I may be a blue-haired tattooed freak, but I love hosting dinner parties, and I aspire to do it with some style.
I love etiquette books, reading about the order and positioning of forks, the space between the water and wine glasses, and how they’re arranged around a plate – I find this stuff endlessly fascinating. My guests often make fun of me, and were Mintz present he’d probably take their side.
Mintz has been a line cook and a restaurant critic, so he’s familiar with the professional end of things, but in his book, as in his Toronto Star column, Fed, he advocates a more low key approach when at home. He’s now a professional dinner party host (a career he likens to children wanting to grow up to become candy tasters), having hosted a dinner party a week for the past three years.
He recommends hosting a just few friends at time, selected for compatibility, and notes that the company is often more important than the food. Though the food is still important. If something turns out really poorly, order pizza. If it’s simply a matter of food sliding when it’s being plated, let it slide. There’s not one word on which side of the plate the knife sits, but there are instructions on how far apart each seating arrangement should be set. The emphasis is on the guests’ comfort, not the host’s fancy flatware.
There are recommendations for the guest list, menu, how to plan your shopping, greet people at the door, how to negotiate fetching the first drink, the complication that emerge with snacks, seating, portioning, how to handle drunk guests, and how to navigate the awkwardness of seeing them off at the end of the night, right through to clean up. Each chapter concludes with a few recipes to inspire or get you started. It’s fantastic.
There are tips for guests here too. If you’re an adult, or a grown-ass woman, bring wine. If you’re a couple, both drinking, bring two bottles. If you don’t drink, bring flowers, chocolates, or some other gift. Reciprocation is also expected. If the dinner invitation ends up being to a restaurant, pick up the bill. Thank you notes are not unheard of, and in fact are especially appreciated in this digital age when mail that isn’t a bill seems even more charming.
How to Host a Dinner Party is a funny, detailed, down-to-earth guide to feeding people in your home, and it ought to be prescribed reading for hosts and guests alike.