Posts Tagged ‘entertaining’

Good guest graces

Sunday, 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.

Breakfast for guests

Sunday, 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?

The perfect tea tray

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Tea trayHaving a friend over for tea is a lovely way to spend time catching up on gossip and each other’s lives, but without the strain or effort of preparing food. It is intimate and informal, although that does not mean to say that the principles of good hospitality can be merrily abandoned. Whilst your guest may not be expecting a beautifully set dinner table, chipped china and slapdash service may put them on edge. Taking time to have the tea tray set before they arrive will ensure you can spend as little time as possible faffing with making the tea whilst forgetting to entertain and chat with your guest.

1. Fill and boil the kettle prior to guest’s arrival
2. Warm your teapot before they arrive too (No need to brew the tea until they arrive)
3. Have your selection of loose leaf teas already out so you can offer a choice
4. Set out the tea tray and make sure it has everything they may want

a. Teapot
b. Milk jug
c. Sugar (white cubes, preferably) and sugar tongs
d. Slices of lemon (pips removed)
e. Cups, saucers and teaspoons
f. Tea strainer

5. Check everything is ready and presentable in the sitting room
6. A plate of biscuits or some tasty morsels ready to go (perhaps covered in clingfilm if you decide to get ready hours in advance) is also a good idea. I always have some homemade pistachio fudge in the freezer which I can whip out at a moment’s notice and within 10 minutes out of the cold, it’s ready to eat!

When setting up your tea tray in the kitchen, place the heavier items in the middle rather than on to one side as this will make it much easier to carry it through once your friend has arrived.