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Business Entertaining at Home

Inviting co-workers and business clients into your home is a great way to show your appreciation for their business or support in the office. While you don't need to get too caught-up in executing every aspect of the evening flawlessly, you should follow a few important etiquette tips for throwing the party. Showing that you can plan, organize and run an entertaining party won't hurt your standing in the eyes of your boss either.

dinner party planning

The perfect dinner party won't happen on its own, it must be planned.

The first step is to determine what form of entertainment is appropriate. Is a formal dinner called for, or a casual get-together? There are several options for you to choose from:

  • A circulating buffet. Guests serve themselves from a buffet table and sit in different locations throughout your home.
  • A sit down buffet. Guests serve themselves from a table then sit at a table.
  • An informal sit-down dinner.

invitation etiquette

The situation will dictate how formal invitations should be. A phone call will do for inviting a client that is in town for a few days or local customers - although proper etiquette may require you to include spouses or partners.

Written invitations may be required when inviting your boss. Asking other coworkers can be dangerous as you can easily offend those at work you don't invite. Either keep the invitation private or invite those who weren't on the list the last time you entertained.

More information on invitation etiquette can be found in our dinner party etiquette section.

meeting and greeting etiquette

Your spouse isn't expected to join you as you greet arriving guests at the door. Instead, introduce him or her as soon as the opportunity arises. You (or your spouse or partner) should then take newly arrived guests around the room, introducing them to anyone they haven't met.

how to set a table

When planning your table setting, simply follow the guidelines in our table setting section.

before-dinner drinks

If pre-dinner drinks or cocktails are being served, plan for dinner to start about an hour later than the time specified on the invitation. If drinks are not part of the plan, you should still wait twenty to thirty minutes before serving the meal; this allows time for any late arrivals to say their hellos.

Good dinner party etiquette requires that you provide soda, juices, and mineral water for those who want to forgo alcohol. If you offer snacks or hors d'oeuvres, keep them light.

the call to dinner

Before you call your guests to dinner, the butter and condiments should already be on the table, the water glasses filled, any candles lit, the plates warming in the oven or on a hot tray, and the wine either in a cooler beside the host or within reach of the table. Uncork red wine thirty minutes before dinner to give it a chance to breathe. If the first course is served cold or at room temperature, it should also be set out before the guests are seated.

When the time to eat arrives, suggest to guests who are holding drinks that they bring them to the table, and then lead the way into the dining room.

Plan your seating arrangement ahead of time, while you're setting the table. Either use place cards or indicate where people are to sit as you approach the dining area.

When guests are seated at two tables, it's only polite that the host sit at one table and the hostess at the other. If there are more than two tables, ask a good friend to act as a surrogate host at his or her table, seeing to it that wine is served and plates are refilled.

serving the food

As the host, you can either serve your guests' food onto their plates and pass them, or let the guests pass the serving bowls to one another. If you choose to do the former, have the warm dinner plates stacked beside your place setting, along with the food and the necessary serving implements. When guests are seated, serve food into the first plate and hand it to the guest of honor. Give the second plate to the honored guest and ask her to pass it on. It should be passed from person to person until it reaches the person sitting opposite you. Continue serving and passing plates to your right until everyone has a plate. Then repeat the process with the people on your left until everyone is served. Finally, prepare a plate for yourself.

You could also place dishes on a sideboard, buffet-style, and let guests serve themselves. Another option is to hire someone to serve dinner and clean up.

If the meal includes two or more sauces or other condiments, serve these in a divided dish or on a small tray; this ensures that they are passed together and that the guests see all the choices.

Dessert can either be brought to the table on individual dessert plates or served from a bowl or pan that has been set by your place at the table. In the latter case, the filled dishes are then passed to the guests.

serving wine

The simplest way to offer wine at the dinner table is for you, as host, to do the pouring. Place the opened bottle on the table in front of you, preferably on a coaster or in a wine holder. At a small table, you may remain seated and pour for each person. At a larger table, you may need to stand and walk around the table. If you are entertaining a number of guests, a second bottle is placed at the other end of the table, with your spouse or a guest doing the pouring and refilling. Our wine selection and etiquette section will help you learn about wine.

clearing the table

When it comes time to clear the table, never scrape or stack dishes; instead, remove them two at a time. Salt and pepper containers, salad and bread plates, condiment dishes, and unused flatware can be taken away on a serving tray.

For a larger party, you may want to arrange ahead of time for a guest who is a good friend to help you with the clearing. If other guests offer to help, implore them to stay put. Your other guests should be just that-guests-and remain at the table.

after-dinner coffee

Have three choices ready: brewed coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and hot water with a choice of tea bags.

after-dinner drinks

If you're serving coffee, a tray holding bottles of liqueurs, brandy, and Cognac, along with the appropriate glasses, may be brought in at the same time.

planning and hosting a buffet

Your menu will be determined by whether your guests will be seated at tables or dining from their laps. If the latter, choose foods that are easy to manage with a fork alone; also, avoid dishes that are soupy.

No matter what the seating arrangements are, steer clear of foods that have to be eaten just after being taken from the oven. Stuffed potatoes do fine at room temperature. When serving cheese, meat, or anything else that needs be sliced, do all slicing in advance.

setting up

When ready to set out the food, stack the plates at one end of the buffet table. Next comes the food. Napkins and utensils come at the end.

If your party is fairly large, set up two lines. If possible, place the buffet table in the center of the room with a line on either side. Or you can set up two lines on each end of a long table.

the food is served

When all the guests have arrived and the time for drinks is over, announce dinnertime. Your guests, who are always served before the host and hostess, should then form a line around the table. When finished, everyone removes their empty plates to a designated table or sideboard, unless there is a server to pick them up.

buffet beverages

If possible, place beverages and glasses on a separate sideboard or nearby table. If guests are seated at tables, place water glasses on the tables and fill them before guests sit down. Wineglasses should also be at each guest's place, but should not be filled in advance. One or two opened bottles of wine can be placed on each table and poured by anyone who chooses to.

If iced beverages are served, stacks of coasters should be set out around the room.

If coffee has been placed on the sideboard, guests may serve themselves at any time. Otherwise, the host or hostess takes a tray set with cups and saucers, a coffeepot, brewed tea, and cream and sugar into the living room to serve after dinner.

inviting the boss

You may want to invite your boss and his spouse to introduce them to your family, or to repay an invitation previously extended to you.

If you and your boss don't socialize regularly at work, you'll probably feel more relaxed if you include a few other guests. Select people with interests similar to his.

Act as you normally act and entertain as you normally entertain. Being gracious and interested will impress the boss more than trying to outdo yourself.

If you have small children, introduce them to your guests. After a few minutes have passed, however, take your children to another room. If possible, hire a babysitter.

If you work in the kind of highly traditional office where workers address a person of higher rank as "Mr." or "Ms.," don't suddenly switch to first names either in the invitation or while chatting' during the evening. You and your spouse should shift to using first names only once you've been asked to.

latecomers

What do you do if someone is late, while everyone is ready to eat? Dining etiquette requires that the host wait fifteen minutes before serving dinner. When the latecomer finally arrives, he or she should apologize to the group for delaying the meal. If the grace period has expired and the meal has begun, the tardy one is served whatever course is being eaten at the time. If this happens to be dessert, the host sees to it that he also gets a plateful of the main course from the kitchen.


- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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