Hosting a Work Dinner Party?

My new article on Maria Shriver’s The Women’s Conference:

As someone in the workforce, you may find that you have to entertain your boss, and/or your colleagues, in your own home. I don’t know about you, but there have been days—even years—when this prospect filled me with unadulterated dread — either because I’d become so comfortable with my dust bunnies that I’d given them names, or because that pesky business of buying a dinner table had somehow eluded me. (We won’t even talk about my cooking.)

If you find yourself in the position of mixing your home and work, follow these tips to ensure a painless – and perhaps even enjoyable – time with your workmates:

How to Prepare:

  • Make sure your partner/spouse is on board as your co-pilot. There are few things more uncomfortable than the low-grade tension of sitting through an evening with two people obviously on the outs.
  • If you have “high-spirited” children, consider getting a babysitter.
  • Should you want your children to meet your guests, make sure their manners are up to speed: have them shake hands/look your visitors in the eye. A short conversation with them can be delightful for guests. A re-enactment of their role in the recent school pageant is likely too much.
  • Dogs, cats, etc are not everybody’s cup of tea: they do need to be removed from the revelry. And check if any of your guests have allergies; they may need to take an antihistamine, etc. beforehand.
  • Of course, the house should be cleaned—as should the rooms you can’t imagine someone walking into.  You don’t want someone opening what they think is the bathroom door only to be confronted by your last six months of dirty laundry.
  • In addition to having a bathroom so clean it could double as an operating amphitheater, put out fresh towels and fresh soap, empty the wastebasket, and add a box of Kleenex.
  • While you’re in the bathroom, consider removing anything from the medicine cabinet that you wouldn’t want someone to see—and perhaps adding a bottle of aspirin to the shelves in case anyone (including you) develops an impromptu headache.

What to Serve/How to Host:

  • Have a wide selection of things to drink – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Now is not the time to say, “We thought you’d just love to try Great Aunt Suzy’s elderberry wine.”
  • Now is also not the time to say, “The trout Bob caught on his last fishing trip is simply marvelous on a cracker.” Offer a mix of canapés.
  • And now is not the night to try a recipe you’ve been longing to experiment with. Pick something you’ve made hundreds of times.
  • Avoid cooking anything that needs to be grilled, or necessitates last minute stirring. Leaping up from your conversation because you smell something burning leaves everyone a bit tense.
  • Bringing the kitchen timer in and setting it down in the middle of the coffee table so you can watch it (yes, this happened to me) also makes people a little jumpy.
  • Unless you know your guests’ tastes intimately, think twice before serving anything spicy or riddled with garlic.
  • Should your guests have simply moved their food around on their plates—either because they’re picky as all giddy-up or there was an unexpected disaster in the kitchen—don’t point this out by saying, “My you hardly ate anything at all!”  Or, “I guess I really didovercook the vegetables.”
  • Almost anything is salvageable with a chocolate dessert. On the off chance you have a guest who’s allergic to chocolate, have vanilla ice cream and cookies on stand by.

Finally—and most importantly– as much as is humanly possible, try to enjoy yourself. The best meals are memorable due to conviviality, not intricacy. Being interested, and interesting, is a surefire way to make the party go brilliantly.