Dorothy Draper, an American interior decorator, wrote a book entitled Entertaining Is Fun: How to Be a Popular Hostess. It can be fun to entertain, although many people find giving a party daunting. To do it right, you need just one basic component: lists, lists, and more lists. Even if you're lucky enough to have an assistant to help, entertaining takes advance preparation. But the payoff will be in a good time, for both you and your guests.
Even though Ms. Draper's book was first printed in 1941, and we now often use the word host for both men and women, it still has many helpful tips for parties. One is to lay out interesting magazines that might be conversation starters for guests. Draper loved pets, and thought it was fine for them to be a part of the evening. And of course, she was concerned with creating the right ambiance: the lights were to be dimmed, the candles lit, and the fireplace glowing.
I can think of 101 or more entertaining tips myself, but here are some of the most important ones:
• Keep the total guest list at eight for a dinner party. No matter how good the acoustics are, the noise level of a larger group makes it too hard to have a conversation with another person.
• During cocktails, the hostess should be sure to introduce strangers to one another, and to do so by mentioning something about the people you're introducing: "This is John Green. He's a lawyer, but he's also a photographer. And this is Amy Smith, a gallerist in San Francisco." That way, the two people can start a conversation on their own.
• Keep the centerpiece under 14 inches high, otherwise the view and the conversation will be blocked.
• Interesting place cards can make a dinner fun. At my last party, I used mini silver frames with photos of celebrities resembling my guests as place cards (without names) and let the guests find their own seats. My photo was of Maria Callas, the opera star.
• Mix up the table guests (and conversation) by seating a shy person next to a gregarious person. This way no one will ever get bored.
• If there is a guest or person of honor, he or she should be seated to the right of the hostess.
• If you find that someone "does not eat" what you are serving, substitute another food as discreetly as possible. Drawing attention to an already sticky situation is a no-no.
• Don't be afraid to let guests know when the evening should end. Oftentime guests do not know when to leave, or are afraid to say it's time to relieve the babysitter. As a hostess, it's up to you to set the pace. Think of your party as a movie set, where you are the director and your guests are the actors. You can suggest leaving the table for a nightcap in the living room whenever you feel the time is right, which will signal to guests that they can depart soon after.
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (Lisagrotts.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.