Not so long ago, there used to be a booming market for books specifically geared toward the art of hosting. Manners were outlined and explained, and best practices hammered home in detail.
Historically speaking, hosting has been a serious business. It was considered a reflection of one’s deeper values and cultural expectations as well as a source of social capital. Today’s more casual world may have done away with many of the more nit-picky conventions, but knowing how to host properly is still an important skill.
Here are the ins and outs of elegant hosting in the modern age, courtesy of Bougie on a Budget with Emily Sinclair!
Manners Begin Before The Party Does.
Whether or not you are hosting what would be considered a “party,” a good host has certain habits that ensure their standards are maintained long before the first guest walks through their front door. And yes, it should always be the FRONT door – not a side entrance or a garage!
There are a few things I would consider foundational in this area.
- Have a set, designated place for coats and bags that is adequate for the number of guests you’re expecting. If you have to clear out a closet in your own space and put your items in a box for now, so be it!
- Have extra linens on hand, whether these are actual linens or paper products like toilet paper. A “stranded” guest is, to put it lightly, an awkward situation to handle…
- Define “adequate seating” long before the event takes place. If you have guests who are differently abled, such as wheelchair users or older people who need more back support, that needs to be a major consideration. As a host or hostess you ought to make it a point to communicate with guests and learn their specific needs, which might vary considerably!
- Know the cultural norms of guests ahead of time and be sensitive – don’t serve pork or make sure all pork products are clearly labeled if you have a Muslim or Jewish guest, for example. Similar touches apply to beef products for Hindu guests, deceptive meat dishes when vegetarians are present, etc. You do NOT want to have a terribly offensive incident take place, especially when it’s so avoidable!
Many more ideas can be added to this list, but these are a few I have focused on from personal experience. The key is to plan well enough in advance that you have the time and mental space to know, note, and consider each guest as an individual.
Hosting is not a casual endeavor, no matter how easygoing the crowd. It is meant to require forethought and effort.
Handling Awkwardness Is A Vital Skill.
Whenever diverse groups of people get together, awkwardness is bound to occur at some point. Expecting this from the outset is something all hosts should do to prevent unwelcome surprises.
Whether it’s a political debate turned heated, family rivalries brought into the open, or a visible faux pas on your or a guest’s part, you should always know that you can and will handle the situation. Grace is elegance under pressure, and keeping a wide lens perspective during these times is key.
Mindfulness is perhaps the most dependable and effective way to handle tense situations. Recalling the fact that you are invested in your guests’ comfort and happiness even while they are behaving badly helps you to remain above the emotion. You should not allow yourself to get embroiled in tense situations in the first place, if possible. When you do see them brewing, you should have several “scripts” for intervention.
Social scripting is one of the greatest tools in a host or hostess’ arsenal. These are sets of steps you keep in mind for any potential situations. They follow a “trigger,” for example a staunch Christian and an atheist beginning to talk religion, and are designed to create a dependable outcome. In this case you might step in and ask how the two guests are doing, and perhaps bring up a personal anecdote to steer the conversation in a new direction.
Now, if the situation is not guaranteed to become an issue, you can generally leave things be. Deep conversation is not a bad thing by any means, and your only responsibility as host or hostess is to keep the peace and promote good feelings. You will need to train yourself to spot awkward situations as they arise, and sometimes they will be unavoidable.
Oftentimes, honesty is the best way to ratchet down tension. Say something like “I can tell this situation is charged, but I know both of you are open-minded, kind, and intelligent individuals and I’d hate to see either of you upset. How can I help?” Your forthrightness will generally be appreciated.
Even if you cannot eliminate ill feelings, as a host you have power and can wield it. A firm statement such as “I know how intense these debates can become, and honestly I’d prefer it if we kept things more casual tonight,” will do. If guests want to cause problems at your event, they are free to leave!
Be confident, compassionate, and controlled – the rest should come naturally, and the situation will pass.
Learning The Art Of “Flitting.”
If images of hummingbirds come to mind when reading this paragraph’s heading, you have the right idea. A good host is not there to fill the role of a guest – remember this if you are tempted to spend all night rooted to one corner of the room. Although it is my sincere hope that you enjoy hosting, the fact of the matter is that your overarching goal is to create enjoyment in others.
This means you must make a concerted effort to speak to all of your guests for at least a few minutes. If a long-winded acquaintance gets going on a topic that is sure to span hours, you can gently excuse yourself “for a moment” while you check on something or someone. A well-meant apology is always appreciated and cuts into any offense caused.
You should be introducing people as much as possible. It is good form to ask someone if they would like to be introduced before bringing them over to a group, and this is a manner I have seen fade in recent years. A simple “you know, Elizabeth spent a few months in x country two years ago – would you like me to introduce the two of you?” is elegant and effective.
Imagine yourself weaving invisible strands between guests and yourself, and you’ll master flitting in no time. You want to tie people together and to the event. The question “is there anything I can get you?” should leave your mouth many times, though not so many that it becomes awkward. Spotting potential questions, such as someone with a coat hovering by the door, is important.
Truthfully, it is almost always better to have a co-host on your team no matter the event. Even if you are only hosting one or two guests, having another member of your household to help bear the burden of etiquette lessens the likelihood of mishaps.
Emotional warmth is also vital to being a good host. Making an effort to tell people that you are glad they could make it, happy to see them, etc. is such a kind gesture that is often deeply felt. Even if your mindset isn’t as positive as you’d like, you should learn how to script that warmth so that it’s felt by guests throughout your time together.
Again, your job as host is not to be a guest – if you must wear a mask to be a good hostess, that’s fine! Your priority is making the time go smoothly and enjoyably for other people. If you bristle at this, perhaps hosting is not something you should be doing.
In Conclusion – Small Touches Make Grand Impressions.
It is not always the large gestures that stick with people. Often it is the genuine, small things that strike people during and after your hosting run is over.
Thoughtfulness is a learned skill, more often than not. Lists, dedicated moments of consideration, and mindfulness will make this skill come more and more naturally.
Again, I urge you to make use of social scripts. In many ways they are the essence of elegance and manners, as these qualities are based on a basic knowledge of how to handle specific kinds of situations.
Anticipating the needs and wants of diverse guests isn’t always easy. It isn’t supposed to be! You can handle it, and you will do so far more effectively if you make time to plan ahead, take a few deep breaths, and smile. These are the practices that make etiquette easy.
So, dive in and fear not, my friends. Your hosting skills will be top-notch in no time, and hopefully we will all see them put to use again soon. Stay strong, stay positive, and I will talk to you soon!
- The New York Times published a helpful piece titled “How to Host a Dinner Party” that you might find useful.
- Some of the older manuals are enlightening, entertaining, and educational – and free to read! The classic “Ladies’ Book of Etiquette” is fascinating, though you’ll want to remain critical of the errant sexism and other less desirable nineteenth-century norms.
- For a brief and useful guide for hosting overnight guests, take a look at this piece from Apartment Therapy.
- As a partner to the aforementioned “Ladies’ Book of Etiquette,” you may also read “The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette” for free via the same site.
- The Emily Post Institute has a wealth of material to explore.
Explore some of the resources offered by your local library, too! You’d be surprised how many they may hold.