Nothing separates the real adults from the accidental adults quite like entertaining. By now most of us probably know which fork to use with our salad. But deep down many still feel out of place in the world of hospitality. Especially reluctant grownups like me.
That’s why I’m glad I have friends like Mike and Katie.
Last weekend, this super cool couple hosted a small dinner party with all the elegance and skill of culinary professionals, but without the pretentiousness that too often accompanies these events. Sure there was an orange soup thingy, multiple plates, bowls and utensils . . . The evening even featured a polite accusation that I took a bite out of Katie’s dessert while she was busy in the kitchen. I categorically deny such claims, although it is true I ate the last three bites of filet from my generous neighbor’s plate. (Relax. She was full, and it was consensual. I’m not a complete cad.)
It’s too bad Mike and Katie’s judgment-free dinner parties aren’t the norm. Sadly, too many accidental adults are left fending for themselves, wondering how to properly party with professional adults who have graduated beyond Jäger shots and keggers.
Well, I say forget about Emily Post’s etiquette and instead allow me to offer you a few tips for navigating a dinner party comprised largely of adult strangers or new acquaintances – all while keeping your inner adolescent well nourished. Who knows? You might even end up becoming the life of the party—without having to put a lampshade on your head.
The Table Setting
If your hosts’ fine china is so fine that you’re scared silly to look at it, let alone eat off of those platinum-trimmed plates, just relax. You probably won’t be asked (or allowed) to clear the table at the end of the evening. Take a seat, and take these cues:
|Openly admire the elegant tableware. But be sure to clearly enunciate when you tell the hostess her china looks great tonight.
||Announce you’d like to sell your wife’s tableware on eBay, since she only uses it once a decade.
|Toast the host with gratitude for a classy evening.||Smack your crystal champagne flute with your neighbor’s and offer a hearty “bottom’s up.”
|Compliment the hostess on the centerpiece she chose, especially if its height effectively blocks your sightline across the table from any undesirable guest you were hoping to avoid.||Attempt to eat the centerpiece’s plastic fruit or ask “so who gets this thing after tonight?”
Okay, you’ve survived seven hours of painful predinner conversation numbed only by the limited number of cocktails your spouse allowed you to enjoy (despite your pronouncement in the car ride to the party that tonight you’re getting really messed up). Dinner is about to be served. It’s go time.
|Eat everything you’re offered, no matter how unusual it seems.||Ask the hostess to warm up your soup that’s gone cold. It’s gazpacho, Señor Suave.
|Switch to drinking the alcohol being served at the table.||Bring your half-empty can of Coors Light to the table, along with an unopened backup.|
|Swallow the fat.||Gag (if you can help it).|
You don’t need a reminder that religion and politics are taboo topics. But isn’t it trite to talk about work or the weather? So what do you share in conversations with complete strangers that won’t expose you for the accidental adult that you are? Let’s talk . . .
|Politely agree with everything that’s said or play devil’s advocate as necessary in order to keep the conversation flowing in a way that keeps others talking, so you can
|Overshare. That means no tales about your medical history, your pending court date (no matter how trumped up the charges are), or your hygiene habits, unless you enjoy awkward silences.
|Nod often and gaze wistfully into space to demonstrate thoughtful contemplation when participating in complex conversations with
|Become too eager to interrupt those conversations with agreements of “I know” or “Exactly.” It’s possible your conversation partner could stop talking and ask you to share what it is you know, exactly.|
|Make safe observational comments about other guests that demonstrate your awareness of their positive characteristics, like, “You’re clever! Are you in advertising?” or “You’re really well informed! What are you reading these days?”||Say, “You’re not drinking! Are you the designated driver?” or “You’re really starting to show now! When is the baby due?” Guess what? The alcoholic and the woman who gained weight after her hysterectomy won’t be impressed by your keen observations.
Just remember – with some forced patience, posturing and proficiency you really can survive your high-stakes dinner party with your dignity and sanity intact.
Even if you’re accused of biting your hostess’s cookie. (Falsely.)