Years ago, I was a CPA with Price Waterhouse (PWC nowadays). I vividly recall part of my interview being conducted at a “white tablecloth” restaurant. You know the kind – more silverware and glasses than you could ever imagine using in a lifetime, never mind a single meal. Make no mistake – this lunch was a test – an etiquette minefield. Does the candidate know which is her bread plate – the one on the left or the one on the right? Drink alcohol at lunch? Start eating before everyone else is served? So many opportunities to fail! I guess I passed the test, because I got the job.
Fast forward. You’ve earned the BIG promotion! Oh no. Panic. Your corporate culture requires entertaining colleagues and clients at home. New minefield, bigger stakes. Not everyone was brought up at Downton Abbey, so here are some tips on how to throw your first dinner party!
Make an honest assessments your strengths. If your cooking skills still need work or if cooking a meal for others makes you nervous, it’s perfectly proper, and sometimes preferable, to have the dinner catered. Timing a dinner so that each dish is ready as your guests sit down at the dining room table takes considerable practice. If you do the cooking yourself, choose recipes that can be largely prepared in advance so you can socialize with your important guests. Once you’ve settled on a menu, visit a high-end wine shop, where you will find a sommelier who will create the perfect wine pairings for each course.
Next, invite your guests! If entertaining is an expectation of your executive position, keep in mind that what you are really celebrating is not your personal success, but your company’s success. In general, a dinner party has a more formal atmosphere and guests will expect to start with a cocktail and appetizers, followed by a sit down meal. Consider mixing, and naming, a pretty signature drink. Your guests will remember this touch and may talk it for years to come. When guests are invited to a dinner party, someone may ask if they can bring something. The answer to that is always “Just yourself.” If a guest brings wine as a host gift, you are not required to serve it. Remember – you’ve already put a lot of thought into the pairings.
A beautiful tabletop sets the tone for the meal and creates a welcoming atmosphere for your guests. Build a tabletop that makes the best use of pieces you already own, such as your best dinnerware. If you have fine china, now is the time to show it off! Start with a tablecloth that complements your decor and your dinnerware. Placing a charger beneath each dinner plate lets you add more color to the table and creates an elegant, finished look. Cloth napkins are a must! You don’t have to be an origami napkin master, but can dress up each place setting with napkin rings or pieces like the bud vases above from Global Views. Finish the look with table decorations such as distinctive candlesticks, collectible salt cellars or chic knife rests. If flower arranging is not in your skill set, consult with a florist to design the perfect centerpiece to enhance your tabletop.
Last, dress for success, then relax and enjoy your guests, your food and wine, and your home!