Tag Archives: entertaining family

The Lost Art of the Thank You Note

thank you note

Or, “Do I really have to write that?”

I always talk about entertaining at home but what about when you’ve been invited to someone else’s home for a dinner party or an afternoon in the back yard?  Do you need to send a Thank You note (I’ll get to email later) or is just saying ‘thank you’ as you leave enough?  Expressing your gratitude at the end of the day or evening is critical but so is taking the time to actually write a thank you note later and here’s why.

Think about how much time you put into planning and executing a gathering at your own home.  It doesn’t matter if it’s just family, business colleagues or your best friends who are the ones on the invite list.  You expend effort and energy on the planning of the guest list, the menu, cooking or picking up from your favorite restaurant, décor, setting your table (al fresco or even at your breakfast table), and then making sure everyone is having a great time during the party.

And, your host has spent just as much effort on their event as well.  So, when you take the time to send a personal thank-you note it’s simply a lovely reminder for the host that you appreciate everything they did and that you’re glad you were included.

Send it as soon afterward as possible – don’t wait a week.  Just that small gesture of writing a short thank-you note will be remembered.  Try to make it as personal as you can, say ‘thank you’ at the beginning of the note and add a detail or two from the evening.  It will show you put some thought into the message.  Even if you didn’t like the food or the group, find something positive to say – maybe you loved the way the table was set.  It does not have to be a novel; a short note is perfectly acceptable.

I promised a note on sending an email thank-you and here it is:

Email thank-you notes don’t carry as much weight as ones that are hand-written.  When you write one by hand it shows that you have taken the time to express how much your host’s invitation meant to you.  I know it seems a bit old-fashioned to actually put a stamp on an envelope and use snail mail, especially in these tech heavy times, but it will impress.

However, email notes are more likely to get written AND, more importantly, actually sent. And, it’s much better to send an email thank-you than no thank-you note at all. If you are ‘hand-writing challenged’ and you can’t even read your own writing, then an email is preferred! They may not be as nice to receive but at least it will be legible! Depending on who is receiving the note, they may appreciate that an email is ‘greener’ than pen, paper, and stamp.

Having said that, write a thank you and you’ll get on the next invite list for sure!

thank you note

In the picture:

Recipe for Summer Punch: Champagne, Fruit, and Fun Ice

summer punch feature

An adult drink with champagne that only looks fruity sweet (it isn’t).

It’s summer and that means outdoor or indoor fun with friends and family and usually in a group.  I always recommend greeting your guests with an adult beverage when they arrive.  A summer punch sets the tone for the party and lets everyone know that you want them to have a great time.

The easiest way to serve an adult summer punch to a group (with very little effort from you-the host) is with a batch cocktail or fun punch.  Punch can be colorful and is definitely made ahead of your guests’ arrival which takes a lot of the stress out of making sure that first glass of ‘welcome’ is ready when they walk through the door.

Set up a beverage area with the punch bowl, cups or small multi-colored glasses and, of course, napkins.  Add flowers and you’ve created a focal point for the party and a place where everyone can simply serve themselves and you can focus on food or other aspects of the party and not on making cocktails.

summer punch prepOne of the downfalls of most punches is that they are very sweet.  This recipe for Champagne Punch with Brandy from epicurious is not. The addition of plenty of citrus – lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit juice and fresh mint combats any sweetness in the mix.

Even though you use cold juice and cold champagne the big bowl of punch will never stay as cold as you want it to be for the whole party.  The rule is (even if you are having only a single drink) that the larger the ice cube the slower it will melt.  It will keep your beverage, and in this case the punch, cold longer without diluting it.

Instead of just adding the cut citrus to the entire bowl of punch, I used some of the cut fruit in the mini-bundt cake molds that I was using for the large ice shapes.  The more interesting the shape of the ice the more fun your punch will look.  I found my mini bundt mold from Nordic Ware at Williams-Sonoma.  I wanted the cubes large enough to melt as slowly as possible and still not worry that they would fit into my punch bowl.  After the molds are frozen solid simply run warm water on the OUTSIDE of the mold and the ice will release easily.

The great thing about this punch is that you can make a second pitcher of the juice mixture (no bubbles yet) to make the ice molds.  This absolutely insures that when the ice eventually melts (and it will) that your summer punch will not be diluted.  Alcohol will not freeze completely so do not add champagne to anything that you want to freeze solid.

Pour the fruit punch mixture into your punch bowl, add some of the cut fruit, add the beautiful ice and at the last minute before your guests arrive add the champagne.  Now you’re ready for a party!

What your dinner party guests really care about!

At your next dinner party, try these ideas to keep a fun night really rolling.

I can’t tell you how many different dinner parties I’ve attended. Maybe almost as many as I hosted? I’ve been invited to some that were absolutely fabulous events, many were really enjoyable and memorable, and everyone had a good time. Thankfully, I’ve only been to a handful that stood out for the wrong reasons. But as it turns out, those are the ones that taught me the most about what dinner party guests really care about most.

First off, dinner parties are all about the gathering—who you invited, be they friends, family, or colleagues, and why. Maybe it’s a seasonal thing. Perhaps it’s a birthday, anniversary, or another type of celebration. But whatever it is, and whoever comes, don’t forget that it’s all about the sharing: food, beverages, and conversation.

If you put on a perfect night, your guests will come away with an excellent food memory. And, if you’re fortunate, they’ll remember that one night for years. This leads me to my second point: don’t stress about making the evening a complete standout. More on this later.

The fact is, you may be surprised by what your guests remember most about your dinner party. The usual “playbook” for parties causes us to focus on details, like the food. You want to be concerned with how you present the beautiful dishes that you’ve so lovingly prepared. But, what you may not realize is that, although guests may be awed by fancy and elaborate food you cook yourself, you really don’t need to cook to have a great party.

Let’s say you know this really great take-out place. Make it fabulous, make it fun, but don’t leave the food in the ‘to go’ containers they came in – replate everything! Seriously. Why struggle with a recipe that you’re not comfortable with? If you really want to cook, make something you can prepare in your sleep, like that delicious soup or casserole you’ve been perfecting for years.

When I can, I prepare all or most of the food the day before the party. Soups, stews and casseroles are always better the second day. Go to your favorite bakery and pick up a few fresh crusty baguettes. Add your favorite wine to go with the meal, and there you are—the start of a great dinner party! One you can really enjoy with your guests because you’re not stuck in the kitchen.

Just a little aside about food: remember all of your guests. Be aware if there are dietary restrictions. But, if a guest is really particular about what they will and won’t eat it’s OK to suggest they bring something they’ll be comfortable eating.

I repeat: the whole point of having friends and family over is the sharing. We love the food and drink, but—speaking for myself in particular—I live for the conversation. I love great stories, the little factoids, and snippets from people’s lives. Sometimes it’s quite a surprise what someone will share, but everyone is talking—and that’s the life of the party.

There’s nothing more uncomfortable than going to a dinner party where no one wants to talk. I have learned a few tricks to get things going. I always know a bit about everyone I’ve invited so that knowledge gives me the opportunity to add something in common each time I introduce guests that don’t know each other.  For instance, I may put two or three people together and mention that they all love dogs. I may pair two up because they work in similar industries, or maybe they’ve traveled somewhere recently.

My best conversation starter strategy is my collection of cool little items I’ve picked up on my travels or at the local flea market. I learn a story or two about everything I collect so I can share it at a gathering. You never know the great conversations you may trigger with that approach.

Here are some other strategies I use for my dinner parties:

Of course, I never forget to line up music to complement the feel I want for the evening. Parties sometimes change as the evening progresses. I have different “playlists” that matches the mood of the party—or to improve a mood.

I always avoid especially strong smells so I stay away from perfumed candles except for a small one in the powder room. This way, the first smell to welcome my guests is the delicious aromas that float in from my kitchen.

Guests definitely notice the table settings but, that doesn’t mean everything has to match. Show some creativity. I often talk about mixing patterns and pieces at the table – things I’ve picked up at flea markets and second-hand shops. A mismatched place setting of silver, china, and glassware can really be a lot of fun.

Finally, the big centerpiece for your gathering: is you. Your guests will see the effort you’ve put into the evening—even if you’ve picked most of it up from the market already made. The biggest trigger for fun is how you present yourself.  Guests notice if you’re stressed. Stuff happens—there will be hiccups. Let it go and so will your guests. Kick back and relax. Enjoy the evening, and your guests will follow.

One last big tip for your evening: don’t clean the whole time guests are there. If you need help, ask them. People are always happy to help, and with the right approach, clean-up can be part of the fun.

Check out my video for even more home entertaining tips. Enjoy!