'Yes, I'll be there' - and other things hosts like to hear from their guests Hosts: Get ypurself out of the kitchen

November 26, 1993|By Beth Sherman | Beth Sherman,Newsday

The No. 1 rule to being a good host is to stay out of the kitchen as much as possible. In other words, when guests walk through your front door, you should be "ready, impeccably dressed and calmly waiting, all preparatory struggles over," says Margaret Visser, author of "The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners" (Grove Press, $22.95).

Meals that are less time-consuming to prepare may free you up to spend time with your guests. "Take the emphasis off the food and the setting, and put it on the people," said Elizabeth Mayhew. "If that means making a simpler meal, a grilled salmon or baked pasta, as opposed to dishes that need elaborate preparation, so be it."

* Greet each guest personally: And try to make sure you've introduced your guests to other people at the party. Equal attention should be paid to everyone present, if possible. "I've been to parties where the host says: 'I sat you at a "special" table' or 'I purposely sat you next to so-and-so,' " says Judith Re. "All that does is to make me feel uncomfortable, like they're singling one guest out and the rest of us don't really matter."

* If you need help, ask for it: Especially if it means you can spend more time with your guests. "It's OK to have people help you out," says Ms. Mayhew. "Don't feel like you have to have everything all under control, and then disappear into the kitchen for one hour."

* Seating: If you're having a sit-down dinner, it may be best to use place cards and assign people their seats. "It eliminates that awkward moment when everyone is gathered around the table, but they don't know where to sit," says Ms. Mayhew. "I feel it works out better when I make that decision for them."

Etiquette dictates you alternate men and women in the seating arrangement, and try not to seat husbands and wives next to each other. (It discourages people from talking to other people they might not know.) According to Elizabeth L. Post, if you have a dinner party for six, 10 or 14 guests, the hostess sits at one end of the table (usually the end nearest the kitchen), with the host sitting opposite her and men and women alternating on either side. If the dinner party is for eight, 12 or 16, she says, the hostess moves one place to the left, so the man on her right sits opposite the host at the end of the table.

* Beware of design schemes that sabotage conversation. A too-tall centerpiece on the dining room table makes it difficult for people to see, hear or speak to one another. Try to have a horizontal centerpiece that's unobtrusive.

Ms. Re suggests gathering branches or leaves to use as a centerpiece. (Press wet leaves between the pages of a book beforehand, so they stiffen and lie flat.)

Also, says Ms. Post, if candles on the table are the only source of light, there should be one candle for every person. If the candles are used in addition to other lighting, two to four candles are adequate for a table of up to eight people.

* When it comes time to eat, don't be a nudge or a cheerleader. "It's not good form to be a food pusher," says Ms. Re. "If people don't finish what's on their plate, try not to mention it or interfere. Don't say: 'Come on, Harold. You have to have one more piece.' "

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