Mrs. Spit is a lady, and so are you (dinner party 1)

Of course there is a button. Designed by a lovely woman named Kuri. . . .
  • Martha
  • Jen
  • JamieD

Get to put the button up. The rest of you, including Susan who wants to marry me (Mrs. Spit is thrilled to be asked, but must regretfully decline) must actually write a letter to someone for something, and report back in the comments.

Now then, Today's Lesson, The Dinner Party.

It's amazing - the best dinner party I have been to did not have the most remarkable food, nor did it occur in the most glamorous location, but was the work of a wonderful hostess.

It was from her that I learned the most important part of etiquette, the underlying principal as it were - etiquette is not about me, it is about you. Etiquette is not about making yourself feel comfortable, it is about making those around you feel welcomed and treasured. Etiquette gives us all a set of rules about how to interact with each other, not so that we can beat each other up, but so that we can live peaceably, with a minimum of ruffled feathers. It gives us some underlying guidelines about how to act, and what to expect from others; therefore, when you aren't sure what to do in a given situation, don't go running to Emily Post, but rather, spend some time thinking about the other person.

Yes, tables are set in a particular way, toasts are given in a particular way(2), we write thank you cards (3), but we do these things to make other's lives more comfortable. Etiquette, at its very core, is a noble sort of sacrifice. It's a gift you give other's.

The Planning.
The etiquette mother would like you to know that 95% of the success of any event is in its planning. Read that again, dear readers. For those of you with a journalistic bent, you could consider the 5 W's.
  • What - what is the scope of your event. A large gala? A small party? A holiday meal? We have all been to those meals where someone missed that it was Christmas and served day old pizza and stale beer. While this might have been perfectly acceptable at University, it palls a bit when we are grown ups. Are you doing a pot luck? What can people bring?

  • Who - who is coming. Who do you plan on inviting? Take care to have a good mixture of guests. Have people who are well mannered, provide intelligent conversation, and won't upend their wine on your white carpet. Think about whether you want children, and if you do, what are you going to do to entertain them?(4). Try, whenever possible, to have an even match of men and women, and an even match of singles and couples.

  • Where - where are you holding it. The facility - rented, your own home, a church basement, it does have an effect on what you can do and the number of people you invite. Mrs. Spit promises you that if you decide to invite 50 people to your 600 square foot house, Martha Stewart is not coming to build you a 1500 square foot addition. You need to cope with this dear reader.

  • When - when will you be hosting it. This matters. Especially around Christmas. Think about the timing, what night of the week you are holding it, how much time you will have to prepare, what other's are doing. There is no point inviting the Queen to your dinner party on the 19th of June, she's at Ascot, and simply will not be able to attend, no matter how much it pains her to send regrets.

  • Why - why are you having the dinner. Are you planning a gala? Did your best friend accept a Nobel Prize? Has your partner received a prestigious literary award?
Here's what you need to account for:

The invitations. Sending them out in a reasonable time frame, and how you will communicate the invite. Mail? By hand? On the phone? How you send invitations conveys a sense of what the party will be like. If you wish to have them professionally printed, allow time for this.

There are a variety of ways to phrase an invitation. From the extremely formal version Mrs. Post uses, to a more casual phone invitation, inviting other's for a Superbowl party. However you wish to invite others, make sure you provide them information about when and where and whom they may bring. If the party has a purpose (a birthday, for example), should they bring a gift. The information about when and where and why are very important to guests. It dictates what style of behaviour they should use, how they should dress, and how long they should expect to be there. Clearly, what goes at the Superbowl party is not what goes at the dinner party for your Nobel Prize winning friend.

The Guests: Depending on what the purpose of your party is, will dictate your events. Unfortunately, with family, that means inviting Uncle Fester. I wish it wasn't so. Truly. I know all the off colour jokes, the abominable table manners, and the rude questions about money, jobs and children. I do. Alas, dear readers, Mrs. Spit has an Uncle Fester too.

Here are my suggestions - if Uncle Fester has a drinking problem, put one bottle of wine on the table. At the opposite end. Feign deafness when asked about alcohol.

Do not put Uncle Fester next to Aunt Myrtle. They don't like each other, they haven't liked each other since that terrible day in 1876, and this is not apt to be the Christmas that they finally reconcile. Seat them at other ends of the table. A very large table.

Don't egg Uncle Fester on. I know, it gives you a great story to tell your co-workers on boxing day, but it makes the rest of your guests contemplate burrowing through your floor with their dinner fork. If necessary, change the subject. Loudly. If they go back, remind them. "Uncle Fester, we are talking about 19th century British literature now. What do you think of the poetry of Phillip Larkin?". (5)

In all seriousness, as the host it really is your job to try and maintain control of the conversation, and prevent the rest of the guests from being embarrassed.

The Food: How much will you need? What will you serve? What dietary needs must you accommodate? Are children coming? I must tell you dear reader, the under 5 set simply does not appreciate your Fois Grasse. I'm sorry, but it's true.

Consider also the palates of your guests. Uncle Fester and his ilk do not eat truffles. And in all fairness, I consider myself adventurous. Even I quake when faced with a very large bowl of sea cucumbers. In fact, not only do I quake, I still twitch. If it's a holiday, stick to the traditional holiday foods, and throw in one interesting dish.(6)

All joking aside, you don't need to be a gourmet chef. You need to serve food that is good looking, and tastes good. There needs to be enough of it. And I cannot emphasize my final bit of advice enough. The night of your dinner party is not the time to decide to make the 376 step main dish that depends entirely on how you hold your eyebrows. Martha Stewart will not swoop down and rescue you when you muck up on step 17. Don't ask how I know this. Learn from me.

The decorations: Consider what you want. Will you have place cards (always a good idea, and facilitates separating Uncle Fester and Aunt Myrtle). What will your table centre piece be? (Not so large that your guests are peering one-eyed through greenery). Do you decorations allow guests room to move through the area to sit at the table?

Your Serving Accouterments: Do you have enough place settings? Silver ware? Wine glasses (remember, you don't need one for Uncle Fester). Do you have a platter for the turkey? A gravy boat? Enough spoons and forks for serving side dishes? Enough trivets (hot plates) for dishes. A nice pitcher for water? Enough coffee cups and dessert plates?

That's it for today. Here's what's planned. And why yes, you can ask questions. I'll handle them in the sticky situations section.

Week 2: The night of the event
Week 3: Sticky situations with guests
Week 4: Your responsibilities as a host
Week 5: Your responsibilities as a guest

(1) umm, unless you are a man. Yeah.

(2) and if you "clink" Mrs. Spit's Limoges crystal from her grandmother, she will harbour uncharitable thoughts in her head, and possibly use the plain glasses the next time you come over.

(3) Or not, but this is a topic for another post. In the interim, I will say that someone who cannot manage to put pen to paper for a gift can see me in hell.

(4) Lest they be the ones upending their wine.

(5) Alternatively, you could talk about the weather, sports, celebrity gossip, movies, music, children. DO NOT talk about politics and religion with Uncle Fester. Stop him dead in his tracks. Smile your sweetest smile and say "politics gives me indigestion." Repeat ad naseum. At holidays, talk about your best Christmas. At birthday's, talk about something good about the birthday person. You get the point.

(6) It pains me to say this. I despise turkey. I wish people would serve anything else. But, there you have it.