I once got a C in hosting.
My college buddy, Hank, was in town and we invited over an agent to pitch a TV show. I think I made Shepherds Pie or lasagna or some other signature meal. I probably used a linen tablecloth and crystal glasses. Undoubtedly, I placed vases of cut flowers near each place setting. And I know, for a fact, I lit tapered candles in brass holders as a centerpiece. Because this is where I earned the C.
Dinner and the show pitch went smoothly. I remember popping brownies into the oven when the doorbell rang, so the intoxicating fragrance of baking chocolate would fill my little townhouse as we chatted and laughed and found each other brilliant. And when the oven timer dinged, I jumped up, pulled out the brownies, walked to the table, and blew out the candles.
I’ll wait as you recover from your gasp of dismay.
Hank shot me a what-the-heck look, I turned to our guest and said, “Shall we move into the living room for dessert?” Both men seemed confused, so I picked up my wine glass and led the way. They eventually followed, awkwardly found seating, and I disappeared to plate up the brownies.
As the door closed on the agent, I said, “I think that went well.” Hank rounded on me and said, “I hope so, because you just earned a C in hosting.” I was speechless. He ticked off the reasons: “You blew out the candles, then forced us to move into the living room—where you abandoned us to make small talk while you messed around with brownies!”
This was all true. This is also the beauty of having an old Yankee friend for dinner: They get right to the point.
I took my ego out of the equation and evaluated the dinner scorecard. Why had I blown out the candles and forced guests out of their chairs? They were comfortably chatting at the still-beautiful table. I could have simply cleared the plates and worked on the brownies 15 feet away, engaging in conversation.
Why had I insisted they move into the living room? Well, I was proud of its off-white seating, soft lighting, and baby grand piano. I didn’t need to transition to a new space, create an awkward moment and show off a fancy tableau to make the meeting successful.
Why had I abandoned them to “mess around with brownies”? I had an ulterior motive. I wanted to rinse the dinner plates and get them into the dishwasher before serving dessert. I fight a constant urge to tidy up the kitchen during every dinner party to this day.
Here’s the truth: Dinner guests don’t care about the condition of the dinner table at the end of a meal. They are always—-always--happy to lounge around the table and chat…especially if you have comfortable chairs. Clearing the table signals to a guest, true or not, social time is winding down. I now say, “Let me get these out of the way to make room for dessert!” Rinsing and loading plates into the dishwasher is a social cue for “you should probably leave.” Guess what? It doesn’t actually kill me to stack them in the sink.
I check my hosting score with Hank during every visit now. He consistently says, “You get an A. You’re welcome.” Yes, old friend, I am. Thank you.