Do you know how to host to impress? How to properly set a table? Why Corona bottles are served with a slice of lime?
The Boss Is Coming To Dinner
BY IAN MAKSICK
OMG! Your better half invited their boss and spouse to dinner. They’re from New Mexico but have traveled extensively and dined in fine restaurants worldwide. You met them at the holiday party and company picnic. They’re great, but you haven’t had any special guests over in a while, and you want to make a great impression.
Professor Service says, “KISS: Keep It Service Simple.” Don’t try to compete with restaurants. Instead, add New Mexico touches to standard American fare. Use the good china, if you have some. If not, make sure all items are spotlessly clean and nothing is chipped.
If you’re fretting about setting the table, re-watch that scene from “Pretty Woman” where the hotel manager tells Julia Roberts, “We always eat from the outside in.” A good KISS menu is a Caesar salad, a duo of roasted/grilled beef overlapping grilled chicken breast—no worries about rare, medium or well-done preferences—complemented by potatoes and vegetables and a dessert pie. For beverages, provide bottled water, wine and beer. Have ice cream on hand, along with diet soda and sugar substitutes.
To look like a mind-reader, call the boss’ assistants or co-workers to glean inside info on their food preferences, allergies and sensitivities—think gluten-free—so you’re prepared for all contingencies. Serve a dynamite bread item. For a touch of New Mexico, serve warm tortillas and a choice of garlic croutons or tortilla chips with the Caesar salad. Some hot New Mexican appetizers wouldn’t be amiss here. Use imaginative garnish, a.k.a. plate décor, because presentation is what makes simple special. As a centerpiece, fill a sombrero with cacti or flowers.
The secret to setting a table is TTT (Touch Touch Touch*) so every setting is identical. Tuck a simple rectangular napkin fold under the base plate or place a pyramid fold to the left, leaving the base plate free so salad can be preset; this leaves more time for conversation with everyone at the table. (See TTT Sample setting below.)
Like a catered affair, set the table in advance. If you remember that the boss drank Corona at the picnic, kick off small talk by asking a related trivia question: “Does anybody know the reason why lime is served in a bottle of Corona?” (Answer: To keep the flies away.) It’s always a nice ice-breaker.
Get out the good linen or use placemats for a less formal feeling. If you’re really nervous about the lefts and rights of service, remember to serve food with the left hand from the left, pour beverages from the right with the right hand and clear everything from the right with the right hand. In any case, it’s always LL/RR; whatever you do from the left of the guest, use your left hand and from the right, use your right. This method of serving ensures you’re always maintaining open body language and eye contact and never backhanding or putting your elbow in someone’s face.
Use the base plate—or a napkin folded in a 10-inch by 10-inch square—as the template for placing forks to the left by touch, knives to touch on the right and dessert flatware to touch at the top. The water glass is the guide glass, and it always touches the tip of the dinner knife, while the wine glass touches the water glass. Never lift a glass or cup and saucer off the table to pour. Use a napkin splash-guard with your left hand—a rectangular fold will stop anything—between the glass and guest when pouring water or wine with your right hand.
Show you care about your guest’s safety by using a 10-inch round plate as a splash-guard to prevent hot “ouch” splashes. So germs shall never mix, always hold flatware by the neck (just below the tine or bowls) and knives by the waist (between blade and handle). Grab glasses by the stem or base. These spots are least likely to be touched by guests, thus lessening the spread of germs.
Dessert and coffee can be offered at the table, but serve it in the living room or on a patio or porch to mix it up. Set it up buffet style. As a parting gift, offer a bottle of water for the road adorned with a ribbon and a thank-you-for-coming card attached.
When we’re out of something in the service industry, we say “86,” but that’s a whole ‘nother story. In my next column, learn to add pizzazz features to make the boss coming to dinner an even more memorable occasion. That’s an “86” for now from Ian Maksik, “Professor of Service.”
Ian Maksik is a Cornell Hotel School graduate, former Hilton general manager and catering editor for New York magazine CUE. Known as “America’s Service Guru,” Maksik has keynoted, lectured and trained owners, management and staff of hospitality facilities in 21 countries and at notable industry conferences. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 804-5413.
*TTT (Touch Touch Touch) is copyrighted by Ian Maksik, “Professor of Service.”