By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
If it’s you, straighten up, pay attention and be the guest of the year. This is the season when many parties, events, family gatherings, and holiday meals take place. Now that COVID-19 is on the wane in some parts of the country, mask mandates are lightening, and lots of folks are triple vaccinated, we will actually be able to see friends and family members in person instead of on a video screen. Hallelujah! A long time coming.
What does this mean for those who are invited? It means being a gracious guest. Yet some people are not clued in about proper etiquette when attending a brunch, holiday meal, afternoon tea, or dinner party. We all appreciate being invited but do we know how to show our appreciation? What does that look like exactly?
Having been in the hospitality business for over 35 years, I’ve had a bird’s eye view of things, both good and bad. We catered many events in customers’ homes and witnessed the comings and goings of thousands of guests. Some hostesses have been given lovely tokens of appreciation as the guests arrive: flowers, bottles of wine, chocolates, or homemade jam. But some people exhibit inappropriate behavior, especially when it is a seated lunch or a dinner party.
For example, when Bob and I got married, we had a sit-down brunch and a friend and his girlfriend brought along her teenage daughter and her date. The dilemma was that we were in a rented event space with a finite number of dishes, pieces of flatware and chairs. It was an embarrassing moment. Another ticklish situation is when a guest brings a dish to serve with dinner when it is not a potluck. What if it doesn’t go with your meal or worse yet, you have already made the same dish? This was particularly difficult when we catered a dinner party and a guest brought a dish that was well-intended but not up to par. Do we serve it or not?
Every guest wants to do the right thing to demonstrate his or her appreciation for all the host is doing, such as planning, shopping, decorating, cooking and cleaning, Here are a few tips to follow when attending an event:
• Consider showing up with a gift in hand. Does the host throw the party just to receive gifts? Does the host actually need the gift? No on both accounts. Do it anyway.
• Arrive on time, especially if there is a set time for the meal. The cook really doesn’t want to serve deflated crab soufflé.
• If you have dietary issues that are severe, such as allergies, gently remind your host upon receiving the invitation.
• Offer to pour wine or water, or to clear the dishes.
• Be sensitive to overstaying your welcome. Read the room. If the host looks tired or the conversation has wound down, say “a-hem, I think it’s time for me to get going.”
• Hosts love to receive a thank-you note or a call the next day.
Today, I’m offering two recipes that are simple to make and well received. Present them in decorative jars or canisters with pretty ribbon. Both the Chocolate Sauce and Nutty Oat Topping are designed to go over ice cream. Use them together or separately. The Chocolate Sauce can be used to dip fresh fruit in, too. It should be reheated in a hot water bath before pouring over ice cream. The Oat Topping can be combined with plain yogurt. Both recipes can be doubled or tripled. Store in the refrigerator.
Yield: 2 ½ cups
10 oz. semisweet chocolate chunks
1 c. heavy whipping cream
Place the chocolate and the cream in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Melt together. Whisk the sauce until well combined.
Optional: Whisk in 1-2 Tbsps. of Kahlúa, rum, brandy, or other liqueur.
Nutty Oat Crumb Topping
Yield: 3 cups
1 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 c. chopped hazelnuts or almonds
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 c. butter or margarine, melted
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Spray with pan release.
In a mixing bowl, combine oats, nuts, sugar, flour, and salt. Blend in the melted butter and mix. Spread on prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until toasted and golden. Break up with a fork. Cool. Break up with your hands.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.