Hosting Tips Every Grandma Wishes You Knew

"Sit up straight." "Elbows in." "Did you ask to be excused?" We all remember being cajoled and admonished by Grandma for our table manners growing up (and she'd frankly be floored to see how we eat now: on the coffee table, sitting on the floor). But we've got to hand it to her — for all of her obsession over manners, Grandma also knew how to throw a dope dinner party.

It's no surprise. She came of age in the time of Mad Men, and her stocked bar cart still rivals some of the best. She knows how to make a real Manhattan. And her wedding china is a lot nicer than the mismatched Ikea plates we've been using.

But rather than send you, tail between your legs, straight to the source, we've collected the tips we know she wishes you knew. Now's the time to put them to good use!

Make a seating chart

It may seem old-fashioned, but Grandma would be adamant: Break out those place cards because the host deciding where people sit is a tradition we're all in favor of upholding. Not only does it negate that weird, awkward energy when people are hovering around the table trying to figure out where to sit, but a seating chart allows you to consider — well in advance! — how the conversation might flow. Think about who's shy and tough to coax out of their shell, think about which of your guests have things in common, and think, too, about who's likely to start lively debates. (All in good taste, of course!)

Country Living recommends separating couples at the table to help conversation flow better and to seat intellectuals across from one another so that they converse across the table. The entertainer of the table should go at the head, to keep the party going. 

Giving the dynamic this consideration before the first guest even walks through the door is the sign of a good host or hostess — and something Grandma will be proud to see.

Choose tried and true recipes -- but pick exciting ones!

If every time you head over to Grandma's, you can bet on the fact that the menu will be the same, that's perhaps no surprise. Good hosts and hostesses know that a dinner party is never the time to test out a new recipe, and etiquette specialists agree. Try out new recipes on your family or best friends, but when you've got a crowd coming, testing something new could be a recipe for disaster.

Over time, Grandma probably has some tried-and-true specialties, from crab-stuffed avocado to roast chicken to pot roast, but you can also deviate from tradition with more modern fare and international influences. Why not cook up a tagine or break out the retro fondue pot? Just be sure you steer clear of anything boring – and give the recipe a test run before serving it up to six of your nearest and dearest — and you'll avoid disaster for sure.

Make the food in advance

If Grandma's pot roast or beef stew are champions of her dinner party table, it's not just because, after 40 years, she's mastered the recipes so well she can make them in her sleep. These long-simmering recipes are members of that delightful category of set-it-and-forget-it dishes that make entertaining a breeze. And you can use this knowledge to your advantage!

If Grandma hasn't passed on her hand-written recipe cards yet, though, we've got you covered. Slow cooker recipes are the perfect way to feed your friends something delicious without finding yourself spending the entire party in the kitchen. And perhaps best of all: Many of these dishes only get better with time, so you can do much of your cooking in advance and just reheat and serve to keep from being totally stressed out the day of your party. After all, if there's one thing Grandma's a particular master (er, mistress) of, it's being a cool, calm, collected hostess.

Get enough wine

There's nothing worse than a dinner party that's just hit its stride crumbling apart at the seams because the wine's all gone. And you definitely don't want to go grabbing bottles you've been keeping for a special occasion at the end of the night when people's palates are far from sharp. So, choosing the wine you want to serve — and making sure it's all at the right temperature before your guests arrive — is definitely a tip that would make Grandma proud.

As for how much wine is enough wine? You'll probably want about a bottle per person — that's five glasses, give or take, per person, over the course of the meal. Of course, it's likely that some guests will drink less, but it's better to have leftovers than to not have enough. Always serve your best wine first, saving the less interesting bottles for the end of the evening when people are a bit more ... how would Grandma say it? Merry.

Offer (or make!) drink tags

Certain etiquette practices, from men opening doors for women to the multitude of forks served at a fancy dinner party, may seem old-school and rigid. But the whole idea behind etiquette is truly to make people comfortable. And nothing could make people more comfortable, in the days of COVID, than knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt which glass is theirs.

Maybe Grandma didn't have the cutest name tags around (or even pretty charms to decorate the glass' stems), but we still think she'd agree that these days, a name marker, be it store-bought or homemade, is a great way to keep your guests comfortable (and to keep the host from continuously having to wash out new glasses!). You can supply charms to each guest, make name tags, or even provide dry erase markers to allow guests to personalize their own glasses. That way, no matter how often (or where!) they set them down, they'll always find them again.

Set out the nice plates

If you grew up in a house with a cupboard or cabinet filled with "nice plates," you know: For most of our grandmas, there are plates for everyday use and plates for "company." And while having full sets of fine china may not be part of day-to-day life these days, we think Grandma would be proud if you at least had some unchipped plates that match (and that don't have cartoon characters on them) for your next soirée.

Generally, it's best to keep things neutral and simple so your nice dinner plates can do with everything else you already have in your kitchen and dining room. Ceramic is always a good option, and we like plates that come in white, beige, or another versatile tone. And these don't have to be expensive, either — you may even be able to find a great set of matching plates at your local secondhand store if you can't find what you're looking for elsewhere.

Curate the perfect playlist

If you watched Betty Draper plan the famous Heineken dinner party on Mad Men, you know that no detail of a dinner party was spared attention back in Grandma's day, from what was served to who sat where to what records were playing. And these days, even those without a record collection have a panoply of tunes within reach, thanks to streaming services like Spotify.

These selections help you set the mood no matter the vibe of your party, from cultured cocktail hour to al fresco soirée to boozy afterparty. Choose one of the premade playlists or craft your own (keeping Grandma in mind, of course: no coarse language!). And pick wisely: The tunes you choose will help create and curate the ideal ambiance among your guests, stretching from the cocktail hour all the way through to the dessert. If you love music, this is where you get to have some fun!

Accept help, but delegate

These days, we're expected to do it all, but back in the day, Grandma may well have had a bit of help from a housekeeper, cook, or maid. If nothing else, she at least had Grandpa there to open the door and mix drinks. So if you're throwing your party solo (or your SO's cocktail shaking skills leave something to be desired), feel free to accept help from your nearest and dearest. People love to be helpful, so the next time someone asks, "Is there anything I can bring?" say yes — and delegate.

The problem with saying, "Sure, bring whatever you like!" is that you might end up with six bottles of wine (Okay, that one's not a huge problem ...) or six bags of chips. Instead, you can ask guests to bring something simple. Don't get too specific — asking them to bring a dessert or a side is easy and doesn't put too much pressure on them.

And if you're stressed at the thought of hosting solo, ask your best friend to show up a half-hour before anyone else. Not only will none of your other guests have the awkward honor of being first, but you'll have an extra pair of hands for last-minute tasks.

Stimulate conversation among shy guests

We don't talk about politics, sex, or religion at Grandma's table, and while in our opinion, it's totally up to you what conversation topics you want to forbid, one thing we can glean from Grandma's toolkit is her natural ability to draw folks into the conversation. 

It's the mark of a great host or hostess to incite interesting small talk around the table, steering the conversation — as per the advice of Daniel Menaker, author of "A Good Talk" — toward topics that spark interesting discussions and even lively debates. Speaking to Quartz, he recommends three categories of conversation topic: science, portmanteaus, and unusual art exhibits. Groupia, meanwhile, offers a panoply of conversation starters on topics ranging from superficial to deep, meaningful to quirky and weird. Arm yourself with your favorites, and you'll get even the shyest of guests out of their shells for a dinner party everyone will remember fondly.

Don't let guests do the dishes

While we no longer stand on ceremony when it comes to seating guests by gender or relegating the ladies to the kitchen, one tip Grandma stood by that we are still wholeheartedly in favor of is undoubtedly dish duty: No matter how much your guests offer or plead to be of service, hosting experts everywhere agree that dish duty should be the host's responsibility.

"I rarely allow guests to help with the dishes," etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, tells Martha Stewart. "This is the host's job. Only close friends and family members should offer to help if assistance is needed."

So instead of taking folks up on their offer to help clean up, just decline with a "thank you" and a smile. You may end up with more work once your guests have gone, but Grandma would surely be proud!