The rules for entertaining at home have varied over the years but the underlying objective has always been to make everyone feel welcome. These days, that can mean so many things — from the lavish home soiree with society’s elite to the backyard BBQ gathering with neighbors or the casual colleague lunch. “Gone are the days of stuffy dinner parties with lavish 5-course meals,” says Interior Designer & South Florida Social Darling Tracy Stern. “Don’t hesitate to invite guests into your kitchen, where you can prepare your favorite dishes while sipping on your finest red. What used to be considered a faux-pas, is now a valuable part of any special party. As for table settings, pass on using placecards. Instead, make small bouquets that guests can take home with them. After all, who doesn’t love fresh flowers?!”
You can also get creative with a pre-made signature house cocktail to serve your guests as you mingle and prepare the meal in your kitchen, advises Gianluca Messano, Executive Chef at La Moderna. “Spice things up with a garnish bar so that guests can add their own personal touch to the house cocktail,” he says. “If you’re serving brunch, consider a Bloody Mary Bar with optional pickles, celery and a variety of hot sauces to spice things up; or you might want to opt for a Mimosa Bar with champagne, a few flavors of juice and some berries for an extra-special touch. If you’re hosting for dinner, try a Moscow Mule Bar with premixed vodka and ginger beer with a spread of basil, limes, orange peels and jalapeños on the side that guests can add to their liking. Also, nothing says, “Help yourself!” like serving meals family-style. Make guests feel welcome to indulge in seconds by serving the meal in the center of the table.”
Your personal go-to items are equally (if not more) important. “I always have a few bottles of great bubbly like ‘Ca Del Bosco Franciacorta in the refrigerator,” says Vincenzo Scarmiglia, Executive Chef of La Centrale. “It goes with everything and you never know who is going to show up.” Adds Giannis Kotsos, Head Chef at Meraki Greek Bistro: “When it comes to curating a menu for your guests, Miami is a prime destination for seafood,” he says. “I encourage locals to go out and explore the local fish markets around town as a family, including the ones along the Miami River near Downtown. The color, texture and flavors are incomparable. Once you are ready to cook the fish or seafood, keep the seasonings and oils light. Use a char, BBQ or charcoal-based grill for the best results. From my experience in the kitchen, some oil, lemon and your own touch of salt & pepper should be enough to help you appreciate the freshness of the fish and enjoy its flavors.”
What’s more, modern entertaining is defined by a rapid shift toward wholesome, health-conscious and comfort-focused food. “Guests want to know exactly what ingredients are in the food that has been prepared for them,” says Carolyn Chen, VP of Marketing for The NutraMilk, a high-end kitchen appliance changing the way health-conscious consumers entertain. “Clean eating principles should guide menus, and plant-based protein should take center stage at the table as eating less animal protein is better for overall health as well as the environment.”
One repeated suggestion from etiquette experts is to invite your guests into your kitchen while you cook to make the night more engaging. Including your guests in the preparation and the clean-up of the meal not only allows for more time to be spent together, but also creates a more intimate setting. “Whatever the reason for everyone coming together, the underlying factor is great food,” says Michael O’Byn of Downsview Kitchens. “Great food is yielded by the proper mixing of great ingredients, a great cook and a great kitchen. The key to transforming the ingredients at hand into welcomed snacks, meals or feasts is a highly functioning kitchen where all of the elements are designed in the proper locations to streamline much of the work. Additionally, incorporating the proper appliances into the design is a wise investment. For example, steam convection ovens expedite cooking times; induction cooktops can be synchronized with ventilation hoods; convection microwaves and ovens can feature programmed cooking times and temperatures for hundreds of foods types; and warming drawers allow you to mingle with guests while maintaining all of your previously prepared creations. These are all becoming as essential as dishwashers in the modern kitchen.”
Equally important is to keep the ambiance welcoming. “Want to bring a huge smile to the faces of the guests who are dining in your home?,” asks Peter Lopez, Director of Operations for Grateful Palate Catering & Events. “There’s no better way to make your guests feel happier and light up a room than to display big, bright, colorful and fragrant flower arrangements around your house. You can also incorporate the key ingredients of the cuisine being served into the décor. Try fresh basil, rosemary, oregano or spearmint in mini flower pots. Hearty roasted garlic bulbs, oranges, limes, lemons, mangoes and coconuts can be set in the backdrop of the serving area. Before guests arrive, sauté aromatic herbs and vegetables to permeate the room with delightful scents. Last but not least, add edible flowers as a garnish on your signature cocktail to embody the theme of the occasion.”
When it comes to the tunes, most people think they have good taste in music, but stop before you simply stream your iPod, Spotify or Pandora favorites. Remember this is about setting a vibe, it’s not a karaoke session, unless you want it to be. Aim to keep it simple by playing something that sets a relaxed, warm mood, but that doesn’t distract from the conversation and mingling, which you should be nurturing above all else. And most importantly, make sure to buy a subscription…nothing ruins a good time like a commercial interruption in the middle of a conversation.
No party is complete without dessert. When hosting, you’ve likely spent much of the day cooking amazing food, so even if you love baking, make things easier on yourself and buy a great cake or selections of fine chocolates instead of attempting something from scratch. “Always make your dinner guests feel like family by changing up your meal preparation and clean-up routines and shifting your serving style,” concludes Chef Messano. “It’s all about creating a casual and collaborative dining experience for everyone involved to enjoy”