Friday, January 29, 2010

The Meal—Beginnings and Endings

The host should be prepared to start the dinner table conversation if it doesn’t start by itself. Purists say that the only music appropriate for dinner is the arpeggio of sparkling conversation. I’m not sure I agree. Soft, upbeat background music can be very pleasant and brighten the mood.
Don’t hold up dinner for one or two late guests. Let them join the party whenever they arrive, at whatever point in the meal you happen to be. It is not your responsibility to turn into a short-order cook for someone who has missed a course or two. Decide in advance what your response will be when a guest asks if he or she can help with serving or clearing the table. If you think another person in your kitchen will be in the way, or be more of an annoyance than a help, be prepared to say: “Thanks so much for the offer. I’ve got my own foolproof system, so why don’t you just stay where you are and enjoy the conversation.” (Guests: If you help to clear dishes, clear each dish separately, one in each hand. Never scrape or stack the dishes.)
The host signals the end of the meal by putting his or her napkin on the table, to the left of the plate. At this point the host leads the guests out of the dining room for more conversation. Otherwise, the guests might begin taking their leave.
Although you want to keep the party going for a time after dinner, feel free to tell late-staying partiers that you are tired and must call it a night.
Guests who leave the party early should do so with as little fanfare as possible so that others don’t start following suit, thereby bringing the festivities to a premature or awkward close. Do say good-night to your host, however. You can avoid being persuaded to remain by simply saying thank you and good-night. Send a thank-you note to your host the next day. At the very least, call.

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