How to Keep People Out of the Kitchen 

06 Apr 2024

Hosting 101

By Anne Postic

No matter what kind of party, everyone ends up in the kitchen. Eh. That’s a little too definitive for my taste, because there are always exceptions. If you have a small ballroom, or an enormous dining room (one that seats at least 40 guests), as well as a full staff to prepare, serve and clean, then your kitchen probably doesn’t attract guests like moths to a flame. (Unless your chef is particularly attractive, charming, and single. Lucky you!) But I digress. And I have neither a ballroom nor a large dining room. Perhaps you, like me, would prefer not to be crowded in the kitchen as you put the finishing touches on your culinary creations (or, you know, stealthily remove the packaging in an attempt to pass various dishes off as your own). So, what’s an easily distracted cook without a ballroom to do?

When approaching a problem, I always start with the same premise: No one is trying to annoy me. This is doubly true when you’ve invited someone to your home for a party. People love parties! And if they really can’t stand you (unlikely, as there are usually signs), they’ll simply decline your kind invitation. So, let’s start with assuming positive intent.

As your guests arrive, if you’re still in the kitchen, they’ll join you simply to say hello. Also, it feels awkward to sit around while your host toils away in another room. No matter how stellar your culinary reputation, they ultimately came to enjoy your company. If it was just about food, they’d stay home in stretchy pants and order a fabulous meal from a restaurant. Now that we know why they’re there, let’s deal with it.

First, consider having as much of your meal prepared ahead as possible. You may be able to chop things, prepare a sauce, or set the table the day before. Of course major prep isn’t always feasible, especially in the case of impromptu invitations. If you’ll still be cooking when guests arrive, prepare a “mise en place.” Measure and set out your ingredients ahead of time, in order of how you’ll use them. This makes it much easier to socialize without losing track of what you’re doing.

Second, have your cohost or a trusted friend offer drinks as soon as people walk in the door. Load a bar cart with ice, glassware, cocktail napkins and some of the more popular drinks. Put the cart in a prominent spot in the room where you’d like people to congregate. Or just use a small table. Speaking of that trusted friend, if you live alone or live with a slacker, mentally identify a friend or two who you can ask to come a few minutes early. They can keep you company, answer the door while you touch up your lipstick, run interference as you scramble in the kitchen, offer drinks, and tell people where to put coats and bags. They can dissuade you when you start to freak out about hosting the worst party ever. They know better.

Third, prepare some small appetizers to go in the room with the drinks. This makes it obvious that you want people to hang out there. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy! Olives, nuts, cheese and crackers, whatever. People love snacks.

Fourth, be ready to at least say hello, because most guests feel weird not greeting their host, especially when said host is all stressed and sweaty in the kitchen. Bonus: if you put the snacks you’ve prepared on a tray in the kitchen, you can ask one of your earliest guests to please take that tray into the living room or wherever. This gives them a job that requires them to get out of your physical space. People love jobs.

Most importantly, remember that nothing has to be perfect. Have you ever been invited to someone’s home and later wondered why they invited you? Because the food wasn’t very good, the house wasn’t as clean as it should have been, or they didn’t give you a five-star experience? (And if you have wondered those things, please rethink your priorities. And maybe find a good therapist?) There’s a reason Yelp doesn’t let people review private parties. Because being invited to someone’s home is a privilege and a pleasure. The reason your guests follow you into the kitchen is because they’re excited to see you, and tickled pink to have made the guest list. If they’re crowding you, remind them that you’re no pro and they might want to give you a little space so they don’t get cut or burnt. And after that? Bask in the love!

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