How to Be the Perfect Host

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My favorite parties have always included a moment wherein we all engage in the same activity: Paul takes off his new eyeglasses and puts them on Sally, who puts them on José, who puts them on Ed—suddenly we are all taking turns trying on Paul’s glasses and having people tell us who/what we look like in them (“Rhonda Barbitua, harried editrix of the women’s glossy Ovum.”) Or, because it’s a going-away party for Steve and Tim, someone has set up two chairs in front of a whiteboard; you write a good-bye message to Steve and Tim on the whiteboard, and then pair up and have everyone’s photo taken in front of the message so that Steve and Tim will leave for Seattle with a photo album of good wishes.

How Not to End It

The best host never ends the party. She gives the impression that she would keep yakking and pouring tiny drams of Armagnac till dawn if others were only willing. If she knows one guest needs a ride home, she asks others on the guest’s behalf. She helps the troops find their coats and belongings, and announces to out-of-town guests, “Make sure you have everything, because I do not know how to operate envelopes or packing tape.” She neatly derails her handsy brother-in-law’s attentions to the evening’s loveliest female guest.

Post-party, she does not post pictures of the soirée on Facebook. The next time she sees any of the party guests, she re-invokes the wittiest or most perceptive thing that that guest said at the party. She shows up at her former invitees’ subsequent parties, and displays what might be the highest virtue of a good host: the ability to be a good guest.

Henry Alford is the author of Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?: A Modern Guide to Manners. He writes for The New York Times and Vanity Fair. This is his first article for Gourmet Live.

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