Note: This is an unabridged version of a column I wrote for GRAND Magazine.
I laughed when I saw this cartoon that depicts the challenges of hosting dinners for groups of people with diverse nutritional requirements, e.g., vegan, allergic to gluten, on a cleanser, et cetera. So true! It reminded me that my husband Gary and I have made some changes in how we now often entertain.
Back in our younger days before Gary and I became septuagenarians, a lot of our social life involved our bringing together family and friends for home-cooked dinners. Hosting these dinners required lots of time for planning the menu, shopping, cooking, serving, and cleaning up. Often we would use our good china, crystal stemware, and linen napkins and tablecloths. Although we continue to enjoy occasionally these types of more elaborate culinary get-togethers, we have made some changes, especially with larger groups.
Advantages of Meeting for Lunch
Many of our family and friends no longer want to drive at night, and because we’re all retired, getting together for lunch has replaced dinner. A major advantage to doing lunch is that driving during heavily trafficked commuter hours can be reduced or eliminated, a huge consideration for those of us having to contend with the New Jersey Garden State Parkway or the Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles!
Restaurant Dining Versus At-Home Dining
A clear benefit of meeting in a restaurant is that everyone can order exactly what he/she wants. In this day and age of food allergies and other dietary requirements, letting the servers and chef handle these needs is a relief. The downside of restaurant dining is that many times the heightened noise level limits or precludes shared conversation.
A nice meal together in someone’s home always feels more relaxed and, well, homey.
We have found what our ideal solution is for having an at-home lunch with family and friends that avoids the challenges of trying to meet everyone’s dietary preferences. A week before the luncheon my husband and I e-mail our guests the menu for a local restaurant and ask everyone to let us know their selection and any special requests, e.g., no onions, extra cheese.
We make a copy of the menu off the restaurant’s website and remove the prices. We want our guests to order what they want and not try to order less expensive items out of politeness. We explicitly recommend the more expensive items on the menu to let it be known that we don’t expect them to economize. For example, “Their lobster salad is outstanding. I always order it!” Or, “If you’re in the mood for beef, they are known for their filet mignon.”
After our guests get back to us with their selections, we type up this list and e-mail it or hand-deliver it to the restaurant. When we place the order, we ask that the people preparing the food include each person’s first name on the boxed items. This labeling makes it easier to get each order to the right person without having to open everything and shout out, for example: “Who has the chicken salad on rye, no pickles?” Sometimes we plate the food, and sometimes we serve it in the containers provided by the restaurant. Many times we’re about to plate the food and our guests will say, “Don’t bother transferring the food. Just hand out the boxes.”
At first we felt as if we were not being the best of hosts by doing it this way, but over time we have come to realize that letting our guests pick out exactly what they want and serving them their selection in a comfortable and relaxed home atmosphere allows everyone, hosts and guest alike, to focus on each other and to enjoy the interactions and conversations.
Anyone for a Stroll?
Another advantage of entertaining by circulating a menu in advance and eating together in someone’s home is the leisurely pace. No servers are eyeing your party with not-so-subtle hints of “let’s move things along here” as the lines of people at the door waiting to be seated get longer. Also, when dining in a restaurant, after eating everyone goes to his/her vehicle and leaves. With at-home dining, a post-repast walk around the neighborhood can be organized. If someone doesn’t want to, or is unable to take a walk, either my husband or I stay back, and the other goes with the walkers.
Celebrating My Birthday My Way
Recently, when my 75th birthday rolled around, my daughter and son-in-law asked me to pick out a restaurant for my birthday celebration. We had family visiting so we were going to be a party of 14. Without consulting anyone – 75-year-old-women get to do that – I printed out the menu for a local Italian restaurant that delivers and asked everyone to write down what they wanted. I called in the order at 4 p.m., and at 7 p.m., dinner arrived, all nicely boxed with our various names on each item.
This was ideal for several reasons: everyone ordered what they wanted; everyone could stay late at the beach; no one had to rush around to shower and dress for dinner; no one had to drive to a restaurant in nasty summer traffic. Most important, I got to visit with everyone, not just with the person seated on my left or right. Yes, it was noisy, but it was our noise, and I loved every decibel.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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