With the holiday season almost nigh, it’s time to consider how best to reciprocate the hospitality I have regularly received from my local social circle over time. I was raised that hospitality begets hospitality according to one’s reasonable means and abilities, and I’d regret to see that sensibility entirely wither as generations evolve. But with the difficulties of gathering people to places and at times that might not be congenial to their ability to receive hospitality, how might a socially considerate person continue to grow the virtuous circle of hospitality without too many bilateral games of social Twister?
Dear Hopeful Host:
So . . . you’re saying that you want to have a holiday party to repay social obligations, but it’s tough to get everyone in a group to show up at the same time and place, yes? And that it’s doubly difficult if the place (for instance, your home) isn’t convenient.
Once upon a time, the occasion came first, and the guest list formed around it. Now it’s the guest list that comes first, and occasion is accommodated so that no one misses it - no matter how tortured that accommodation gets. Somehow Etiquetteer can’t find the charm in scheduling a party via Doodle. Etiquetteer wants to encourage you to keep sending those invitations whether or not everyone on your guest list can participate! Giving In just isn’t an option, and not being able to accept an invitation is still better than not getting an invitation at all. Persevere!
Etiquetteer commends your thoughtfulness in wanting to create an occasion that will actually feel like Hospitality and not like an Obligation. Gathering a Defined Guest List at one time, especially during the holidays, will always be a moving target. Gathering them at a Place of Mutual Convenience, however, is easier. Here we see the beauty of entertaining in restaurants, whether they have private dining rooms or not. As long as you’re picking up the entire check, restaurant entertaining is no different from entertaining at home (except that you have a staff working for you). You’ll need to make it clear that it is your party by adding to your invitation “as my guest” after the location.
Dorothy Draper, in her delightfully frivolous book Entertaining Is Fun!, included some rather fanciful ideas about how to host a dinner in a restaurant. Visiting the restaurant in advance to reserve a table and meet with the manager or maître d’ is very wise. Picking out the exact table is borderline. Telling them what table linens and flowers to use is, in this century, out of bounds (unless you’re supplying them yourself and you’re in a private dining room with no other diners; otherwise it would be ostentatious in the extreme).
That said, there’s no reason not to bring some small souvenirs to decorate the table that your guests might take with them. Etiquetteer still has a flower power Rubik’s cube from a birthday luncheon years ago, not more than a cubic inch, but a happy memory. And it will not surprise you that Etiquetteer recommends placecards.
Dorothy Draper also recommends ordering the entire meal in advance; certainly it saves time. Etiquetteer loves how often she uses the phrase “superlatively well” throughout the book, especially about food. “Find out if [the chef] has not a dish that he makes superlatively.” But in this century, when attention to food allergies and dietary restrictions has become almost a religion and an Inquisition in one, you could easily run into trouble. Let’s face it, restaurant parties that aren’t Dutch treat are no longer the norm. While guests are still more likely to eat what you serve them at home without question, the practice of ordering what you want in a restaurant is so ingrained that it might throw some of your guests for a loop.
You might ask the manager if there are menus without prices for your guests. Once upon a time these were called “ladies menus” because the gentleman always paid. (This is the source of the consideration “A lady always orders from the middle of the menu.”)
Another solution, while far less orthodox, could be to give your party at the home of another friend if it’s a Location of Mutual Convenience. But it would have to be a good friend!
Etiquetteer wishes you happiness as you fulfill your social obligations in a way that everyone will enjoy.