Business Entertaining at Home

By Jill Bremer, AICI CIP

In the United States, as in many countries around the world, December is a month filled with celebrations. Office parties, cocktail receptions, open houses and family dinners pack the calendar. Some events are business-related, some purely social or familial. Others bridge the gap and provide an opportunity for work and family to mix. Most often it happens at a company-sponsored event that includes spouses and/or children. Another way is when you invite co-workers home for a meal—even your boss! Don’t let that idea scare you. At some point in your career, you will probably want the boss to meet your family. Or perhaps you will need to repay an invitation he or she extended to you earlier. The thought of entertaining the boss at home can be stressful. Not only are your hosting skills on display, but also your skills at organization, cooking, housekeeping and, in some cases, childrearing! The solution is to have enough planning time to think through every detail.

You can choose to do either a sit-down meal or a buffet. Whichever you select, by all means be yourself. This is not the time to try to impress the boss with complicated recipes you’ve never made before or to overextend the family finances with expensive food or drink. If you enjoy the chance to plan and serve multi-course meals and showcase your fine china and silver, a sit-down meal is the way to go. Just make sure you first take into consideration the number of guests you can accommodate at your table and the limitations of your kitchen. 

A buffet meal can be an easier task to undertake than a sit-down dinner. It provides a more relaxed atmosphere for your boss and other guests as they can serve themselves and choose their dinner companions, too. You also have more time to visit with everyone, as most of the food is prepared ahead of time. And since seating is more informal than a sit-down meal, you can usually accommodate a few more people. On the subject of seating, you have two choices. Use your dining room table, folding card tables and tray tables for a seated buffet so that every guest has a place at a table. Or let your guests sit wherever they choose around the room. Place small tables next to seats that aren’t within reach of larger ones so that guests don’t have to balance plates on their laps.

The first step is to set the guest list and extend the invitations. A written invitation is best when inviting your boss or anyone of high rank. And be sure to include the spouse or partner. If you don’t socialize regularly with the boss, you will feel more at ease if you also include a few others from work. I like to mix up the guest list and invite people outside of work, as well. I think a combination of people makes dinner conversation more interesting. Important tip: Don’t make the mistake of assuming you can be suddenly be on a first name basis with the boss, unless you already have that privilege at work.

Next, decide on your menu and room set-up. The menu can have a theme, spotlighting regional or ethnic cuisine, or simply be a combination of your favorite gourmet store dishes along with your own best recipes. Keep food safety in mind with your buffet. You’ll need to be able to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Plan on setting out small portions of each dish and replace as needed with fresh, clean platters. If possible, place the buffet table in the center of the room so that guests may serve themselves from both sides. Have a separate beverage area close to the buffet where guests can help themselves to wine, cocktails, soda, juice or water. For a seated buffet, place settings can be preset with filled water glasses, empty wine glasses, napkins and silverware. Opened wine bottles can also be set on each table for guests to pour as they like. Coffee can either be placed on the beverage table or served from a tray by the host or hostess.

As guests arrive, pre-dinner drinks are offered; dinner should start about one hour later than the time specified on the invitation. Announce that dinner is served and guests can form a line around the serving tables, helping themselves to food and drink. Guests can then help themselves to seconds as they are ready.

Spouses and partners have responsibilities during these functions, primarily to help with the planning and execution and to make the boss and other guests feel comfortable. They can assist with greeting the arriving guests or taking newly arrived guests around to meet the others. They should also help with the refilling of glasses and platters. And perhaps most importantly, they have the responsibility to be an interesting dinner companion, to view this gathering as an opportunity to learn more about your work, boss and coworkers.

So don’t be afraid to invite the boss home. Entertaining at home can be a great way to get to know the people you work with–and for–in a relaxed environment. And with just a bit of planning, you’ll be able to relax yourself and enjoy this chance to shine!

© 2017 Jill Bremer All Rights Reserved

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