November 26, 2014

Inside the mind of a dinner party host

I’m a chef, social by nature and a collector of good friends.  Hosting comes naturally to me.  What does not, is saying “No” when a guest asks to bring someone.  A recent Q&A in the NYT with Florence Fabricant hit home for me.  Unfortunately she does not say nearly enough on the topic.  My thoughts come after the Q&A.

Dear FloFab: My Dinner Guests Invite Their Own Guests

Q.

When I give a dinner party, I usually invite from 8 to 10 people, and assume that a few will not be able to show up. However, inevitably I will have a few people who e-mail me and ask if they can bring “a friend or two.” Usually, I say yes, but recently, I had three friends ask if they could bring two people, and another asked to bring three people! When I mentioned that I would love for these people to come, but that I did not feel as if there was going to be enough space or food, several of my friends were offended. How can I politely explain that while sometimes a friend or two is O.K., I don’t want to host a large event of 20-plus people?

A.

What is the name of the catering hall you are running? As host, you have every right to limit the size of the party. Nobody has unlimited space for a dinner. A cocktail party, perhaps, but not a seated dinner. You have to put limitations on the guest list. Of course, if for some reason you were inclined to have that many people in your home, you could tell your friends that for every additional guest they want to bring, they also have to bring a chair.

Florence is right, of course. It’s your house, and you can limit the guest list as you wish. But if you’re like me, a person who LOVES to entertain but lives in a small apartment, it’s not that I WANT to limit the guest list, I HAVE TO.  And it stinks, because having a guest ask to bring a friend into our home is flattering and an honor.  We will always do our best to accommodate, but it really puts me into a funk when we have to say no.  Let’s visit that inner funk.

Uh oh, another friend asking to bring someone who will be in town the same night.  We already said yes to one friend asking to bring a cousin.  How can we say no when we already said yes to another?  And what about all the other people we already had to leave off the invite list???

Why don’t they know how much a host hates to say “No”?  The internal conflict, the guilt and of course the “Honey, what do you think?  One more?” Followed by the “WTF, seriously? Where will they sit, in the bathroom?” look from your usually adoring spouse.  Always a bonus having one level headed person in the family.

Then of course the dreaded email reply (thank god for email).  Saying “No”, and the time spent wording it just right so that you do not offend too much.  Then, once the email is sent, you spend the rest of your morning wondering if you’re just being a controlling jerk with too many rules.

Why can’t we be living in a home like Francis Ford Coppola’s vineyard estate that sits 24 at the dining table made from 300 year old French church doors?

And finally, please do not stop asking.  Your host will be flattered and say yes if they can.  All I ask is that you understand the meshugas and remember how hard it might be for the host to say no.  There will always be another dinner and an opportunity to bring a friend.

P.S. Don’t forget to bring some wine or dessert.

Disclaimer: I want all my friends, family and client to know that this does not apply to any of you.  I promise.

Speak Your Mind