Hosting Faux Pas (and how to avoid them)

The secret to throwing a successful party? Not asking your guests to sit on the floor. (It happens.) Here are some other top tips…

It’s safe to say I enjoy a good party. Over the years, my husband, Mr G, and I have hosted all manner of shindigs – from lazy Saturday lunches of antipasti with red wine served in bowls (we’d just moved in and had yet to locate the glassware) to an ambitious French-themed barbecue for 35 people in The Smallest Flat In London (I’m not joking – we were forced to improvise and use the bed as a baguette-slicing station). But none of this fazed us and therefore, it didn’t bother our guests. Here’s the thing about entertaining: if you’re enjoying yourself, others will too.

My parents once ate their coq au vin alone while their hosts kept scurrying off into the kitchen. Only years later did they find out that a neighbour had made all the food and was passing it through the window. No one expects Michelin-starred cooking when they’re invited over for dinner (unless, of course, you’ve been invited to the home of a Michelin-starred chef). Far better to serve a simple bowl of fresh Italian linguine and spend the evening catching up with your friends. If they leave feeling relaxed, you’ve nailed the art of hosting.

So how do you ensure they have a good time? Avoid the following at all costs:

Thirsty guests

You may have several pans on the go and a little person yet to be put to bed, but don’t leave your visitors hanging about – serve them a drink as soon as they arrive. Not to sound like a lush (who am I kidding? I drink wine from bowls) but it will instantly put nervous guests at ease. Have something more exciting than tap water to hand for abstemious types – elderflower cordial is great for summer entertaining and nothing beats the smell of mulled wine at a Christmas party.

Chastising late arrivals

Look, I get it – tardiness can be infuriating, and turning up to dinner 30 minutes late is especially uncool. But being openly irritated by someone’s blatant lack of manners will only make the rest of your party uncomfortable and sour the evening. Adopt a good-humoured approach and turn the heat down on the cooking. If some of the dishes are overdone, so be it – just fill up the wine glasses and with a bit of luck, everyone will be too drunk to notice.

Fishing for compliments

A friend had a group of us round for a lovely meal. She’d made a real effort, but wanted us to know it and constantly referred to how much the ingredients cost her (“I went to Waitrose, you know, not Tesco – only the good stuff for you guys”). When she served the main – a succulent roast chicken – she kept apologising for its dryness, which, of course, we refuted with endless praise and empty plates. The same rule applies to hosting as it does donating to charity – it’s a nice thing to do, but no one needs to be reminded of your generosity.

Asking people to remove their shoes

This is a tricky one. To many, insisting on the removal of footwear is the height of middle-class affectation – remember Carrie and the Manolos incident? – and more than likely to cause guests embarrassment. As the not-so-proud owner of a pair of misshapen hooves, I’ve always resented being asked to go barefoot. That said, I also have smart wooden flooring throughout my flat and I’m keen to keep it free of perforations (though I did point-blank refuse when Mr G asked me to text my girlfriends the morning of our last Christmas party to suggest they wear flats). No shoes policies seem to be becoming more acceptable, but if you’re going to implement one, at least have a couple of spare pairs of slippers for self-conscious guests. No one, including you, needs to see your dad’s athletes foot. 

A badly lit space

Lighting is crucial at a party. Along with music, it sets the tone for the evening. Stock up on candles. They don’t need to be the most expensive on the market (though with a little expense there’s nothing more seductive than a premium scent) – fat church candles are inexpensive and great for creating an inviting ambience.

Fussing about spills

A bit of red wine on your cream sofa? Deal with it. Spills are inevitable when you’re having a party and spending the evening hovering around with a cloth and a panicked expression is a serious buzz killer. I remember being asked to sit on the floor because the hostess was worried I was a little tipsy (I was) and might accidentally christen her new armchair with champagne (I did, but she didn’t know that when she unceremoniously dethroned me). Most stains can be removed and if it’s really an issue, don’t have people round. Or embrace your inner student and buy a throw.

Running out of wine

Withholding alcohol is a great way to wind up a party early, but if you really want people to have a good time, buy enough booze to last the evening. Don’t worry about plumping for fine wine; no one notices what they’re drinking a couple of bottles in, and you can save money by buying in bulk from a variety of online wine merchants. 


Posted in Inspire Me

by Alix O'Neill
on on 06 July 2016


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