The Hostess with the Mostest
By Thomas P. Farley, What Manners Most
Directions to the dinner party? Check. Appropriate attire? Check. Leaving yourself enough time to get there? Checkeroo. You’ve thought of just about everything. Everything, that is, but a gift for your host. I’m not talking about the walnut brownies you agreed to bake or the bag of ice you offered to pick up en route. I’m referring to a token gift that demonstrates your appreciation for the effort the party-giver put into arranging the get-together. Word to the wise: choose your gift carefully, lest your best intentions cause more trouble than good.
Put yourself in the place of the host. You’re rushing around doing last-minute tasks before your dinner-party begins when the doorbell rings. Panic. You glance at the clock…someone is fifteen minutes early. How much can you get done in the thirty seconds before you open the door? Not much, probably, but you’ll race around anyway, putting away the vacuum and slipping out of your sneakers and into your dress shoes. You take a quick look through the peephole and spy your next-door neighbors-and they’re not empty-handed. Which of the following items is least likely to add to your duress:
a.) A giant bouquet of wildflowers.
b.) The most gorgeous lemon meringue pie you’ve ever seen.
c.) A tray of frozen lasagna.
d.) A bottle of your favorite spirit.
If you answered “d,” you’ve thrown enough parties to know that those other surprises can easily throw a monkey wrench into your plans for the evening.
Don’t Say it With Flowers
So what’s wrong with a healthy bunch of violets and daisies? Nothing, until you ponder the fact that the host will need to take precious time away from the stove to find clippers and an appropriate vase. Not to mention arranging the flowers and scouting a place to display them. Even if the guest offers to do the arranging, chances are he’ll be in your way in the kitchen-sacred real estate during your dinner party. Last but not least, if you’d wanted flowers to enhance your décor, you’d have bought some yourself. (Indeed, perhaps you did.)
Okay, you’re asking, how could the lemon meringue cause problems? Well, unless this is a potluck party, you’ve planned your sit-down dinner menu thoughtfully and the pièce de résistance is your dessert. But your pineapple upside-down cake suddenly doesn’t stand a chance next to this too-perfect pie. You’ll have no choice but to serve the interloper dessert, even though it will undoubtedly upstage your own. Not to mention take up valuable space in your fridge. Speaking of shivering…
Unless your home has a large commercial kitchen, you’ve got one oven and precious few burners, and all of them will be getting heavy-duty use before and during your party. That rock-solid, un-microwaveable lasagna will tie up your oven for an interminable length of time-a luxury you don’t typically have during a dinner party. As was true with the flowers, if your well-meaning guest attempts to assist with the lasagna prep, your kitchen work triangle is certain to be disrupted. Not to mention your dinner courses.
That’s the Spirit!
Finally, a guest who knows the trials of being a host. A bottle of wine or a spirit is an ideal gift. It’s truly a present for the thrower of the party, not a treat for the other guests. At the host’s discretion, a bottle can be shared right away or easily stowed for the next get-together. Of course, it can also be consumed after the last guest has left-as you toast yourself for having survived the barrage of well-intentioned flowers, meringue and lasagna.
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