The dinner party is a staging a mighty, long-awaited comeback. Laughing in the face of the ghastly ‘kitchen supps’ upstart, it is charging back into our lives – full throttle, totally pumped, and on banging Eighties form. Goodbye, jeans and flat shoes. So long, bed by 10. Farewell, ‘just us’. It’s a party. With dinner. Not a catch-up. Not cosy. No private rooms. By definition, a dinner party cannot happen in a public place. So the rules are your rules. The food is your food. Here are some tips for a marvellous, à la mode dinner party.
If you want to be grand yet firm, follow up a tentative acceptance with a completely plain ‘at home’ stiff invitation. That way everyone knows you mean business and cancellation is not an option.
7.30 for 8pm, with dinner being served at 8.45. Serving the food later than 9pm is unacceptable (it assumes that no one has a job or a child or any reason to get out of bed before 9am) and never wait for latecomers. Leaving before 11 is to be avoided, unless by prior arrangement, as it suggests that the party has failed.
Until now it has never been acceptable to veto the conversation. But in these troubled times, political issues are sometimes best left alone. Nothing else is out of bounds.
No one cares. Not really. Sharing plates on the table or help yourself from the side are preferable to staff trembling under the weight of enormous, show-off platters – too feudal and too self-conscious-making.
Round is best for conversation. Long and thin is best for flirting – women along one side, men along the other. Try it. It’s better. A long linen tablecloth hides all number of indiscretions. No big centrepieces that people have to peer over.
If you can bear it, let people smoke. These are always the best dinner parties. Otherwise you’ll have everyone smoking outside. Everyone will understand if you don’t allow smoking, but…
Town and Country
The rules are all the same. Wherever you are geographically, it is appalling to ask women to leave the table, no matter how desperate the women are to get away from all the dull men. Those times have gone; that ship has sailed.
Make a brief speech if you must, but on no account go around the table asking guests to hold forth – it is a tedious act that sucks the fun out of the evening. Speaking of fun – never stand up and say anything that starts with the phrase ‘I thought it would be fun if…’ People will die inside.
There is a disconcerting blurring of boundaries with goodie bags. Dinner parties are not corporate occasions or shop openings. They are deeply personal. The dinner party is the present. Absolutely no goodie bags allowed.