You've planned everything down to the smallest detail, and then...you're in a terrible mood. Something goes horribly wrong in the kitchen. A guest is late. Another guest turns up uninvited. Here they are: our worst, most common dinner party dilemmas, paired up with some helpful tips on how to solve them.
- Uh-oh. You're in a terrible mood. You had an incredible picnic planned - but it's rained. You and your spouse had an argument just before everyone arrived. You didn't get any sleep the night before, trying to bake that 12-layered cake. If your plans just didn't work out, you're cranky, stressed out or have a sour mood for no reason at all, remember: your party is not about you, it's about your guests. It's fine to tell a best friend or spouse "I'm really disappointed things aren't working out," but don't keep bringing conversation at the party back to your mood or what you wish was happening or what you'd planned to do. If you can't shake the blues, go into the bathroom, take a deep breath, smile, come out, pop on a favorite CD, let yourself dance and laugh.
- Something's gone wrong with the food. It's burnt. It's over-salted. Or worse: you cooked a meat stew for a vegetarian. Or a satay stir-fry for someone with a peanut-allergy. Just order take-out. Don't try to start from scratch. Don't serve the food (don't even think about "picking out the meat"). Be honest with your guests. "I'm sorry, I made a mistake, I tried," is a great way to start. Grab the take-out menus from your favorite local places. Take a vote on what people would like to eat. No one minds a great pizza, especially since it will come quickly. But remember - you're paying! If a good friend offers to chip in, fine, but don't ask to split the bill.
- Surprise! Someone's turned up unannounced. Don't make a fuss of it, don't even mention it - instead, be warm and welcoming. Set an extra place at the table, and if you're worried you won't have enough food, take a look in your refrigerator/pantry for any of the following: bread, chips/crackers and salsa or dip, olives, dried fruit, fresh fruit, salad ingredients, frozen peas, cured meats, or, if you're particularly skilled, whip up some last minute cornbread, biscuits, or cookies for dessert.
- You've been waiting for an eon...but that last guest still hasn't arrived. Try calling again. If you can, find out their estimated time of arrival, and if it's within the next 15 minutes, then wait to eat. If you can't get in touch, or they have no idea when they'll make it - go ahead and eat, but put together a plate food and tuck it away in the oven to stay warm. When your late guest does arrive, be warm and welcoming, even if they are often late. If you would like to address a friend's chronic problem with lateness, do so at a time you are both relaxed and there's no one else around.
- He/she just won't stop gossiping. Emily Post, the great master of etiquette, said that conversation should be about something, not about someone. If you have a gossip-a-holic over for dinner, where discussion about someone who is not present seems to linger - change the subject. You can do so by directing open ended questions to other guests about topics that were just recently discussed.
- No one can get a word in edgewise. If you're an extrovert, you know how easily this can happen. There's silence, and once you start to fill it, you end up completely taking over. As a host, help the helpless extrovert by deflecting attention away from them in the first available moment (even if you have to talk over them a little) by asking an open-ended question (one which requires a whole lot of information rather than just yes/no) of a guest you know has something new in their life to talk about, for example, "What are your plans this summer?" or "Tell us about that creative project you've been working on". Follow that discussion up with further questions that clarify ("How/what/why/when exactly...?"), reflect on ("I'm amazed/astounded/interested by...") or summarize ("So, you're telling me...") what your less-talkative friend has shared about.
- An argument has broken out between guests. However conflict-averse you may be, remember that your fundamental job as host is this: to create a comfortable environment for all of your guests. This means, if a heated argument or negative, unwanted speech enters the conversation, it is absolutely your job as host to veer conversation back to healthy territory. An offensive or argumentative comment can be met with an "I'm sorry, you're joking, right?" (with a not-too-subtle note of disinterest) from you, which will give your guest the chance to say "yes" and move on. If they persist, be clear, firm but friendly: "Come on, guys, this is not the time or place for this." If talking won't work, separate the parties involved. Have a good friend take the more agitated party to a private spot in your home to cool down.
- You're ending the night with a drunk dinner guest. Oh dear. Don't get frustrated or embarrassed, instead, stay calm as you speak to your guest and remember to smile, which will help your guest to be relaxed. Offer food and coffee, and perhaps have a friend take them into another room to chat alone, so they don't embarrass themselves in front of the group. Take their car keys away, and either offer them a place to sleep or, when they're ready, have a friend drive them home.