of thick candles for romance and atmosphere; add silver bowls and candlesticks to reflect the candle light; and polish the timber table top.

Your flowers are also very romantic.

Sharon said...

An evening in your home is a gift to your guests - it's all about them. And the guests enjoy it most when the hostess is relaxed and having fun... that's so much more important than the correct silver or beautiful flowers (although they do add to the pleasure). "Feeling at home": that's an entire writing in itself, I think - or maybe a book! Enjoying following your thoughts...

pve design said...

Friday the new me went to the grocery at 6:40 pm for friends/guests to arrive at 7:30 and it was great. New me says no stress. New me says do it now.
Celebrate today.
I do always try to invite guests with equal anxiety issues....or at least more than me.

Reggie Darling said...

This is a terrific post, so full of wisdom . . . and wit! Another suggestion for a successful, stress-free party: hire someone to help out during the evening, keeping the kitchen tidy, clearing the plates, and washing up. It takes a lot of the pressure off, I find, and is well worth the expense (and isn't all that expensive, either!). And once you find this person and have shown them where everything is, and what to expect, the more you use them over time t becomes seamless. Reggie said...

Wonderful post..I have to comment even on Father's Day as you echo my husband's mantra "It is not what happens to you in life, it is how you handle it that matters". Dinner parties as in life....Greet it all with a smile, wry or otherwise, & make the best of it!
Also, picked up the July Martha mag. to read your piece. Well done & also advice to heed.
Have a wonderful Sunday,

Madam Butterfly said...

Absolutely love this post!

Serenknitity said...

I agree with you 100% Lisa, and all the commenters here. Events recently conspired so that I gave two dinner parties on consecutive Saturdays - I was a nervous ninny. But now I can't wait to do it again!
My top tip is to cook a main course with as much prep in advance as possible, then on the day go to the local farmer's market and buy some lovely artisanal pies to serve along with them. Also, have fun with the dessert - I made my first ever meringue. Lashings of sugar, cream and chocolate make anything taste good, even if it collapses.
Definitely invite people you want to see, otherwise you'll open the door seething with resentment.
So, when can you make it?

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

And obviously you too!

You are a wonderful storyteller yourself. xx

Helen Tilston:
The new me is definitely an improvement over the old me. :) xxx

Pamela Terry and Edward:
A snoring dog under the table would be enchanting!

Thank you, Vava -- I think you do too! xx

Yes to all your ideas -- your dinner parties must be amazing! xx

Beautifully, beautifully put. xx

The new me needs to meet the new you! xxx

Reggie Darling:
Yes, yes, yes! We've done that several times when we entertain larger groups and it makes ALL the difference. Thank you for your wisdom! xx

Thank you so much! And Happy Father's Day to your husband!

Madam Butterfly:
And I love your moniker.

Whenever you want! xx

24 Corners said...

Oh the things I would love to tell my younger, nerve-ridden self (sometimes I actually do talk to her, at all ages) many things!

"It's not what happens, it's how you handle it that matters"...brilliant words to live by...every moment, on a daily basis!
Fabulous post Lisa...
xo J~

meenal bishnoi said...

Awww..what a delightful post, lisa..I used to be the 'old you' and now inching closer to the 'new you' dinner party at a time..couldn't be happier with the transition! have a lovely new week..warm hugs..xx meenal

Joanna said...

I think I'll get on that bike and start peddeling. I've always wanted dinner parties, but I sound like the old you. Thanks for the encouragement.

Janice said...

May I ask who makes the china picture in your lovely post? I think I've seen it before on your blog and absolutely adore it!

Great tips. I particularly appreciate the post about not clearing up. I went to a party once where the hostess was obsessed with getting everything put away, right away. I wished she would have just sat down w/ her guests, relaxed a bit, and joined us in the fun!

Veronica Roth said...

Isn't it wonderful being older and wiser, (no matter what anyone says)

Anonymous said...

Great post and I have been following these guidelines for a number of years now. I do have a question for you and other readers:

How long to linger with cocktails and appetizers before sitting down to the table?

I know it depends on the situation, number of guests, etc. but - generally.

Barb said...

Reminds me of the wisdom that it's not the table but who's around it that matters.

Although your tablescape is lovely.

Paula said...

Never a truer word....
A brilliant post!
Paula x

Susan's Snippets said...

I love the K.I.S.S. - need to remember that for alot of things these days!!

In an ihavemissedabl haze!

Jamie Herzlinger said...

Lisa! Happy summer! You are so right about keeping it intimate and simple. I personally love the buffet style so you can let everybody get whatever they want to! I loved keeping up with your blog! Love, Jamie Herzlinger

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

24 Corners:
Your comment reminds me of one of my favorite quotes (by someone French, can't remember):

"Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait."

" If youth but knew, if old age but could."



"One dinner party at a time" is a lovely mantra!

Everything is possible.

My china is called "Roman Coin", designed by Sascha Brastoff, a mid-century California ceramicist. Hard to find, but not impossible, I think.

Veronica Roth:

Generally, I like to let people mingle and have cocktails and appetizers anywhere from between 30 minutes to one hour. Much less and people feel rushed (they've just sat down with a drink and it's time to get back up again); much more and they get cranky and hungry. :)

Love that!

Mrs. Sutton:
Thank you so much!

Susan's Snippets:
So happy to see your comment! I've been thinking of you -- hope all is well. xx

Jamie Herzlinger:
I love keeping up with everything you do as well! xx

Bumble at home said...

Great post but really writing to.ask if you saw that the last of the Bloomsburies has died,Angelica Garnett,I read a very good obituary in the UK Telegraph I think or Herald Tribune,

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Bumble at Home:
Saw it the other day.
Read every obit I could find.
The very very end of a magical era.

shiree segerstrom said...

So very true. Entertaining is a joyful event made even more enjoyable when the hostess is relaxed and engaged. Shiree'

quintessence said...

All recovering perfectionists can relate!! Children, age and experience I think turn the old us into the new "us". Your dinner party is exactly as it should be, the kind of party where I'd love to be a guest!!

columnist said...

"A certain amount of jumping up and down is inevitable. But you can make it easier on yourself by serving the food buffet-style in the kitchen so everyone can help themselves. Guests really like this -- it makes them feel at home."

I do this, and I find it helps such a lot, both me and the guests. Great post, and beautifully written as usual!

noreen said...

now i need to have friends over. luckily, they are coming for some swimming this afternoon. let's have a social summer. very cute post, lisa!

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