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Home stuff 🏡 Formal and Informal Entertaining at Home

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Maister

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The other day Mrs. Maister was looking up a recipe out of a cookbook (‘The Housewifes Encyclopedia of Cooking’ or some title like that) that was published in 1953. The book was filled with many recipes that called for liberal quantities of wholesome ingredients such as: heavy cream, lard, egg yolks, and bacon drippings. My, how times have changed. The cookbook was organized in an interesting fashion; the usual alphabetical index with sections on meats, desserts, soups, salads, condiments etc. was there, but the book also had menus and recipes arranged by meal function. What interested me most, though, were the sections on ”cooking for company”: there were suggested menus/recipes for what to make: when the Boss comes over for dinner; post-game parties; children’s birthdays; adult birthdays; holiday parties (and we’re talking about menus ranging from formal Thanksgiving dinner to Groundhog Day snacks!), television parties (whatever those might be!), light fare for after an evening at the Theatre, back yard cookouts, and many other types of occasions. In all of this I was struck by one general observation….people a half century ago apparently did a hell of a lot more entertaining at their homes than we do now.

I’m sure the convenience afforded by the invention of frozen dinners has much to do with the apparent decline in formal hospitality, not to mention the term ‘housewife’ has become an anachronism with the advent of the two-income family. With everyone at work during the day there’s obviously less time to cook when we get home and as a result folks probably eat out ten times more often than our parents did in their time. I wonder, however, if the “Betty Crocker” housewife (the Hostess with the Mostess) of the mid-20th century was a largely mythical image or was there some substantial basis in reality? Do we in fact entertain less often than a half century ago, or has the method/venue for entertainment merely changed during that time? Take for instance the concept of having the Boss over for dinner. Is this a smart career move for the up and coming executive? When was the last time that you as a Boss were invited to dinner at one of your employee’s houses, or conversely when did you last have the Boss (and the Little Woman, of course) over for dinner and drinks at your place? For me, the answer is never. It seems that workplace relationships have changed significantly over the past several decades. No longer do we court corporate loyalty to the degree that we would consider cultivating this type of relationship much anymore.

We like to host an annual Oktoberfest party at our house each year and invite family and people from work (okay, the Boss might get invited for this), hobbies, and other spheres of life interests to attend. More than once I’ve heard people remark how unusual they thought it was to have an Oktoberfest party at someone’s house (as opposed to a tent at a fairgrounds), but is the idea of having a holiday-themed party really so strange this day and age? But how about you – how often do you entertain at your place? Is your home the one usually chosen as Thanksgiving and New Years party headquarters? When was the last time you invited a couple over for dinner or made a guest list and thrown a themed party just for the heck of it?

malarkey55ni1.jpg
 

Zoning Goddess

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My parents entertained all the time! Lots of cocktail parties. The men were in suits, the ladies in cocktail dresses. And my folks went out a lot to parties in their friends/business acquaintances homes. Dad was always inviting new business contacts. My mom didn't work and we had 2 maids so it was pretty easy for Mom. Even for our birthday parties, the moms dressed up. Dad would make daiquiris (boy, who serves liquor at kids' parties these days?). They had a 2-night 25th-anniversary party (to accommodate everyone they wanted to invite, 50 people per evening) and my sister and I had to wear floor-length dresses!

Then there was the informal stuff: family dinners with a few or lots of relatives. Spaghetti and BBQ were the staples. More fun for us, since we weren't banished to the parents' room to watch t.v.

As for me? Well, with a kid, pets, working, etc, I entertain very little. Plus, my house is pretty small. A friend or two over, mostly just for drinks or maybe a casual dinner. I've only had a boss over once, but that was for a division holiday party I hosted. The biggest soirees I've had were for my son's birthday parties, I guess....:-$

I sure have all the "stuff" to go formal: sterling silver flatware, china, crystal, but it's such a pain in the behind to use it all!
 

nrschmid

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I have a modern version of the cookbook you mentioned and they break down entertaining into formal, semi-formal, casual, etc. Recipes are labeled as low-fat, low-calorie, but most of the recipes havent changed for 70 years or so. I try to substitute alot of things in those books (steam rather than boil vegetables, use splenda, no yolks, unbleached flour). I have also learned how to use other grains and flours (oat bran, cracked wheat, etc.) instead of just buying "wheat" bread.

I think the defintion of entertaining has changed not only by two-income households but by the advent of the internet and the more recent developments with blackberries, blogging, instant messaging, etc. Who needs to have a party to show your vacation photos when you can send them to people who don't even have the internet?

People also spend more time on the road than they used to. Yes, there were a lot of cars in the 1950's but most households only had one (remember the one car garage?). Now, Americans feel entitled to have at least one car for each member of the family (not to mention at least one cell phone). Nowadays, big brother is the guest at our neverending houseparty called life
 

SuperPenguin

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Do I entertain at home? Nope. I would need friends for that. :D

However, I do have a copy of "Home-Making for Teenagers," copyright 1958 sitting on my shelf.
 

Mastiff

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I shoot at people who come on my property... I just miss on purpose if they were invited. :a:
 

Fat Cat

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Fat Cat

Primarily yard parties in the summer and indoor in the winter, friends and neighbors, very informal. Has been like this since the children were small:-D
 

Bear Up North

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Growing up in the 1950s, this Bear should have fit the mold described by Maister, above. Nope.

My dad was the BOSS.....and I can only remember one dinner party for his employees and/or business associaties.....a "clam bake". Most of the time he was busy at work (or at the bar).
_____

When I moved to very-rural Henry County I tried to start a tradition called "Annual Moved To The Boonies Party". It lasted a couple years. (Too bad, because that home was great for entertaining.)

In Swanton, Katie and I do very little entertaining. We prefer to head to the local bars.
_____

In another thread I mentioned our friends who live in the township south of Swanton. Their home is magnificent modern, impeccably decorated. They have a huge outbuilding, about the size of a 4-car 2-story garage, called "The Love Shack". It was built JUST for entertaining. The walls are lined with photos from all the different parties.....theme parties, anniversary parties, graduations, for-the-hexx-of-it parties. The building has a great sound system, a real dance floor, a balcony, a bar (naturally). To quote the famous movie phrase....."Now that's entertainment!"

Bear
 

kjel

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When my parents were still married they entertained a lot. Like ZG, my mom stayed home and we had a housekeeper and it wasn't uncommon that my mom would get a call from my dad saying he was bringing home people for dinner. We had a formal dining room with a table that seated 12 and a basement that my dad outfitted for entertaining.

I have a green Fanny Farmer's cookbook from the late 50s or early 60s that is much like the one Maister references. I think because it was de riguer for the lady of the house to stay home and it was before the days of the mega super markets and convenience food, women spent much more time in the kitchen. All of my dad's sisters were phenomenal cooks who raised, caught, trapped, or grew most of what they ate. I learned my pie making and canning skills from them. Personally I entertain very little given my very small apartment, but I have a rotating cast of friends that are an appreciative audience of my cooking.
 

Maister

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I sure have all the "stuff" to go formal: sterling silver flatware, china, crystal, but it's such a pain in the behind to use it all!
Yes, here's some physical evidence to support the idea that folks don't entertain like they used to. How many families have two sets of silver/dinnerware (inexpensive set for everyday and a fine set for company) these days? A generation ago the answer would have been most households. Usually the fine china and silverware got passed down to the next generation of daughters in succession. For that matter how many houses are built these days with formal dining rooms? A generation ago most houses with over three bedrooms would have one, now it's uncommon to find except in the highest end homes.

Like Bear's parents, my parents also did not entertain often. They had the formal dining room, fine china and wet bar to do so, but because of their cloistered personalities, they seldom had company over. The one exception was when my dad was working as an entry level exec at General Motors during the mid-late 60's - here, I recall several times where they attended and hosted company events. I believe it was part of the corporate culture at the time that one was expected to schmooze with other execs in the heirarchy during their off-hours. You'd work your entire career for GM and cocktail parties, dinners, company picnics were all part of climbing the ladder during that era. I also recall a number of sales people that didn't work at GM would attend these functions on occasion. I don't think this type of corporate culture was unique to GM either.

But getting back to physical evidence, let's compare the contents of homes four or five decades ago with today.....how many folks' dinnerware sets now includes relish trays? Does your home have a china cabinet? How about a formal tea service? (or better yet when was the last time you even hosted a 'tea' at your home?) Does your home have a wet bar? Is your home-bar equipped with a martini shaker? Swizzle sticks? How about an ice bucket with tongs? Do you have 'highball' glasses to go with it? These would all have been very common acoutrements found in most middle class homes during the era. Don't get me wrong, people still have them, but its the exception and not the rule.
 

BeansandCod

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284
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My folks entertained on occasion - cookouts with friends in the summer or a large gathering of people who were at loose ends for Thanksgiving or Christmas. My mom had at least two sets of dinnerware, the stuff we used regularly and then her wedding china that came out for special. Same with the flatware. She grew up in the 50s so much of that entertaining stuff rubbed off on her. And, in many ways it rubbed off on me.

DH and I love to entertain. We spend a lot of time coming up with the right meal, analyzing every stage and making sure we have all the bases covered. When the holidays approach I swap out the regular dinnerware for my Christmas china, and have coordinating napkins, glassware and accessories. Our bar area is equipped with glasses for scotch, beer, champagne and wines, along with stoppers and openers. They all get used quite a bit. We always keep a bottle of bubbly cold in the fridge - you never know if someone drops by and sometimes I get an urge for something fizzy.

But I don't think any of these things should be reserved for entertaining. My mom always saved special items "for good". Why? Aren't I good enough for good? So I dress my table for dinner on a Wednesday, I use cloth napkins instead of paper and bring out the kitschy cocktail plates with matching napkins even for a football game.

Why Not?
 

Gedunker

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We host a "Final Friday" party each year when the final Friday isn't New Year's Eve. It's really the only time we entertain and it's a very casual party -- sort of a long happy hour more than anything else.

When we were divvying up mom's possessions, she had a very formal set of Noritake china that neither my brother, sister, or I could use, so it's headed to the yard sale. Same for the silver flatware -- nice stuff but superfluous with the way we live today.
 

Planit

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My parents entertained and had several bridge club parties (and we boys were banished to the bedroom) - suits, cocktail dresses the whole nine yards.

Nowadays, we get a bunch of friends together for dinner and cookouts, but its very different from the late 60s/early 70s at my parents house.
 

michaelskis

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Wow... Maister must have been reading my mind. I am in the process of putting together a 4th of July Party for my building. We have a roof top deck (7 story building) and we live on the tallest hill within the city. Needless to say, we will have a great view of several different firework shows from Grand Rapids and neighboring communities.

But in this planning, *because it is being sponsored by the ‘association board’ we all needed to take in consideration the liability issues, deck loading limits, and the rest of the deck rules. So we decided that it would be best to only provide food, soft drinks, and water. We figure that everyone will be brining their own alcoholic drinks up there anyways and because the residents will also be bringing friends, we don’t want to risk the liability of providing drinks to people that we don’t know who might have to drive.

Besides, feeding people who plan on drinking will help to reduce potential problems of stupid drunk people 80 feet in the air.

The fiancée and I hosted a Christmas party that went very well. Some indoor party tips include filling the kitchen sink with ice and putting drinks in there so people don’t have to keep opening the refrigerator, having all the food in a center island or table so people can be on both sides and hang out there, and provide music but keep it at a level that people can talk across the table or island.
 

Maister

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I am in the process of putting together a 4th of July Party for my building.
A Yooper in charge of coordinating entertainment? I'm sorry, but isn't 'formal dining' in Escanaba when the host provides those baskets to put your paper plates on?
 

michaelskis

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A Yooper in charge of coordinating entertainment? I'm sorry, but isn't 'formal dining' in Escanaba when the host provides those baskets to put your paper plates on?

Dang it... I forgot those in the budget! Looks like we will have to swing by the restaurant and snag some! :-{
 

luckless pedestrian

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Grey Poupon?

My parents went to and hosted many bridge parties, replete with martini's, whiskey sours, and Manhattan's - we were banished to the remodeled basement for our own fun - there wasn't corporate entertaining because my Dad worked on the railroad, so it was friends only

Now, my husband and I do a lot of dinner parties with our friends and neighbors and we host Easter and Thanksgiving for any family that wants to come and always some stray friends and neighbors too - I don't do much corporate entertaining but we do auction off dinners for 6 for charity and we have hosted the office Christmas party 3 or 4 times over the last 20 years

I do try to see to a few details:

  • I do have 2 sets of china - one every day and one good (that we use pretty much all the time)
  • I don't have silver but my Mom said I can have one of her sets, I keep forgetting to take it when I go for a visit and I will use it for certain at holidays
  • I do not have Waterford, but we have nice Crate & Barrel glassware which does include wine goblets, beer steins, on the rocks, shot glasses, pints, sherry glasses, a lot of jelly jars for whatever, and martini glasses (champagne glasses never last long, not sure why ;))
  • I do use a tablecloth because our almost 20 year old table has a lot of wear and tear from 3 kids on it but it still stands so I am not getting rid of it
  • my cookbook is the 60 Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey for both every day and when people come over - it's great stuff
  • I do not have a formal dining room in the house we are in now, it's an open extension of the kitchen - it's okay but I do miss our formal dining room in our Victorian in Massachusetts - it had pocket doors so we could block the kids in the living room :)

Because we live in Maine, we do get invited to Solstice/Equinox parties, which is a hoot, and Fall harvest parties are also big - our neighborhood does do progressive dinners 4 times a year as well

I think gathering with other couples and families is a real boon to a marriage - it's nice to see my husband outside of paying bills and child rearing situations, you are reminded constantly of why you liked that person to begin with and you also get a break from the mundane and ordinary - it's also good to see other families and couples that go through the same mundane and ordinary tasks you do too - it's a support system for us
 

Maister

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Dang it... I forgot those in the budget! Looks like we will have to swing by the restaurant and snag some! :-{

And when you're there you really should consider picking up a couple Holiday Inn ashtrays and maybe a pair of those red and yellow ketchup and mustard dispensers. Remember, you want this event to be a cleeassy affair.
 

Mud Princess

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How many families have two sets of silver/dinnerware (inexpensive set for everyday and a fine set for company) these days? ... let's compare the contents of homes four or five decades ago with today.....how many folks' dinnerware sets now includes relish trays? Does your home have a china cabinet? How about a formal tea service? (or better yet when was the last time you even hosted a 'tea' at your home?) Does your home have a wet bar? Is your home-bar equipped with a martini shaker? Swizzle sticks? How about an ice bucket with tongs? Do you have 'highball' glasses to go with it?

Well, I've got my mom's silverware (in a fancy wooden case) as well as her china service for 12 (why 12, I've no idea, since our immediate family consisted of just 4 people). And I keep the china in my grandmother's breakfront - the name she used for the piece of furniture that's like a china cabinet. It's a pretty nice set of dishes, very contemporary, but I am always reluctant to use it. So it just sits on display most of the time, and we use our versatile stoneware instead.

We had a pair of nice 'highball' glasses for our summer gin-and-tonics on the porch, but the 2nd one slipped out of my hand while I was doing the dishes this morning and now there are none...:-(

Absolutely, my parents did some entertaining back in the '60s, inviting friends and co-workers over to the house for drinks. They were pretty social, had lots of friends who were into music, film, and literature as they were. Our living room was perfect for entertaining, as it was very open and the dining room (which we only used when company came) extended off of it.

Today, my husband and I rarely entertain. Sure, we have friends drop by for drinks on the porch during warm weather, and I'll informally invite my sister to stay for dinner, but otherwise, I can count on one hand how many dinner parties we've had in the last six or seven years. It's just easier to go out - meet friends at a bar, or have dinner together at a restaurant. Much less hassle, and no clean up. I feel kind of bad because there are two couples who have had us to their homes for dinners and parties, and we haven't yet invited them here... I guess one of these days we'll need to reciprocate. :r:
 

Queen B

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I guess I am middle of the road here. Yes I do own two sets of flatware, one every day and a gold set.
I wish I had the time and energy to entertain more. I would love to have people in and out for parties. I think the other part is that since there is relatively little entertaining that people just don't place an importance on the invitation.

In the past it would have been a huge social blunder to not show up after you were invited. Now, it is incredibly difficult to even know how many people to invite because you never know how many will show. I would at times like to invite just a few couples for dinner but about the time you figure out who would work well with others then 50-75% won't show and you say you are having a dinner party and only one couple shows it just looks bad. Not only that but they will say they are coming and just not show.

I would rather just have a informal come and crash party that I don't have to fret about.
 
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We love to have people over for dinner!! My friends and I rotate a summer holiday bash. I have Labor Day this year. Normally we have about 20 - 30 people sometimes. We also have an annual New Years' party which have some sort of theme to it. The first was a Pajama Party, 2007 was an 80s party, and this year may be a 'clash' party, where you dress up in clothes that don't match.
 

luckless pedestrian

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Off topic....

Might want to rethink that with a new baby in the house!


Au contraire!

our in-home parties and entertaining went up a notch after we had our first baby - it's cheaper than going out because there's no babysitter, babies sleep a lot and it's good for them to get used to sleeping in an active house (no tip toeing or turning down the stereo) -

then when they get older and your friends are having babies too, then you get to be like your parents and shuffle the kids off to another room or outside while you hang out with your friends -

now, after having a late baby and all our friends are done having babies, we end up entertaining a lot at our house because our little guy goes to bed at 8 and then we can have a nice dinner with our friends - or, our 14 yo has a friend sleep over and we go to someone else's house for dinner while she babysits (that's awesome!)

I assign things I am not control freaky about like a salad, an appetizer or a dessert, then I can focus on the main course and it keeps the costs down for everyone

so, no, don't slow down in that party department when baby comes, take it up a level :):e::-b:b:
 

nrschmid

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Anyone ever watch Keeping Up Appearances?

Since we are on the subject, a stupid and hillarious british comedy that is still on PBS (anything you ever wanted and didn't want to know about having formal house parties).
 

otterpop

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My parents had one party a year. New Year's Eve. I often helped get the grillade ready, which is round steak served with brown gravy over grits. They had this party faithfully up to a couple years ago when one of the guests dropped dead at the party. :-c Sort of took all the fun out of it.

We used to have parties at my house pretty regularly. My wife and her Latina freinds would come over to talk and dance. I was one of the few Anglo husbands who can sort of salsa, so I was pretty bushed by the end of the night. My son, who was five at the time, loves to dance and his favorite dance partner was a pretty Latina nursing student, much to the chagrin of her boyfriends.
 
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Off topic....

Might want to rethink that with a new baby in the house!

My only thought about not continuing the New Year's party is the loud music. For a few years now, the Mrs. Star and I simply filled a inexpensive void in our friends' live of finding something to do on New Years. Parking still sucks though.
 

cch

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The only time we have people over.. birthdays. And usually it is just family. And I never cook for them. We just order a pizza or something, or occassional grill some shrimp and veggies or something. My friends and I use to do dinner parties at each other's apartments in college, where we'd dress up and cook fancy meals, bring dates and all. But, the fun of that sort of wore off as we got older. I have fancy flatware that I inherited, and just last month my grandma gave me some fancy china that is over 50 years old and never used once. I'll probably never use any of it, and just continue to pass it down.

I have a co-worker who rotates hosting dinner parties every-other month with her neighbors, and each dinner is a sort of potluck where all the dishes have to come from a different country. She said it is fun researching the recipes and trying new stuff. I would love to do something like that, but I don't know my neighbors well enough, and something tells me I probably wouldn't even get along with most of them.
 

Maister

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Covid era bump

I wonder what effects a global pandemic is going to have on entertaining at home. For the last 40 years people have increasingly sought outside the home for parties and socialization. But covid has put roughly a quarter of all restaurants out of business. Will people seek once again to cloister in smaller groups in more controlled private environments - such as homes - or will we see a huge pent up demand unleashed and restaurants come back for entertaining bigger than ever?
 

MD Planner

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I think restaurants will come back very strong. I can tell you that the season has already started here and restaurants are slammed, even on the weekdays. It's pretty much been that way since the governor opened them back up and then incrementally lifted restrictions. We really haven't seen a surge or big increase in cases either. Of course we're also doing very well within the state as far as getting shots in arms.
 

Faust_Motel

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I'm pretty introverted at times. I swear I'm not going anywhere out of social obligation anymore. Whatever it was I thought I needed to prove, I found out I didn't. Small gatherings with people I want to be around? Hell yeah. Same thing for whatever I'm hosting.

I think restaurants will be fine; may continue to be more creative and offer more takeout than they used to.
 

HomerJ

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I would bet on demand going way up for bars and restaurants once the general public feels safe going to them. Entertaining at home may go up too since remote work has given people a little more time back, but I think that will be pretty marginal. I'll bet you see more outdoor restaurants and bars open up too as they will be a key part of people being willing to venture out.
 
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