My father owns an apron, almost certainly bought for him by a disgruntled nephew, which is embroidered with the words ‘HOST WITH THE MOST’ (and it’ll make an appearance this Christmas season, without a doubt, along with that highly theatrical manner of sharpening knives and the general anxieties around gravy.) Nowadays, you tend to see those words in greeting card shops and on colourful mugs, too. And every time I look upon them, my main thought is: ‘Well, the most what?’ I think we let this grammatical cliffhanger off a little too lightly. Because more is not always more when it comes to the art of hosting — and having the most of anything certainly does not equate to hospitable success. So, to clear things up once and for all, we’ve sat down with our friends at Monkey 47 Gin (who ought to know a thing or two about this game) and put together a handy little guide to hosting in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
1. Invite a good mix of guests
When people put together their dream dinner party guest lists, they often assemble groups of exquisite clecticness and clever balance — Jesus Christ (still a big character at this time of year) mingling with Muhammad Ali; John Lennon hobnobbing with Monty Don; Julius Caesar and Tupac battling for the aux cable. But when it comes to our actual dinner party guest lists, we tend to revert to type, and opt for a bland palette of insurance brokers and people called Jolyon.
Instead, don’t be afraid to invite unlikely and charming acquaintances and pals, even if you have only met them a couple of times, or haven’t seen them for years. A range of professions is an easy way to ensure variability (artists with bankers; journalists with anyone), but a range of personal styles is good, too. The opinionated but entertaining foghorn; the deft and wry observer; the warm and twinkly middle man; etc etc.
2. Cook something you've cooked before
Caterers are always a handy option for the more elaborate feasts of our age. But I wouldn’t overlook the joy and impact of a beautiful home cooked meal. So much more love in it, so much more effort and sweetness, and much more of a sense of occasion. (Plus, you can throw a tea towel artfully over your shoulder while topping up people’s drinks, which is never not a great look.)
If you are dusting off the saucepans, however, make sure to go for a tried and tested recipe that you know people will enjoy, and one that you can pull off mid-conversation with your best friend’s nervous new fiancée while she jabbers away near the rosemary. Pretension scores no points on the palette, and there’s nothing more deadly to a ‘vibe’ than the chef sprinting out of the room every three minutes to tend to a combustible langoustine. (I often turn to the Italians on these occasions, who know how to cook big, hearty, unfussy, love-filled meals for many.)
3. Get the cocktails right
Your liquid assets are a real tone-setter. And I would opt for a mixture of long and short deliveries here, like a decent spell from a seam bowler. For the shorts, a playful tweak on the classic martini is perfect — punchy, debonair, with a hint of mid-century sophistication (and pretty easy to master, once you get your shaking action down.)
I like the warming zip and zing of Monkey 47’s Breakfast Martini at this time of year (and what a name!), with its festive hint of orange peel and marmalade-y roundness. For long concoctions (which are important in regulating the pace of things, so the mood doesn’t get too last-days-of-Rome-y before the starters), I rather like the Brass Monkey — which has a citrus edge fringed with wintery warmth in the form of ginger ale, and a good slosh of pungent angostura bitters to boot.
4. Pick your battles
The selection of when to host is almost as important as how you host. It’s a game of quality not quantity, this. No-one remembers the eight mediocre parties they went to — they remember the ninth absolute stonker in which the vicar did a keg stand. (Not necessarily advised). Pick a moment when people are starved of fun anyway (January or February, perhaps) or an occasion with genuine purpose and feeling at its heart (a birthday, an engagement, a reunion of old friends). This is the secret that all arch hosts know, but few share — that tactical date-picking is everything. Which is why they’re so good at colonising your calendar months in advance.
5. Know when (and how) to call it a night
The temptation, being as hospitable as you are, is always to allow the bores to linger and the dregs of the party to circle the plug hole, so to speak. This seems, on the face of it, the most generous and friendly thing to do. But the true kindness, in fact, is in knowing when to call it a night, and doing so with tact and humour. You shouldn’t start stuffing people into their coats when the clock strikes 10, of course — but a gentle easing up around midnight is usually perfect. And remember: nothing fun ever happened after 2am.