The doorbell rings and you panic. The MIL (mother-in-law) is a party early bird—before you’ve even had time to shower or tackle the mess that is your kitchen. Soon, your long lost friend will arrive from out of town and you’ll need to be there to make introductions. Whether you’re an experienced party giver or this is your first ride on the entertaining merry-go-round, one thought crosses every hostess’ mind just minutes before the guests arrive: Is my party bound for disaster?
Nope. Never. At least not if Charles MacPherson, Canada’s most favourite Butler has anything to do with it. Because like every butler worth his weight, he makes sure that every event—from an intimate dinner with close friends to a smashing New Year’s Cocktail Extravaganza—will put you in the running for Canada’s Most Famous Hostess.
But first, what is the one element that guarantees a successful event? It’s this: Guests will have a good time if an unstressed (bathed, dressed, breathing) hostess greets with a smile at the door, puts a drink in their hand and makes sure they’ve got someone to talk to. Everything else is gravy. But how do you get there? Copy this page and post it to your fridge.
THE BUTLER’S ENTERTAINING TIPS FOR STRESS-FREE PARTIES
1. Make a list and check it twice.
We all know what needs to be done when we’re having the shindig at our house. But we keep it all in our heads, and that’s what causes stress. When you’re rushing and disorganized, things get forgotten or need to be done last minute (ever send the hubby out for ice and limes at 5 to?) Even if you’re not a list-maker by nature, you’ll want to pick up this think-ahead habit. Write down everything you need to do to prepare for your dinner or party. Then, on your calendar, note when you’re going to do each task. When you allot time for each task, from buying flowers to yes, taking a shower, you’ll make sure to accomplish everything, step by step—with time to spare.
Nobody can be everywhere and everything to everyone. Don’t be shy to hire help for kitchen duty or clean-up. Or to hand out specific tasks to family and friends. Remember though: Delegating doesn’t mean you have to lose control. Ask Mary to bring that appetizer that wowed everyone at her birthday party. Or see if Mom wants to bake her famous chocolate cake. When you control the controllables, you still get what you need. And that’s not seven cheese balls, that’s for sure.
3. Decorate with style.
Don’t make yourself crazy snazzing up every square inch of your home. How much you decorate for the party really depends on your personal style and home decor. If you’re and over-the-top person, then go for disco lights. But if you’re not, just let it go. Sometimes the best pizazz comes from fresh flowers and pretty bowls of candy and other nibblies. Flowers are a luxury classic that make everything prettier.
4. Feeding frenzy.
Buffet or sit down? Family-style or plated? Hot appetizers or cold? It all comes down to your comfort level and the venue. If your house has the flow for a buffet, it’s a great choice for a big crowd. Another fun option: A long table with platters placed family-style (think of the dinner party scene in Chocolat). There are no right or wrongs when it comes to how to serve the meal. But there are when talking hors d’oerves. Don’t serve too many, especially when there’s supper to follow. The rule of thumb is to put out 2-3 cold apps for folks to scoop up themselves and 1-2 hot ones, passed around. Once. Nobody wants to look at 3-hour-old cold cheese puffs, you know.
5. Have an emergency kit.
A brilliant idea, if the butler doesn’t say so himself. Think of everything you always need—or are asked for— during a party but can never find. We’re talking extra paper towels, band-aids, Polysporin, Tide Sticks, pens, paper, scissors. What a way to eliminate stress, right?
5 QUICK TIPS TO MAKING EVERY PARTY BETTER
1. Stay calm when the wine spills. We repeat: Do not panic when a glass tips over. It’s inevitable. Instead, grab a handful of paper towel. Press onto the spill, continually rotating the paper until it’s all mopped up. DO NOT RUB. In no time at all, the mess will be cleaned up and your heart beat will return to normal.
2. Don’t comment on the perceived shortcomings of your house. Nobody cares if your bathroom needs a paint touch up. They just want to have fun.
3. Soggy lettuce ruins a great salad. On the flip side, crisp lettuce makes a great garnish. Wash yours days ahead and wrap in paper towel so you have it at the ready.
4. Spotty glasses? Tarnished silver? Give them a quick rub with paper towels. Shine on, folks.
5. Keep a roll of paper towel and a second emergency kit in the powder room. That way, guests can clean up their own messes without ever even telling you.
The Last Word: You’re never a guest at your own party. Sure, you want to have fun, but that image you have of drifting around in a silk caftan, glass of champagne in hand is a FANTASY. When the party’s at your house, it’s your job to make sure everyone else has a good time. Don’t worry, you’ll get to wear the lampshade at Cousin Mary’s.
Charles is the founder of Charles MacPherson Associates Inc. and brings over 24 years of experience in household management as the Major Domo for one of Canada’s most prominent families and as founder and president of Charles MacPherson Associates since 1996. In 2009, Charles opened North America’s only registered school for Butlers & Household Managers in Toronto, Canada. He is recognized as a world authority in the household management and butler fields respectively.