What is something that makes a host exceptional?
A relaxed and confident host, who is also slightly bossy, is by far the most important element of any party. She (or he) knows what they’re doing and allows the guests to relax. That means being as organized as you can be and leaving as little to the last minute as possible, having help if you can afford it, making introductions among your guests, steering this one to that one, and inspiring or discouraging threads of conversation. If it is a gathering of more than, say 20 people, be sure you introduce everyone to at least two new people. [Guests] really appreciate it.
How to (politely) get guests to put down their phones?
If you are having new people who might be unfamiliar with your absolutely-no-cell-phones-at-the-table policy (and of course you do have such a policy…), you may gently inform them in advance that “When we’re at the table, we really want to be with you and with one another, so we ask to keep the phones, photos, videos and Googling temptations at bay until we are finished… thank you so much. Of course, if there is something dire and you have to excuse yourself from the table, we understand and will be waiting for you when you come back.” That is part of the bossy hostess bit, but it is in consideration of all your guests.
Any advice on how to accommodate a guest who can’t/won’t eat a certain food?
Serve great, fresh, simple food, and enough variety so that the person who does not eat “X,” does not go hungry. If someone has a life-threatening allergy, you will know about it. Otherwise…you are not a restaurant or a short-order cook. If you learn of a food sensitivity late in the day, compensate as best you can—or ignore it—without stressing about it and carry on.
What’s your take on assigned seating?
If you are sitting at a table, have a seating plan—even if it’s small and informal. You don’t have to have place cards but tell people where to sit. It saves awkward fumbling and possibly hurt feelings. While you’re at it, seat the kindred spirits together, whether they’re live-wires or wallflowers. They’ll be most comfortable and have the most fun, with their own kind of vibe, whether they know each other or not.
What are some decorating ideas that won’t break the bank?
In decorating, especially if you’re on a budget or short of time, just do lots of one or two things, be it balloons, candles, paper lanterns, daisy chains, dahlias, flags, hula dancers—you get the idea. Let me know about the hula dancers…
For more of Schultz’s take on seasonal tabletop decor, home design and entertaining, check out her latest book, California Cooking and Southern Style, available at Vroman’s Bookstore.