by C. Jeanette Tyson
how tangled the web of social obligation. First they ask you, then you ask
them, then they ask you, then they ask you again, then again because
apparently they do not work or have weeds in the garden or juice spilled all
over the back seat or bosses with migraines then they ask you again before
you can quite get to scraping the black stuff off the grill, then they do
something above-and-beyond fabulous, and then it is absolutely, without a
doubt, youíll- never- freeload- dinner -in Ėthis- town- again, your
Sure, entertaining looks easy. (So do the parallel
bars.) We all know itís not. At minimum, thereís a week of phone calls,
a night of flipping through cookbooks, and an afternoon of shopping.
Thereís just no way around it.
Or is there? You could do what Iíve
noticed a few people doing lately: let a restaurant host your party for you.
Let it be
known up front, I have no problem accepting these invitations. But I wonder:
are we finding new ways to adapt to our fast-paced world or have we lost the
will to reciprocate?
I asked a few geographically-dispersed friends
about the proís and conís.
Nothingís changed in
, where restaurant parties have long been the way to combat shoebox-sized
apartments and cross-town buses. If the comfort of oneís guests is the
hostís primary concern, then you might even say no one does it better than
a New Yorker.
A single mom in
emailed ďA dinner party? Whatís that?Ē
But figures we should take any old chance to pull out the good china.
, you go to someoneís house, but forget the potluck.
A reminder from
: watch the booze. With mark-up at 100%, and the expected tip, it can kill
you. But if you can live with that, then be sure to get a round table and
drink and eat up.
Restaurant-hosting has its perks: the plates and
silverware match, you can spend as much time on your hair as your guests do,
and of course, no clean-up. The only rule seems to be that you tell everyone
the rules. In other words, if you want guests to cover their own drinks, let
them know long before the waiter comes with the check.
But restaurant-hosting does have its price. For
instance, youíre giving up the chance to be known for your ďsignature
dish.Ē This does not have to be your grandmotherís marshmallow jello,
friends. It could be jambalaya or spanikopita or even Virginia ham.
For many years, when I lived in
, Iíd import one of those lip-puckering
hams for my annual fall party and the word got around. I was also known for
the longwinded invitations going on about the first nip of cool in the air
and the way the sun dropped low in the sky and lit the valley and the
relative relationship of truth, beauty and wine. Really, itís a wonder
anyone came at all.
But come they did. And that, you see, is the whole
point. Keep Ďem coming, and get credit for it.
Speaking of which, you only get points for trying
if youíre at your house. So the lambís a little overdone or the
chocolate chip cookies are hard as a rock. It doesnít matter. It even
works in your favor, as a kind of reverse signature dish; people remember
you fondly for the things you canít do.
Host your party at a restaurant and you deprive
yourself, and your guests, of the entire dynamic of the invitation. You know
what I mean.
You call to invite someone to your house. They say,
ďOh, that sounds lovely. Can I bring anything?Ē
You, of course, say ďno,Ē which gives your
guest that full-bodied flush of relief and also sets you up nicely as a
martyr, with continuing solo credit for the party. You go along your merry,
organizational way but the drama continues for the guest, who must then
figure out what to bring when you tell them not to bring anything.
Usually I just take wine. Itís easy to keep the
extra bottles in the house so I donít have to make a frenzied stop at the
liquor store when Iím running late anyway. You can also re-gift wine
youíre not too sure about. If you party with the same folks all the time,
this can backfire on you, though, so just be warned.
Flowers are a nice gesture, especially if you provide a vase so the
host doesnít have to go rummaging through cabinets while the toast points
But restaurants have plenty of wine and flowers.
Whatís the well-bred guest to do then? Unclear on the concept, I went to
dinner once with a gift tucked in my bag, just to see how the evening would
play. Now Iím the proud owner of an ice cream scoop with a rather artsy
handle. Oh well, Christmas shopping starts early.
Nothing seemed this complicated when I was growing
up. Granted, I didnít get invited many places that didnít include
I love going to parties at peopleís houses. I
love the slightly nervous, slightly exhausted look of pride on the hostsí
face. I like to see what their imagination has cooked up. I like to tuck
away in various hallways and rooms, dropping in and out of conversations, so
that itís not one party Iím attending, but several. I like calling the
next day and telling the hosts what a great event they pulled off and
hearing how theyíre still finding wine glasses in the strangest places.
I guess I just like it when hosts are hosts and
guests are guests and hosts donít get to be guests, too.
But itís your party.
Iíll come if you ask me.
C. Jeanette Tyson is
AustinMama.com's beloved foodie-in-the-field.