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How to make entertaining more entertaining


Fat Guy
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As much as I like the idea of entertaining, and as much as I like to cook, I often find that the reality of entertaining is stressful.

I'm not talking here about the cooking part. We're able to prepare a decent meal without too much trouble, we've got the whole make-ahead thing down, it's relatively easy for us to put out a meal that most people will like -- that's really not the problem.

The problem is everything else: not being able to get answers out of people regarding whether they'll attend, people arriving late, bringing awkwardly large gifts or flowers that require attendance, walking around the apartment in their shoes, getting crumbs on the floor, etc. And then there's all the cleanup afterwards. It's exhausting, at 10 or 11pm, to have to start a cleaning process that can easily take a couple of hours.

What do you all do to make entertaining less stressful, so you can focus on the good parts?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Honestly, I just don't stress about the mess. I also tend to favor more informal spreads for larger groups (barbecues and such). That way I can serve everything on paper plates with no shame. Being able to dump the dishes into a trash can helps a lot.

I may just have a higher tolerance for filth.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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As much as I like the idea of entertaining, and as much as I like to cook, I often find that the reality of entertaining is stressful.

I'm not talking here about the cooking part. We're able to prepare a decent meal without too much trouble, we've got the whole make-ahead thing down, it's relatively easy for us to put out a meal that most people will like -- that's really not the problem.

The problem is everything else: not being able to get answers out of people regarding whether they'll attend, people arriving late, bringing awkwardly large gifts or flowers that require attendance, walking around the apartment in their shoes, getting crumbs on the floor, etc. And then there's all the cleanup afterwards. It's exhausting, at 10 or 11pm, to have to start a cleaning process that can easily take a couple of hours.

What do you all do to make entertaining less stressful, so you can focus on the good parts?

I highly recommend an episode of Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" entitled "Porno Gil"

Maybe one of the funniest and most prescient considerations of the "dinner party" Ihave ever seen.

That said:

We have a small group of people who we entertain and who entertain us semi regularly. These are trusted people who we are comfortable with. Most every "evening" we entertain we will add one or two "new" couples (or singles) to the invitees.

They may or may not become "regulars."

We have also discovered how a weekend home in the country can facilitate entertaining. There is nothing like dinner on the patio (my grill is adjacent) the kitchen is handy and with many of the worries you noted, rendered moot, the affairs are relaxed and much more enjoyable. :wink:

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I hear ya.

The biggest thing we do is remind ourselves why we are entertaining. Its all about having fun with friends. We can get caught up in the 'management' of it easily otherwise. Also, if anyone offers to help near the end, we let em. I've had some of my best conversations over a sink full of soapy water, or covering leftovers.

For those who wont commit, they get a call and if at the end of it its still vague*, we announce, 'We're so sorry you wont be able to attend, as we were very much looking forward to your company. We'll see you next time'. For this solution, we give thanks to Miss Manners.

* and it matters. For barbecues, its not an issue for us. For sitdown dinners, it is.

The late arrivals thing got somewhat easier with the advent of the munchkin. Now we can start serving ~ on time, because everything 'is built around her schedule'. She takes the blame so graciously too :wink:. But its none-the-less crazymaking. We've had the entire family show up 15 min after we planned to put the food on the table (ie 45 min late). We manage it, but it stresses us.

Large gifts and flowers - I hand the giftee a vase and send them to the bathroom to get water for the flowers. We put the flowers on the piano (blessed be the cork pad) and everyone is happy. Food gifts tho, we havent figured out how to handle. The fridge is generally stuffed to capacity at the start of a party (dinner or otherwise). These kinda put us in a spin - no matter how we try to anticipate, its always the size and shape we have no space for! And as much as we love to have that fresh loaf of banana bread (fresh from your oven) in the morning, I have no place to put it while it cools. This is when I regret having a cabinet over the fridge. The top of the fridge was GREAT for that kind of temporary storage.

Shoes - my friend just meets people at the door and says please leave your shoes here, thanks. and waits while the guests de-shoe.

I had one friend who'd get exuberant after half a glass of anything (soda, wine, whatever) and start laughing and thumping both her feet down on the floor really hard (a version of slapping ner sides, I guess). I never figured out what to do about that. We'd explain about the neighbor, but 10 min later she'd forget.

Cleanup is cleanup. Its worse the next morning. Bless the dishwasher.

One of the nice perks of a freestanding home is being able to run the vacuum cleaner as soon as the last guest leaves.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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I was going to post this on the "what are you reading" thread but then I saw this. I'm in the middle of Amy Sedaris' I Like You. True, it's largely comedic but she does have some interesting approaches to some of the very issues you struggle with.

Like any daunting undertaking, entertaining can be split-up into smaller sub-projects. I think identifying what, specifically, is stressing you (which it appears you've done) and addressing those is a great start. We seemed always to have two more people than chairs - yes, we can count but invariably one couple said they would like to come but already had plans with another, so we'd end up inviting two more. Solution - I found two more chairs that matched our existing table and chairs. Granted we have more space than a typical NYC apartment, so that may not be an option, but it does illustrate identifying a wrench in the works and fixing it. Ditto silver, linens, etc.

I've also figured out that it's a huge plus to start the party with an empty dishwasher. It can be tricky since I've usually been cooking those things that can't be done ahead. If it's empty and people offer to help clear/rinse, I let 'em.

It helps to have a couple of inner-circle friends who know where things are so they can help greet, take coats, de-shoe (although we don't have to do this), put flowers in vases, etc. We generally serve the same purpose at their house(s) so it all evens out.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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The biggest problem I have with entertaining is guests arriving too early. I don't have much time, ever. I try to get as much done as possible in advance, but I'm often scrambling at the end, and I usually still haven't showered half an hour before people are supposed to arrive. Therefore, when my friends ring the buzzer an hour or 45 minutes early, I usually start screaming at my husband to make them go away. The worst part is that most of them know that I hate early arrivals. As for gifts...no one gives me awkwardly large gifts. Heck, I'm lucky if someone brings wine.

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Hummmm...

- anyone who gives a wishy washy answer to a dinner invitation is crossed off the list; for long time if not forever. If the occasion is less formal (cocktails, brunch, whatever) then Ok a non-definitive answer gets by, but only if it is followed up before the event by a definitive answer. Otherwise off the list as before. We're talking common courtesy here so it shouldn't be difficult.

- Lateness. If its to be a meal guests should be able to hit a schedule. (The English 7:30 for 8:00 invitation technique is a big help.) At least to within 15 minutes or so.

Nibbles help as does planning a dinner where timing can be adjusted by plus or minus half an hour.

If anyone is late enough to cause a problem with the other guests or the meal then we just sit down without them. The offenders don't come late a second time. Either they have a valid excuse and are pardoned or are to embarrassed to repeat their error.

Previous posts cover the other issues.

- Cleaning up. This is a favourite part of the evening for us as we use it to discuss, dissect, analyse and relive the evening as we clean the kitchen, load the dishwasher, wash the 900 wine glasses that seem to multiply and clear the dining table. We share our favourite parts of the evening & trade information since we're normally at different ends of the table & are circulating around different groups as we do our hosting bit. Then off to bed. The rest of the cleaning gets done the next day.

We have a great time and enjoy dinner parties up to about 12 on a regular basis.

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got no help about the late or inconsiderate guests---except to invite better friends! :cool:

for clean-up--beget a teenager...or better yet, hire someone else's. it takes a few times to get 'em trained up, but they can then handle most clean up chores, and maybe even plate a dessert for you while you are with your guests. and they can do doing dishes while you relax over port. :wub:

if you have a culinary program in your school district, that's a good place to start, if you haven't planned far enough ahead to have one of your own around. (even if you have, one of their friends will be less snarky and happier about the cash than your own offspring.)

we had a big party the other night, and i hired the lad for the next morning...off i went to bed, and slept right through the clean up the next morning. (husband was kind enough to take the morning shift!)

"Laughter is brightest where food is best."

www.chezcherie.com

Author of The I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook ,The I Love Trader Joe's Party Cookbook and The I Love Trader Joe's Around the World Cookbook

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I entertain a small group every other Sunday. I have about two big parties (40-60) every year. I stress SO much about the food, but all the other stuff I have down.

Shoes - I don't make people take off their shoes since I'm in a house, but some clean freaks in my neighborhood just have the big mat at the door and have it pre-populated with shoes. If guests don't get it, just ask nicely and blame the neighbors. A sign might help - I use signs to direct traffic to bathrooms. Yeah, it's impersonal, but at least you don't have to embarass people when they realize they are the only ones with shoes on.

Gifts - Flowers: Hand them the vase. Wine: "Let's save this for after dinner. I already have wine out." Food items: Put it out or do the same as with Wine.

Latecomers - "I'm sorry, we've already begun, but we've made up plates for you and kept them warm." Seriously, if someone is delayed by traffic or something and calls, that's acceptable and I'm just grateful they made it. If they don't even call, that's just rude. They get leftovers. I pretty much don't have people who don't RSVP, but they get a call a la the Miss Manners scenario.

Clean-up - Declutter the entertainment area first - all stuff that would just hinder circulation/cleaning gets put away. Place trash/recycle containers labeled so people do their own thing. Clean as you go putting food away as it is no longer being eaten. Wash dishes as you need to; resort to paper/plastic when necessary. Prepare materials for take away plates ahead of time so people can take leftovers. Get a Roomba. Get a Scooba - I couldn't live without them. Roomba can vacuum while you put away food. Even my 2 1/2 year old uses it to clean up "mess".

I'd say it takes me 5 minutes to clean up after a small party; about 1/2 hour for a large party (which is mostly breaking down banquet tables, throwing away disposable table cloths, taking out trash, etc.) The folks who stay late are always rounded up to help.

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People arriving late: Informal meals are so much less stressful. We put the food out when it is ready and let guests serve themselves. If people arrive early, we usually put them to work. If people arrive late, they may miss out on the good stuff. Either way, no problem.

We always assume that the number of guests is an approximation. If extra people show up, we break out the cheap folding chairs and card tables. If fewer people show up, more leftovers for us. Again, no problem. I do understand that your guests may expect a more refined experience, dining with the founder of the eGullet Society and all. :raz:

Getting crumbs on the floor: You have a dog, put him to work! :biggrin: I spilled rice on the floor at a recent party. The dogs were locked in the bedroom because several guests had toddlers. We released the hounds, they made short work of the rice, and then we returned the dogs to the bedroom. Easy peasy.

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We've found it pretty difficult to impose a shoes-off policy. A small percentage of guests just offer to take their shoes off. About two thirds will do it when asked. But there are always a few people who make it difficult. They almost seem insulted, like it's rude to ask them to take their shoes off. I guess they haven't traveled much. And it's not like I'm going to trigger a showdown over the issue. It really irks me, though. The only time I successfully got everybody to do the no-shoes thing with no protests, dirty looks or passive-aggressive responses was when there was a big snowstorm. Somehow it's easier to get people to take boots off.

If we had floors that were easy to mop up and deal with, I guess shoes wouldn't bother me so much. But our tiger maple parquet floors date to 1890, and while they're in really good shape they're just not tile or Pergo or even new wood with a thick coat of poly. It's a real pain to clean these floors when they get dirty, and shoes really grind the dirt in. In addition, we have downstairs neighbors, and in a building like ours it's just inconsiderate to walk around in shoes in your apartment at night. I know because our inconsiderate upstairs neighbors do it, and seem to be totally ineducable on the point.

I feel better just sharing this. Am I being totally neurotic about this? Somebody please tell me I'm not crazy, at least not on this issue. Thanks.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The problem with informal meals is that once you allow people to wander with their food you're committing to a much more elaborate cleanup process. If we have a bunch of people over and they eat all over the apartment, there will be crumbs between the sofa cushions, under the magazine rack, in the bathroom, in the dog's ears -- everywhere. Plus the free-range thing guarantees at least one spill or breakage incident per event. Whereas, if you corral everybody at the dining table and you bring the food to them, you minimize your circular error probable of destruction.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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We have the opposite problem - our kitchen and dining room are open to each other, and no one ever leaves. We can't get them out if we try. It must have something to do with the layout of the rooms.

I do understand wanting to maintain nice old floors.

The problem with informal meals is that once you allow people to wander with their food you're committing to a much more elaborate cleanup process. If we have a bunch of people over and they eat all over the apartment, there will be crumbs between the sofa cushions, under the magazine rack, in the bathroom, in the dog's ears -- everywhere. Plus the free-range thing guarantees at least one spill or breakage incident per event. Whereas, if you corral everybody at the dining table and you bring the food to them, you minimize your circular error probable of destruction.

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Fat Guy, I don't think you're neurotic at all. I get dirty looks and grumbles all the time for my policy. I think the next thing I am going to try is going to a medical supply place and buying those things that go over the shoes.

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I feel better just sharing this. Am I being totally neurotic about this? Somebody please tell me I'm not crazy, at least not on this issue. Thanks.

I have friends who really care about this, and I consider them totally neurotic.

In fact, when the female one met the male one and they became serious, it was a source of amazement to all the rest of us that they both cared passionately about this. A match made . . . in heaven? in the psycho ward? Well, somewhere. (They're deleriously happy, BTW.)

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The problem with informal meals is that once you allow people to wander with their food you're committing to a much more elaborate cleanup process. If we have a bunch of people over and they eat all over the apartment, there will be crumbs between the sofa cushions, under the magazine rack, in the bathroom, in the dog's ears -- everywhere. Plus the free-range thing guarantees at least one spill or breakage incident per event. Whereas, if you corral everybody at the dining table and you bring the food to them, you minimize your circular error probable of destruction.

I don't think you're neurotic at all about this, shoes on or off or food and crumbs wandering around. I do have a sure cure for it though. Raise a hyperactive child.

<**eyes roll back in head, chin shoots upwards and uproarious hysterical laughter ensues>

Kid #1 from forever could eat a dilly bar (round chocolate covered ice cream bar)

with no spills or drips ever, from the time she could hold it for herself.

And then there were two **

Edited by K8memphis (log)
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Wow!

I guess we're pretty lucky on this front. We entertain almost every other Saturday night - we have a small, OLD house - the dining room with the walk-in fireplace in the winter and the deck off the kitchen in the summer and experience none of the problems Fat Guy has outlined.

We have the whole cooking, set-up, management of and clean-up pretty much down to a science.

Dinner at our place has evolved into a much sought after invite and usually lasts 5 or 6 hours, involving a pre-published menu and is always a multi-course event with 6 or 8 or 10 people....none of which agree with each other on much (other than food) - just the way I like it.

It's gotten to the point that folks like to see their name on the menu connected to a course or an APP or a dessert - so that makes things easier. The menus are structured so that MOST of what has to be done at the last minute involves a quick cooking of a protein or the finishing off of something that was being held.

Gifts - we discourage them. Our excuse is that we have enough of everything and appreciate the gesture, but enough is enough.

Since these things last all night, any wine brought is usually consumed that night.

Flowers are a weakness of my better half, so she welcomes them. Clean-up is done between courses, but I'll admit that there is usually an hour of clean-up at the end and the wine glasses are always left to the next day - THE MANY WINEGLASSES!!! We write that process off as just being a part of the deal of entertaining.

I wouldn't beat myself up too much, Fat Guy. You have legitimate concerns, none of which I, thankfully, have to deal with....like I said folks are REALLY happy to come to one of these things and will do what they need to in order to get invited back.

Which doesn't offer much help, other than - choose your guests carefully because I've found that the ones who find it hard to accomodate your needs and wishes are also the ones that make the lousiest guests in most other areas.

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I guess my wife and I are just old hippies or something. We entertain lots, I guess, but nine times out of ten the whole process is so mellow that the stress level is non-existent. Sometime between Thursday and Saturday morning we'll put out a few calls, see who's around what people are in the mood forand if any of our vegetarian or Kosher or non-red-meat-eating friends are likely to be on the list. By Saturday afternoon, we usually have a pretty good idea how many people are coming except for the odd "Denise is bringing our daughter back from her daughter's house so we may as well set a place for them," and whatever overprivileged reprobates our 18-year-old has hanging around the house about 8PM.

The meals are actually pretty serious, though we do more family-style serving than we used to, as opposed to multi-course service. But most meals are planned with leftovers in mind, so adding or subtracting a couple couverts is not the strain i t might be at Joe Beef's . And we're gettign quite good at throwing in an extra vegetable or salad or something when we need to stretch.

I don't worry too much about people arriving late. If I gave them a hard time, they might give me a hard time about getting the meal served late. If someone's late, we start without. No harm, no foul. If someone's early, they can get the wine open. And hey, over on the cutting board, see those potatoes.....

We have enough large flower holders that we can always get a bouquet stashed quickly enough, but most of our guests just bring wine, which works out well all around.

I am against buffets and eating in the living room on culinary (not neatness) principles. We have a nice table that seats 10 or --in a pinch -- 12, which is a lot more people than my living room will hold. Plus, I hate to make it easy for my teenagers to run out early: I have too few dinners left with the little bastards, they can stick around until I let them go (and -- old rule -- never before all adults have finished the entree). Teenagers are also a decent solution to the dishes, though in retrospect, finding a situation in which I could just hire neighborhood teenagers would have been less expensive than raising my own.

I guess, overall, we just stopped thinking of them as "entertaining" and started thinking of them as mutant family dinners, and the stress level dropped a lot, except on those rare occasions when a VIP drops by. (Also, we're slobs, so the shhoes and crum things don't bother us a bit).

Y'all come on by. It's warming up. The terrace (AKA the front porch) will be open for business any day. Shoes optional.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I find that the guests who volunteer to help clean up are the ones that most often get included on the guest list. :biggrin: At my last event, one wonderful guest even loaded the dishwasher as I plated each next course so clean up at the end was minimized--she's on the permanent invite list.

I'm not picky about shoes, though maybe I will be once I have my new kitchen, but since I hate the tile floors, I'm all for trashing them as thoroughly as possible--plus, by the time I get done cooking all day, they're pretty far gone to start with.

As for late arrivals, I purposefully plan my dinner schedule (which, much to the amusement of my friends, I print out and post on my cabinets to keep me straight through the evening, no matter how much wine flows) with at least an hour buffer in the beginning for drinks/nibbles that don't require plating so that stragglers arrive in time for the more time-critical elements of the evening. I also have learned to get the picky elements of the meal (e.g. requiring last minute cooking) out of the way early (if I don't eliminate them altogether) and later courses are almost always something braised so that it doesn't matter if they sit for a little longer.

I do try to remind people who respond to invites vaguely as politely as possible that I really do need an answer. I like the Miss Manners approach described above of sweetly informing them of your supreme disasppointment that they won't be able to attend... I have one friend who has twice called 30 minutes after the official start time of the dinner party to let me know she won't be able to make it--the first time her excuse seemed reasonable, so I forgave her and issued a subsequent invitation, but after the second time, not a chance. I'd almost rather squeeze in an extra place setting than try to balance a table with a gaping hole.

Feast then thy heart, for what the heart has had, the hand of no heir shall ever hold.
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We entertain constantly, formally and informally. Clients and friends.

Shoes: Unless we're going downstairs where it's carpeted or its winter and slushy I don't worry about it much because of the tile floors. I'v never had a problem asking people to take them off if I need to, and no one has ever been offended, but then again, here, people just seem to automatically take their shoes off at the door. Must be Canadian politeness or something.

Wishy washy answers, no shows and lateness. Once might buy you a second chance, if there's a real good excuse. If I see a pattern emerging from the same person, I stop inviting them. My dinners tend to be planned with a certain time in mind. I always invite people early enough for cocktails and nibbles, and when dinner is ready, it's ready.

The only guest I let help clean up is my sister in law. Everyone else is a guest, and while they are welcome to sit and talk to me in the kitchen while I clean up, I tell them so. Nicely, but I do tell them. Mostly, my husband is really good about getting the first couple of loads through the dishwasher before we go to bed, and I'll finish up in the morning.

Flowers and gifts. My husband handles getting flowers into vases, even if he's the one who brings them to me. I tend to kill things that grow. I have generally picked the wines to go with dinner, so I'll ask the guest if they'd like a glass now. If they say they brought it for dinner, I suck it up and open it. And I open the wine I already picked. Food gifts are never brought to my house for some reason. Any other gifts are put aside to open later, and thank you notes are sent.

Our two large parties a year are the only two where people are wandering around. Both are catered which solves my clean up problem, and I have yet to have a major spill to deal with.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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I cook. People come over. And I LIKE cleaning and preparing and all the prep stuff---it's all a part of the enjoyment for me. A leisurely cleanup after---that's another enjoyable adventure, discussing the evening, neatening the rooms, seeing each item clean and shining and back into its own place. Leftovers are NEVER a problem; I practically own STOCK in the Gladbox enterprise, and they go out of the house, laden with the guests' tomorrow lunches.

When we used to cater a lot of parties and weddings, some of our best and most memorable next-day meals consisted of party leftovers, a tart that didn't QUITE measure up, a quiche that didn't fulfill the expected golden glory of the others, a bowl of fruit that found its calling in the blender, with a shot or two of rum; that extra container of chicken-salad sandwiches, cold and tender and perfect, and CAKE---all the level-off trimmings and the extra "just in case" layer, and all that leftover buttercream, extra delicious and creamy from two days in a Tupperware. Now when we have party nibbles, I STILL crave wedding cake on the plate.

And when Chris cooks, people from three townships away follow their noses and wind up in our backyard. Some of our best friends were once hungry strangers.

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Some of our best friends were once hungry strangers.

There is something wonderful in that sentence. Lucky to be passing by your gate, those hungry strangers. Very lucky indeed.

Don't try to win over the haters. You're not the jackass whisperer."

Scott Stratten

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Re: shoes: do you tell people about your no shoe policy ahead of time and advise them to bring slippers, or do you provide slippers?

The only time I've been told to take my shoes off when visiting someone's house it was high summer, so I was wearing Birkenstocks. No socks. COLD marble floors. ICE COLD.

By the time the host noticed I was shivering he offered a pillow to tuck under my feet during the times I was seated, but by that time the damage was done. I was completely chilled to the bone. Needless to say, that was the end of that.

I admit I grew up in a house where going around without shoes was considered the heights of informality, and you absolutely kept your shoes on, even if they were new patent leather shoes and were giving you blisters, unless you were at a picnic or undressing for bed. My parents still look askance at me when I kick my shoes off at their house.

As for entertaining: my biggest problem is finding a menu that more than two people I know will/can eat. I finally started issuing invitations of the form "I'm making steak and sauteed spinach on Saturday. Would you guys like to join us?". This form of invitation also seems to help people commit.

As for the rest, we don't worry about the crumbs/spills (the brand new carpeting downstairs is made from recycled plastic bottles, it's not only soft it cleans up like a dream), we just stack the dishes until folks leave, we don't worry about what to do with gifts because we never get any.

Marcia.

Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted...he lived happily ever after. -- Willy Wonka

eGullet foodblog

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"hungry strangers" may be my new favorite phrase.

On the shoe front, one of my friends got a few pairs of slippers in different sizes from the dollar store and puts them out for guests. I think some people don't like to wear socks and feel uncomfortable being barefoot in other people's homes.

I really count on people giving me a firm yes or no for a smaller party. One of my dear friends was embarassed once and it made quite an impression. If they seem wishy washy, I have no qualms calling the day of to confirm. But, if I have to do that, I probably won't reinvite them any time soon.

As for clean up, start the party off as clean as possible. I use my sons to load up round one of the dishes when possible, but I'm guessing that's not an option for you. I also am not inclined to say no to an offer of help from a close friend.

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Fat Guy,  I don't think you're neurotic at all.  I get dirty looks and grumbles all the time for my policy.  I think the next thing I am going to try is going to a medical supply place and buying those things that go over the shoes.

That's what I was going to suggest. I've been asked to put them on all the time at Open Houses and such to protect the floors.

Regarding flowers, ditto the suggestion to say thank you and then direct the guest to the bathroom to arrange in a vase (which we keep in the cabinet in the guest bathroom).

My group of friends is almost always late so I never plan on serving dinner until at least half an hour after I say to arrive. There are always appetizers to munch on and free-flowing wine and cocktails, so no one seems to mind. My husband is in charge of drinks.

Anyone who asks to help can 1) take coats and shoes at the door; 2) get drinks; 3) bring empty appetizer dishes back to the kitchen for me; 4) choose mood-setting music.

Gifts get a sincere thank you and are put somewhere out of the way, i.e. not in the kitchen. I don't feel obligated to serve any food brought.

If your dishwasher is one of those super-quiet models, start a load as soon as you serve dinner. If time permits between courses and you don't find it too stressful, try to empty and load up again. If not, just run a load or two before you go to bed, fill any pots with soapy water, and do it the next day. We usually have leftovers so it's easy to eat off disposable plates (or, more likely, directly out of the container the food is stored in) the next day and take our time cleaning up.

I don't like serving off disposable plates, but to reduce the number of dishes to wash I use disposable dishes as prep bowls and storage containers for make-ahead stuff. Things like chopped garlic, herbs, etc get put in those tiny condiment cups that come with takeout. Soups and whatnot are stored in ziploc bags. I also line plates with aluminum foil so all that I have to do to clean up is throw out the foil (much like you would line a sheet pan with foil for easy clean up).

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