I usually have some kind of a freak-out before any dinner party I host. While I love entertaining and try to be very organized, inevitably some minor catastrophe happens at the last minute. The garbage disposal backs up, I’m out of ice, or my first Book Club meeting at my house, I realize the package of stuffed shells I bought only feeds four and I’m having ten people over in an hour.
This anxiety is certainly compounded while trying to plan a party during a Pandemic. Along with the thousand things there are to think about under ordinary circumstances, there is now the pressure to consider your guest’s safety and well being. It’s enough to send any brave hostess scuttling under the covers, resigning herself to wait to entertain until this whole thing blows over (if ever). But…
I’m dying to have a dinner party!my friend Martha
If you’re dying to have a dinner party, but don’t want your friends to die from it, follow my helpful hints.
- Limit your guest list to 10 or less. This is easy for me, because I prefer small dinner parties. My sister always reminds me that Jackie Kennedy said eight people is the perfect number for a dinner party. More guests and everyone can’t talk to each other, less guests and there’s too much pressure on individuals.
- Hold it outside, if at all possible. The chances of contracting coronavirus outside are drastically less than if you’re inside. I know Miami is sweltering in the summer, but dine later, alfresco, with fans, if possible. And serve lots of cold drinks.
- If you must eat inside… I’d scheduled my Book Club meeting twice and was planning to have it outside, but both times it rained. I decided the third time was going to be inside, but with precautions. I opened doors to the outside, had cocktails and appetizers in the living room, dinner in the Family room at a long table, spaced apart and made sure no one lingered too long.
- Station hand sanitizers around in various areas, and have disposable paper towels to throw away in your guest bathroom, with liquid soap. Wash your hands frequently- duh!
- Use disposable plates, napkins and silverware. Unless you have help, like my friend Martha, disposable is the way to go. For my Book Club, I wrapped bamboo cutlery in a pretty pink paper napkin and tied it with a string bow.
- Mark your glasses. While you can use plastic or paper cups to drink wine out of, I find this terribly depressing and unappealing, so I used my wine pen to write my guests names on the Bistro glasses I set on the buffet. While wine tags used to be in good fun, they’ve now become a must-have necessity. You don’t want to drink out of someone else’s (potentially) germy glass!
- BYOW. At my Book Club meeting, I had everyone bring their own wine and serve themselves. After our initial drink in the living room, I moved the wine bottles to a table near where we dined in the Family Room, in easy reach for refills. I had glasses of water, already poured, at the table.
- A tray is your best friend. I pre-made the appetizer of sliced radishes, vanilla butter, salt and a sharp cheddar biscuit and put it on a tray. I then served it to my guests, with a cocktail napkin, letting them grab their own plate. I collected the empty plates on the same tray and then dumped it all in la garbage.
- Serve your guests pre-made plates. This is not time for any kind of a buffet, or any situation where guests are all touching the same serving spoon or dishing out of a communal dish. I made plates of Chicken Marabella, mashed potatoes, radicchio salad and bread for my guests and had a friend (Sumita) pass them out. If anyone wanted more, I was happy to get it for them. The less people making contact with food the better.
- Individual desserts. Safer, I feel, than one big one dessert. I served pre-frozen scoops of vanilla ice cream, with candied orange and hazelnut biscotti for dessert, along with some dark chocolate cupcakes Guta had baked.
- Don’t linger. Usually the sign of a successful dinner party is how long guests hang around, not wanting to leave the party. But, we all know, the longer time inside, the more chances of transmission of COVID-19, so try to wrap it up in a timely manner. My Book Club was over by 10 p.m., about three hours after it started, which was perfect.
When I explained how I had conducted my Book Club dinner to my sister Kelley, she said the only other thing I could have done to improve it was to take people’s temperatures as they entered. I would never do that, because these ladies are my friends and I trust they wouldn’t show up if they were sick. So I need to add one more rule:
- Know your guests. Invite people into your house only if you think they’ve been responsible in their habits and trust they are healthy.
For that matter, I didn’t have anyone wear masks either.
This Book Club meeting was a respite from the reality of our lives, not a reminder. Of course the Pandemic was on all of our minds (especially mine as the hostess) but we didn’t talk about it. For one night, we put it aside, drank wine, ate delicious food and talked of the book we read (Blood, Bones and Butter) and whatever else was going on in our lives. It took some work to plan out how to host safely, but everyone appreciated it and I’m glad I did it. The third time really was the charm.
Dear Gina, what a feast! And what a beautiful setting! Food was delicious and beautifully presented. You really outdid yourself. It was a lovely evening in every sense, and such a treat. All of it. Thanks a million, can’t thank you enough for your generous hospitality. What a great way to reunite us again- Love xoxoxoLoli
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