Tips on How to Be the Perfect Host
“You are a good chef… You must be such a good host!” I have heard this statement more than once when I had my restaurant. Truly, being a good chef does not mean being a good host.
I loved the restaurant business and the contact with the customers. Some of them were “regulars” – They would come once or twice a week for lunch by themselves or with a friend, and they would be back on Friday night or Saturday night for a dinner date. I loved them all. They became a large family, somewhat the family that I never had in the States. Even though I spent most of my time in the kitchen, I also liked to venture in the dining room and greet my guests. They too felt like they were part of my family, and they would come and hug me all the way to the kitchen and try to get me to share some recipes with them… Hmm… I would always tell them that, should I give them my recipes, I would never see them again, and I would have to close my business! They would shrug it off with a smile and ask again next time I saw them.
Some of them would ask me if I would consider becoming friends and inviting them to my house. First, I do not believe it is good to mix business and social life, but when you have a restaurant, social life is non-existent anyway, so the answer was smooth and easy. I spent an average of seventeen hours a day six days a week there, and Sunday morning was dedicated to putting everything back in order to start yet another week.
Now that I no longer have the restaurant, my social life has resumed, and I do invite to my house some former customers who became close friends. My goal is always to treat them to a memorable time without overdoing it. Why?
The art of being a good host is to prepare a nice meal and to make your company feel as comfortable as possible. Very important. It is not just about the food. It is also about etiquette.
Being French, I did not have to learn it. I was exposed to it at home. However, I realize that some people do not know where to start. I often coach clients on this particular subject, and the more I coach them, the more I realize the magnitude of the gap.
When I invite people over to my house, my cooking is fairly… simple. Yes, simple French cooking can be done! I choose an easy-to-fix, balanced menu that will show a nice mix of colors, good to the palate and attractive to the eye.
Good manners dictate that I should not try to intimidate my company. If I do, I will probably lose the friendship because my guests will not reciprocate the invitation for fear that they would be judged negatively. That does not serve the purpose at all.
Also, when I greet them, I, myself, should not be overdone – subtle make-up, casual yet elegant clothes, a couple of nice accessories, maybe a scarf and a nice bracelet, no ostentatious display.
Of course, this varies depending on the place, the occasion, the circumstances – barbecue or formal dinner, kid’s birthday or fiftieth wedding anniversary, formal or informal, etc. The lady of the house should never be too casual, but she should never be overdressed. This becomes tricky if the guests do not know the rule. If they ring the bell dressed in shorts or miniskirts, whatever the event is, the greetings at my house are going to be awkward even though I will try hard to make everybody feel comfortable. Admittedly, it would be hard to open the front door, be seen in a little black dress, and have to run quickly back to the closet to change into shorts… just to make the guests feel at ease. Even THAT would not do it!
How do you know what to do, how to dress, what to bring (or not to bring!), and when? Well, there is no general rule, but there is a rule for each and every situation.
A host’s main goal is always to make his or her guests feel comfortable. Of course, the food and the personal appearance are important, but also, a good host is a friendly, soft spoken, outgoing, generous, personable, welcoming host. The more guests you have at one time, the more difficult it is to combine all these attributes because you deal with a number of different temperaments and behaviors. You may want to limit yourself to small parties at the beginning.
Also, you should know that any apprehension, anxiety, or stress on your part will show flagrantly and create uneasiness for all. The key is to know what you are doing, thus know the rules, because when you know what you are doing and you know the rules, you have confidence, and you set the standard.
I have always thought that etiquette brings confidence. Knowing etiquette, you are much less likely to make a faux pas, and you become a role model that people trust and respect.
Also, knowing etiquette keeps you calm. You know that… you know!
The vibe of the party should be set by the host, not the guests. The host must be in control of the vibe without displaying any sign of authority, demand, or constraint. It should come naturally. The more natural it is, the more comfortable the guests will feel, and the more successful and memorable the party will be.
You see, etiquette is not something of the past. It is real. It is part of our daily life and part of our confidence and our personal growth. We owe it to our children to know good manners, not just because they “should know”, rather, to help their self-esteem throughout their childhood and teenage years.
Being a good host is quite rewarding. When you invest money and you invest yourself in a party, you want to reap the fruits of satisfaction – the self-satisfaction, and your guests’ satisfaction. Being a good host is not improvised. Even though some have to work at it more than others, we can all pull it off as brilliantly and as naturally as the French do. How? You may not know today, but you may know tomorrow! Learn it, and you will better yourself more than you ever thought!