If entertaining isn’t your favorite chore or you are just looking for some new idea for Valentine’s Day, Wedding, etc., and if you’re working in a restaurant, here’s my helpful suggestions to make those party plans seem effortless.
Entertaining in style is expected these days and interesting suggestions to ensure your parties are memorable. Ladies do it with style this Valentine’s Day, or at least you are expected to. Perhaps you better half has invited “just a few” people for dinner. On closer investigation you find that it’s to entertain the VIP’s of the company who just happens to be in town for a couple of days, along with other important people from the firm.
Basically, the organization has to be “just right” and there is no room for panic or anything other than the best in presentation from the table arrangement to the food.
When sending out invitations, do try to give plenty of notice. The usual time is at least two weeks in advance. If the dinner is informal perhaps for friends or relatives often just a phone call, mobile phone, or a short note would be sufficient. If you do arrange formal parties and celebrations, it is worth having set invitations printed at the printers; all you need to do is fill in the date, time and details of the event.
However, if your formal entertaining isn’t a regular event, then a typed or neatly written invitation is best. Send it out at least two weeks in advance, a month is better). To ensure that the guest is informed of all details make sure the following details are included. The day, date and time; if there are pre-dinner drinks or a reception beforehand, the occasion and style of dress (formal/informal/national dress).
When giving the venue do include a map for those who are unfamiliar with your location. Most importantly, include the name of the host or hostess and easily RSVP contact number or reply card for the guest to confirm.
When planning the meal take into consideration the guests who will be attending: are there any special diets required for health, personal or religious reasons? Maybe one or two of the guests are known to have light appetites and would appreciate smaller portions.
Dinner Party Planning:
For a formal dinner, the courses generally are as follows: Cold hors d’oeuvre, soup, warm hors d’oeuvre, fish, sorbet, main course with side dishes, cheese or fruit, dessert and tea/coffee with petit fours. Of course not every dinner party demands such formality therefore most people cut the courses down to a starter, main dish and dessert. If you are not sure which way the menu should be planned, offer a cold hors d’oeuvre, a warm soup or fish course, a main dish, then dessert. In this way, much of the preparation can be done well in advance and frozen ready for the big day.
No dish should ever be repeated, however crustaceans are an exception. Dessert should be light if the main course is rich. Consider a balance of colors – all white food is boring, so the emphasis should be in varying the colors of each course, yet ensuring the dishes complement each other.
At times it may be preferable to serve small hors d’oeuvres with pre-dinner drinks and move straight into the fish/soup course when guests are seated at the table.
When it comes to place settings for formal dinner parties, it really pays to invest in an attractive and sophisticated dinner service and cutlery. It will be money well spent for they could last a lifetime. One of the first impressions a guest may have of the host is the table presentation. A crisp white table cloth with a pretty overlay is often all that is required to show off your tableware to its best.
Add to this color coordinated candles, a pretty posy of flowers (nothing too high or it will obstruct your guests’ views of each other) and condiments in dainty containers and you have the perfect setting around which to serve a meal.
To keep your linen in top condition treat any stains immediately. Spills can be treated with a proprietary stain remover available in many supermarkets. Don’t be tempted to bleach your linen cloth as it will only damage and weaken the fibers. Linen can be laundered in an automatic washing machine. Once washed, the linen should be line dried (not tumbled dried) and taken off the line when it is still damp, then ironed. Spray starches can be used and if possible, steam iron on a medium setting. If you are particularly worried about your linen, take it straight to a reputable dry-cleaning firm the following morning and point out any stains, describing what they are.
Setting the Table:
To get a clear idea of the space required to put the dinner plate you will be using on the table. The plate should be placed one thumb nail in from the edge of the table. Place the side plate to the left of the dinner plate with the bread knife on the right side of the plate, its blade turned to the left.
Cutlery should be laid with the main course knives and forks nearest the plate, and the other courses working outwards until, on the very outside should be the cutlery for the first course. Knives should be placed on the right blades pointing inwards, forks on the left, while the soup spoon traditionally lies on the knife side. Dessert spoons and forks are placed at the head of the plate with the fork handle facing the left and the spoon handle to the right. If there is cheese, the cutlery is placed the same as the dessert cutlery with the spoon being replaced with a dessert knife.
The glass which accompanies the main course (the leading glass) is placed directly above the dinner knife. Glasses which accompany courses before the main dish are set before the leading glass and glasses which accompany a course after the main dish are set behind the leading glass.
This order is important as it ensures the guest has unrestricted access to the glassware for each course. Glasses should be removed after each course, apart from the water glasses which should be placed in line with the first course glasses. No more than four glasses should be placed on the table. Additional glasses can be added later if required.
Dish washers are too harsh for crystal as heat and abrasive cleaners may mark the surfaces. Jostling in a dishwasher can also cause chipping and cracking. It’s better to hand washing in water that is hand-hot using a mild washing up liquid. Rinsing well in lots of clear water – vinegar in the rinsing water will help remove any stubborn stains. Wash away from the taps to prevent chipping and drain on a plastic coated rack or towel.
When drying, use a clean linen dish towel (keep several ready for the task) and hold the glass by the bowl, not the stem, for twisting the stem in the opposite direction to the bowl can cause it to snap. Polish the glasses then store standing on their bottoms not the rims, well spaced out to avoid any potential chipping in your cupboards or glass cabinets.
Vases and decanters can be cleaned by filling them half-full of moderately hot water, a small amount of mild detergent, two tablespoons of white vinegar or ammonia and ¼ cup of uncooked rice. Swirl the rice around for a few minutes to remove residue inside. Rinse well with moderately hot water and air dry, upside down on a rack.
Accessories provide the ideal finishing touch to a table: add some fresh flowers, candles and place cards but always remember that the decoration should be unobtrusive yet attractive. With practice and even inexpensive decorations, it is easy to create elegant table settings. Keep an eye out for attractive fabrics which could be made up into inexpensive table mats and napkins.