Kinfolk Magazine is a growing community of artists with a shared interest in small gatherings. The publication was created as a collaborative way of advocating a natural approach to entertaining, and reinvigorating timeless forms of connecting with friends and family.
Gone are the days of stuffy dinner parties with lavish eight-course meals, women in fur, and socialite sightings — or for most of us, that kind of lifestyle seems a far cry from our everyday routine. However, the etiquette associated with these kinds of elaborate social gatherings has been passed down from prior generations, and many of us shy away from hosting simply because it feels too intimidating.
However, with some revitalized rules for celebratory get-togethers, having guests over can be an expression of sharing your home, your family-life, and connecting with friends more intimately, rather than impressing, catering to, or merely amusing your guests.
Rule #1: Invite them into the kitchen
One of the most memorable parts of special gatherings is the time spent in the kitchen preparing your favorite dishes, and this facet of the occasion should be celebrated — not hidden behind closed doors. Inviting friends or family members to help in the preparation is a valuable part of any special meal.
Granted, it is possible to have too many cooks in the kitchen, so have plenty of tasks on-hand that you can spread around to other guests — setting the table, making a dinner playlist, opening the wine, gathering a bunch of herbs or flowers from the backyard.
A well-versed host these days knows how to encourage guests to be active participants, not simply consumers, and many people are more comfortable lending a hand than chit-chatting on the couch. Sometimes the most gracious hostess is the one that allows the quiet friend to wash the dishes after the meal, resulting in a meaningful conversation with another guest who offers to dry.
Rule #2: Simplify the setting
While a lot of entertaining magazines and how-to’s encourage complexity on the table, involving multiple sets of silverware, fancy floral arrangements, and over-the-top décor, we’ve found that simplicity is best. What’s most important are the people sitting at the table, not the stress-inducing details involving color schemes and matching stemware.
Be generous in your table-setting — meaning, do everything you can to make the table a place for both enjoying the meal and the people present at it. If you’re eager to have flowers or foliage on the table, make small posies that guests can take home with them. Make sure guests can see each other clearly over any flowers (or other décor) on the table. Light candles. Pass on using place-cards unless you’re specifically hosting a crowd with group dynamics that should be handled delicately. Serve food family-style so that guests can have the opportunity to help one another (and so you’re not slaving away in the kitchen at the last minute) — the lively commotion that comes with sitting down to the table and filling up plates should be welcomed, not avoided.
Rule #3: Let everyone get comfortable
Most importantly, create an environment that guests feel comfortable and cozy in — a setting that invites real conversation and true connection. If you’ve invited people that don’t know each other, make a point to introduce everyone, or ask specific questions during the meal that will help everyone learn a bit about each other. Encourage guests to move to the living room for dessert and coffee, where people can lounge and relax with full bellies.
Holidays are a time to be festive and to celebrate our relationships with one another, so focus on how to facilitate this best, rather than solely concentrating on curating and orchestrating a seamless event.
Ultimately, the best holiday meals are those where the company of others can be enjoyed, so make your home and your dinner table a place for honoring the important people in your life.
What “rules” do you follow to make entertaining special, not stuffy?
Visit our spring gatherings site for more expert tips on what to cook and how to cook it, being the host- or host-ess with the most-est and fun ideas for cooking with kids.
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