Feeding your friends isn't about spinning sugar and playing chef. Nobody really cares if they get three courses of immaculately presented food and wiped clean plates.
Lauri Wylie’s cult sketch Dinner For One portrays a comical take on a quintessential 1920s dinner party. Miss Sophie’s 90th birthday meal is, at least on the surface, formal, buttoned-up, and predictable. Amongst many running jokes – an increasingly drunk butler, light slapstick involving a tiger rug, some painful heel clicks - is the butler James’s repeated query “same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” to which Miss Sophie responds sternly “same procedure as every year, James”. It seems that almost a century later many hosts and hostesses still approach dinner parties with the same immovable solemnity.
We have all sat there as a procession of goat’s cheese and parsley sprigs, pommes dauphinoises and wan green beans have marched from the kitchen, relayed by an increasingly harried and frantic cook. Is it worth the stress and the sweat for three courses of over-formal and underwhelming food? While the answer to this question is really down to the individual cook, there is something a bit, well, Hyacinth Bucket about service à la Russe in the home. It feels more perfunctory than pleasurable – ostentatiously grand instead of humbly generous.
It makes much more sense to feed your friends family-style – a few nibbly bits with drinks, a big cauldron for everyone to pile into for a main, and a good cheese for afters; perhaps something sweet to have with coffee, or strong and sticky to drink, if that’s what you’re into. This way you can spend more time with your guests, instead of tearing around trying to keep everyone happy, which really just makes them uncomfortable.
After all, the point in having people round for dinner is surely to see them, not your kitchen. Skye Gyngell is a champion of laid-back entertaining. “Having a dinner party is a very different experience to eating in a restaurant,” she says. “It is more intimate, relaxed and convivial. Three plated courses makes for a lot of work for the host, whose job it is to entertain, and can be altogether more stressful.”
Feeding your friends isn’t about spinning sugar and playing chef. Nobody really cares if they get three courses of immaculately presented food and wiped clean plates – they’re there to see each other, get pissed and be silly. If the food is delicious then all the better, but it should never come at the expense of you and your guests’ enjoyment. If dinner at yours means the same procedure as last year, you might find the shine of entertaining soon starts to rub off.
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