Entertaining guests is fast becoming a lost art. With couples working insane hours through the week, where is the time to entertain anyone else? One would rather spend time with oneself, or with a spouse who hasn’t been seen through the week, or with the children. Or if nothing else, go grocery shopping! Spending time with friends is usually done over a few cold beers in the local pub, or gourmet Italian food at the new restaurant in town, or at the movies. It comes as no surprise then that “mehmaan nawaazi” (Urdu term)– that age-old practice of treating guests like kings, seems to be fast disappearing from today’s fast life.

Entertaining, though, is the new name of the business game. More job interviews, client meets, team meetings are being held over meals than ever before. People are being invited at home, at restaurants, at pubs to discuss business and it makes sense to understand how to be a gracious host if you find yourself in this situation. Making your guests feel delighted and cared for will get you more brownie points than the brand of wine you serve or the knowledge of a foreign cuisine you can flaunt.

Here then are the rules of being a good host:

  1. Do not invite someone you do not want to entertain in the first place! Just because he is your husband’s boss, or a new business client, or a fellow team member, do not interact if you harbour any kind of negative feelings towards that person. The goal of entertainment should be the mutual enjoyment of host and guests, nothing else. No one-upmanship, no hoping for brownie points, no ulterior motives. Everything is energy. What you feel will almost always get conveyed, and it will create uneasiness and mistrust in the room. And of course, balance your guest list. Think about who you are inviting and have a good mix of people- couples and singles, work buddies and friends, and so on.
  2. Be on time. I can’t emphasise this enough! It is horrible manners to have your guests waiting for you to arrive, whether you invite them at a restaurant or at your house. Imagine how you would feel if you were left hanging in the restaurant foyer, or at a reserved table, without the host to greet and welcome you!
  3. Ask for the guests’ dietary preferences beforehand, unless of course you know them well. It can be embarrassing to take a client out for a barbecue dinner when the gentleman is a vegan, or does not drink alcohol, or God forbid, does not eat non-vegetarian food on certain days of the week due to religious considerations! Be kind to yourself and take the guesswork out of entertaining.
  4. Do dress up for the occasion, even if you are only calling friends over for beer and biryani on a lazy Sunday afternoon. There is nothing more disappointing than seeing the host and hostess in attire that should not cross the bedroom threshold. Dressing up is the respect you show others, and research has proven time and again that it conveys subconsciously to the guests when you take efforts over your appearance.
  5. If you are entertaining at home, tidy up your house, play soft music in the background and dim the lights. Atmosphere is more important than food.
  6. Graciousness comes from making your guests feel comfortable. When entertaining at home, ask them for their choice of drinks (whether male or female), offer snacks to your guests yourself instead of just laying them on a side table, and look after their smallest needs.
  7. Keep kitchen time to a minimum when you’re entertaining at home. Prepare most of the food beforehand, and only get back in to take care of last minute details when the conversation is in full swing.
  8. Mingle with all guests equally. Introduce strangers, then leave them to talk to each other. Do not monopolise a particular person, and do not get monopolised by any one! Excuse yourself on some pretext or the other, or gently change the topic to a more generic one, so that everyone can be a part of the conversation.
  9. Take care of the bill discreetly if you are entertaining in a restaurant. Either ask the maitre d’ beforehand to bring the bill to you directly, or make eye contact with the wait staff and get the bill delivered to you. This will save you the embarrassment of fighting over the bill if a guest chooses to become generous!
  10. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The wine stain on the carpet, no salt in the food, the shattered glass, the vomit in the bathroom by a drunken guest can all be handled. It is just stuff. Your guests’ ease is way more important.
  11. Most of all, Smile! Be cheerful and full of camaraderie. Have fun, so that your guests can have an enjoyable time. It is a dampener for guests to see the host sullen or moody. Regardless of what’s happening in the background, show your guests your happy face.

Remember, your guests will forget what you fed them, but they will never forget the way you made them feel.

Originally published at www.theimagemanager.com on May 30, 2016.