Good guest graces

April 13th, 2014

I am fortunate to write a monthly column for the Middle East’s leading lifestyle & food magazine ‘Fatafeat’ (Arabic word for ‘crumbs’) .  Below is what I wrote for then in March on good guest graces. 

1) Accept on time!  When you receive an invitation via the post, email or (sadly) Facebook, it is your duty as a guest to reply on time.  Don’t dilly-dally as to whether you want to go or not – make your mind up, post haste, and let your host know.  They will want to finalise numbers for catering purposes.  Up to three days is normally your window for replying.

2) Note the dress code.  Even casual invitations on Facebook may come with a word about what you as guests are expected to wear.  Don’t play fast and lose with it, stick to what it says.  If a host has been unfair and stated a dress code that no one other than they know what it means then it is perfectly fine for you to call ahead and ask them to clarify.

3) Arrive on time!  Did you know that different countries have different expectations when it comes to timekeeping?  In much of the Western world, if an invitation says 7.30pm then good guests will arrive from 7.40pm, arriving no later than 7.50pm.  Yet in other parts of the world, timekeeping is less of priority.  If you have been invited to a Westerner’s house then perhaps be aware that you won’t be able to get away with arriving forty-five minutes after the printed time.

4) Hostess gift.  Turning up to anyone’s house for a party empty handed is very bad form.  If the host has gone to the lengths of putting out the best silver, buffing up the cut-glass goblets and serving delectable munchiettes for you then the least you can do is present something upon arrival to say thank you.  Chocolates are the internationally acceptable gift.  Flowers are good too, but send them in advance so the host can display them ready for the party – rather than have to worry about putting them in water when you arrive: avoid showing up with a job!  Did you know?  If you are attending an event in Japan you could turn up with a steak!

5) Receiving lines.  At some of the grander parties, weddings or balls the guests will be expected to enter a receiving line.  This is where the hosts and principal guests will be lined up and guests presented to each one.  A good way to ensure they see each guest.  What you need to remember is you should not start a conversation with anyone in the line-up.  A few polite words by way of a greeting is all.  ‘Good evening, thank you for having me’ is ideal.  Anymore and your fellow attendees won’t thank you as you’ll hold up the line.

6) Greeting the host.  For less formal parties, it’s a safe bet that there wont be a receiving line.  If your hosts have not greeted you at the door then you should ensure you find them pronto and let them know you’re here.  But by all means acknowledge and have the scantest of chats with friends you pass as you make a beeline for the hosts.

7) Mingle!  It’s very tempting to stand and chat to one or two guests you are getting on well with all evening, but avoid this.  Talk to as many people as possible.  15 minutes should be the limit for conversation with one particular set of guests.  Good hosts should be circulating too and mixing everyone up.  You never know – your next romance or best friend could be in the room!

8) Knowing when to leave.  The best guests do not stay until the bitter end, however scintillating the socialising may be.  Judge when it is best to leave.  Drinks parties usually last for a couple of hours, so leave twenty to fifteen minutes before the two hours is up.  Dinners will vary based on service, but once the hosts or their staff stop offering things then it’s probably a good idea to make tracks.

9) Thank you letters.  These are not a luxury but a MUST!  The best of guests will put pen to paper the day after a party and write to say thank you to the host – even if it was a disaster (although this is where diplomatic phrasing comes into full force!)  One side of writing paper for a party, two sides for when you have been a houseguest.

10) Reciprocal entertaining.  If you have received entertainment from someone, it is polite to reciprocate within six months.  For the socially very popular, I suggest a little log of who you owe hospitality to keep you from forgetting.  If you owe a lot of people a reciprocal party you could always hold a drinks party and/or buffet (rather than numerous smaller dinners) and then your whole list is sorted in one evening.

Adventures with Gino & Mel

August 9th, 2013

Let's Do Lunch logoIt was with great joy that I was asked back this year as a regular to ITV’s summer food & entertainment show ‘Let’s Do Lunch with Gino & Mel’.  I appeared first on the show last summer as a one-off challenger for Gino, where I gave him the task of having afternoon tea correctly.  The lovely executive producer Sharon Powers (great name, great lady) then asked if I could come back and so we did Royal dining and then a turn for 2012’s Christmas run.

I returned in episode three of the third series to give Gino & Mel a lesson in wedding etiquette in the part of the programme where the male host is ‘challenged’.  The piece we did on weddings is probably my favourite having now completed the series.  We ended up doing one more than was originally planned, the penultimate one I did was on dating etiquette and that happened quite last minute as the show’s item about pickled eggs fell through and so I was called 24 hours before to ask if we could piece something together for the next day’s show.

Everyone at Let’s Do Lunch is so lovely – I really couldn’t have asked to work with more charming, accommodating and tolerating people.

Many have asked me what happens behind the scenes, so I felt a short blog may help.

9.30 – I arrive at London Studios and am shown to my perfectly decent dressing room, although it is lacking a window.  Watch 10 mins of Jeremy Kyle and get terribly depressed at what I see on that show

Abi and I find a solution to my hair loss

Abi and I find a solution to my hair loss

9.40 – The darling makeup artist Abi arrives and trowels on the makeup, generally insults me, I insult her, we laugh, I scream as she puts in eyedrops to make any redness vanish

9.50 – The assistant producer comes into the dressing room and goes through the item with me

10.10 – Makeup done, I then hang about or go and meet my friend who works in the building but on another show

Rehearsing

Rehearsing

11.00 – Part 3 rehearsal.   I go into studio 3 to rehearse the item.  Mel & Gino have always asked never to hear my replies as they wish to ‘learn whilst the viewer does’ so Melanie asks me the questions, I reply with ‘blah, blah, blah’ (literally) and the director rehearses the shots

11.20 – I go upstairs to dressing room to find my costume has been brought back from wardrobe after being beautifully pressed.  Most of it is my own stuff but there are occasional borrows from wardrobe.  I change into costume

11.30 – I sit in studio café downstairs (as it has windows and natural light) and go over the facts I am to say

12.30 – Show goes live and I wait outside studio chatting to the lovely studio’s nurse, the lovely runners, assistant floor manager, and anyone else who passes

Being 'touched up' (a TV term)

Being ‘touched up’ (a TV term)

12.55 – I am taken into the studio and take my position.  Karl the fab audience warm-up act usually waves to me and says generally nice things about me to the audience

13.00 – Part 3 is live and chaos ensues as I try to teach Gino about weddings, restaurant dining, Chinese dining, dating decorum, or Royal Christenings

13.10 – Part 3 is over and I go back to dressing room and change

13.20 – I get in the car and am away

Although the live shows are finished, we have just pre-recorded two slots for the two-week Christmas spin-off series (‘Let’s Do Christmas’) which airs at the end of the year.  As for what those entail, you will have to wait and see, but below is a clue for one of the instalments.

A Royal Christmas

A Royal Christmas

Finally, everyone keeps asking me on Twitter whether I like Gino/Gino likes me.  Firstly, Melanie is really, really lovely and is incredibly good at what she does – especially having to cope with the verbiage between her male host and me.  As for that million dollar question about Gino and me… 😉

Partners in crime

Partners in crime

Breakfast for guests

May 12th, 2013

IMG_3175As I am sure regular readers will be aware, I love entertaining.  Houseguests are always fun and breakfast in the morning is often overlooked.  I can speak from my own experience that when I have been on the receiving end of hospitality sometimes breakfast is barely offered, or in one recent instance, forgotten all together.  I don’t wish to sound ungrateful, but by inviting/accepting houseguests you are agreeing to everything that this entails.

Although you needn’t offer a full, cooked breakfast every morning for guests (their waistlines may not thank you) having a selection of cereals, breads & bakery items, and perhaps some fresh eggs ready to be poached, scrambled, fried or boiled is a must.

We hear it said often enough, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Start your guests’ morning off on the right foot.  Or don’t bother having guests in the first place.

Here is what I consider essential for breakfasts with guests.

  • Tea & coffee – English breakfast tea is a safe bet if you need to pick just one tea to stock for the morning, and proper coffee for the cafetiere is far superior to instant muck!
  • Fruit juice – fresh orange juice is both healthy and adds a touch of colour to the table.  M&S Food do a very good organic one.
  • Milk – in a nice jug on the table for use in the drinks and poured onto the cereal.  My jug is from The White Company and blends nicely with my china & silver.
  • Cereals – depending on what else you are offering, a choice of cereals is a must.  It is the most consumed breakfast food in the UK and for most of the world, too.  On the occasion these pictures were taken, I was producing a cooked breakfast shortly afterwards, so I opted to just put out the two most popular (Weetabix and granola).  If you have young children staying, a more child-friendly cereal may be a good idea, but check with parents first as some don’t like their offspring having sugar in the mornings.
  • Eggs – if you don’t know how to poach, boil, fry and scramble an egg then I suggest you learn before your guests show up at your door!  Some delicious honey-glazed bacon makes for a nice accompaniment when grilled (or fried for the less health conscious).
  • Bread – white and brown bread for toast is essential.
  • Bakery items – if you can rustle up a pain au chocolat (or buy them in!) then they always go down well with guests who like sweeter things in the early part of the day (like me!)
  • Jams – I adore Sainsbury’s rhubarb conserve, and marmalade of whatever variety is a good English must-have!
  • Sauces – if you are serving hot food, tomato ketchup or maybe HP/brown sauce is often requested by guests.  Bottles are fine now in informal settings (although glass ones, please).  For unattractive squeezy ones, decant them into a ramekin to serve.  TIP: Take the ketchup etc out of the fridge a few hours before breakfast (the night before, if needs be) so it’s not difficult to get out of the bottle.
  • Sugar – two varieties needed, one for tea & coffee (cubes), and sugar in a pourer for those who may wish to sweeten their Weetabix!
  • Fruit – there are some odd, health conscious people around who may just want to tuck into a Satsuma or a kiwi fruit in the morning.  A bowl of appealing, seasonal fruit to hand will look pretty on the side, even if not touched!
  • Yoghurt – guests from America & Canada are especially fond of a probiotic or something similar.

What do you like to put out for guests for breakfast?