Recently, Mistress and I attended one of my family’s gatherings.
As I watched my cousin, one of the hosts, cook entirely too much delicious food, and the other host, her husband, diligently clean up a step behind her, I thought about my own style of entertaining and where I get it from.
Other than the aforementioned couple, it was mostly my great-aunt or her daughter who hosted family gatherings as I was growing up. There was also always entirely too much delicious food from that part of the family, though it happened more in courses—light appetizers in wicker baskets scattered around before you sat down to salad and soup, then a course offering the option of many tempting entrees and sides, usually very drawn out before the cleaning up started, people wandering around, leading into the placement of assorted light desserts.
At my cousin’s house, however, it was more like a constant wandering, and many light and heavier appetizers on the large kitchen island, then a large variety of appealing entrees, sides, and heavier desserts added to that island, much closer together in time. Cleanup got done as it was needed, closely following whatever was getting cooked up at the time.
Aside from family gatherings, the parties I went to during my more formative years that I remember best were the parties thrown by the very wealthy families of kids I went to middle school with for the first two years. As someone new to that private school and there on scholarships, it was like a whole new world.
These were parties of hundreds of people of varying relation in fancy but uncomfortable looking clothes, with very loud music from a DJ and elaborate but dim lighting, sitting down at round tables so big you could barely read the place card of the person across from you, the table covered in fine linens, and waiters bringing delicately plated food you had ordered on your RSVP card so long ago you forgot what you ordered or what the options even were. People gave speeches and after dinner, there were activities and lots of dancing.
I think of what I’m like as a host now and can see bits of all of those hosts in me. I hosted a weekly event at home with Mistress for almost a year and a half, having rarely less than six and rarely more than twelve people over for food, chitchat with kinky company, and occasional play or swimming. In that event, I can see bits of all of the above events.
I always erred on the side of too much food, and my skills at cleaning and cooking at the same time improved over time, though there was always more cleanup to do after all was done (and cleaning up before people even arrived). I tended to have the “light appetizers scattered around in cute baskets” style (cut down later on due to the unhealthy tendencies of those “appetizers”). Then there would be a more buffet style entree serving later (as cooking finished), with maybe a light side or two, usually fairly closely followed by a dessert. People were free to wander around with their food.
Though some of the formality of the large parties appeals to me, I would rather fall on the guests being comfortable side of it, like my family. We never had a dress code of any sort (and clothes sometimes came off anyway), we tried to keep the sensory experience of the house calmer, focused on interaction with the other people, not the environment, since that’s what they were there for.
Food was customizable with request, and I often felt out people on the general food options as little as a day in advance.
I liked a more personalized feel. There’s the great service of going to a famed five-star restaurant, and there’s the great service of going to the mom and pop cafe you frequent. The five-star restaurant might have dishes with names in the romance languages, but the mom and pop cafe knows you want extra potatoes and no whipped cream on your drink. I liked the latter style.
Yes, the brand name store-bought cookies look pretty in the package and have a health code stamp on them, but you don’t get to smell them while they’re in the oven, or see the cloud of flour dust as flour gets added to the bowl, or taste test any of the cookie dough. Personally, I valued the way the kitchen got crowded as the cookie dough got closer to taste-test ready or as the oven timer got closer to zero, more than I valued a pretty package. (People descended upon the cookies before they were nearly cooled enough to think about presentation, anyway.)
A main hosting priority for me was also to make everything as intuitive and easy as possible. I labeled things. I laid things out in advance. I didn’t blast music so loud people couldn’t hear each other, or dim the lights so low they couldn’t see each other. I tried to offer options on things that would work for everyone, and let people choose for themselves. Fancy was cool, but I didn’t want it at the cost of confused guests who felt shoved into a box.
If it wouldn’t disrupt the guest experience, I still liked keeping things nicer; even just using real, non-disposable silverware, plates, napkins, and bowls for the occasion easily gave it a more upscale feel. (Hosting a lot, you have to start to think about your environmental impact anyway.)
Personally, I had a great guest experience at the house of my cousin and her husband recently, and I have had many great experiences with them and with the other hosts of my family, and many of those massive parties of kids at school were a blast, too. People can definitely enjoy more than one kind of event.
It was interesting to think back on those experiences and how they formed my general hosting style and values—and thinking deeper into different types.