Howard Slatkin’s Tips for Entertaining on Fifth Avenue

In honor of his new book, Fifth Avenue Style, we asked interior decorator (and power entertainer) Howard Slatkin to lend his wisdom on Fifth Avenue home entertainment. Are flower arrangements necessary? What to do when disaster strikes? And how does one deal with finicky eaters?  Howard gives his tips below:

Think about What You Can Comfortably Handle (so you are not overwhelmed and enjoy your own party)

• Remember that people always prefer food that is simple, fresh and uncomplicated

• If you do not have access to a butler or waiters, do not attempt a formal seated dinner but rather a more informal buffet dinner, or a cocktail party. Do what you can handle with ease.

• If you do not have access to a cook or do not particularly like to cook, use take out foods that can easily be delivered, or prepared foods from the market; these can often be upgraded with easily done additions of herbs, spices, grated parmesan or lemon zest — easily & quickly. But only include foods you can count on to be delicious.

• If serving a meal is too daunting, then have friends over for cocktails or for tea. Set up a table in the living room with all your liquor & glasses, as I do. Guests can help themselves. For tea, it is easy to get a simple cake from a bakery you favor, and make some thin sandwiches.

Prepare In Advance: Make Lists

• I will make lists of the menu, the guests and what needs to be done, as well as a calendar for what to do when; it reduces stress & the likelihood for errors

• If you have staff or are getting someone to help, give them lists of their specific responsibilities: do not assume they are mind-readers

• Enlist family members or friends to help, but give each of them a list so they know exactly what they are responsible for

Vegetarians, Vegans and Those with Food Allergies

• I always ask, when inviting someone, if there are any foods they do not eat, so I can keep this in mind when planning the menu

• If a guest at the table, when presented with food, says he does not eat what is being served and asks for something else — but has not forewarned me when accepting the invitation — he is politely told my home is not a restaurant, that there is no short-order cook in the kitchen—-and no, he cannot get something else.

Setting the Table

• Rarely will I use flowers on the dinner table, preferring fruits or vegetables (that can then be eaten the following day) or objects from around the apartment, such as a porcelain or silver object. It is not only more interesting, but it is easier than arranging more flowers for the table.

• For a tablecloth use a favorite textile: a quilt, a blanket, even a favorite piece of fabric (cut the edges with pinking shears.)

• As I use antique dishes, each course is a different pattern: using one dinner service for the whole dinner can be boring. I even like when each place setting has a different plate.

• Use what you have: mix & match your linens, flatware & dishes, like an artist painting a picture.

• Guidelines for flatware & glass placement are easily found through google or on Pinterest (which is a great place for inspiration for table settings!)

• Use other rooms beside the dining room: I like to have small dinners in my screening room.

Remember That Guests Are More Important Than the Table Decor and the Food

• Think of who you want to invite as a director might think when casting a play: what will make for the most interesting evening

• Invite married couples but do not seat them together (unless newlyweds) so they can share with each other their table conversations when they get home.

• Try to put an extrovert next to an introvert

• Include one or two friends you can count on to keep conversation flowing and help with drinks.

• If a guest brings flowers or wine, I do not put them out — I am too busy. I also do not open any other gifts someone brings until the next day. (Tip to guests: do not bring anything with you; if you want to give a gift send it the next day with a note of thanks.)

Practice, Practice, Practice:

• If entertaining fills you with dread & stress, remember that the more often you do it, the easier it becomes.

• Practice new recipes on family & close friends in an informal manner

• Try different table settings until you come up with a few you like, then take photos of them for future reference (a photo will also clearly show what does not work, as we all seem to be editors when looking at images.)

• Relax and enjoy your own party: if you don’t know one else will

• Ignore problems that occur once guest arrive; if you do, guests will too (and remember no one is there to be critical; if they are, you should not have included such people in your life, let alone your dinner.)

• If entertaining at home simply makes you too nervous, then do it at a restaurant you like. Often a restaurant you patronize will let you do your own flowers for the table and sometimes even your own cloth, to personalize the table.

Fifth Avenue Style is available on the Seventh Floor. Call 212 872 2758 for more details.

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