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After a socially distanced year and a half, the thought of being reunited with family and friends in our own homes again is almost too good to be true. If a house filled top-to-bottom with loved ones sounds wonderful, but you can’t quite wrap your head around the planning that gets you there, you’re not the only one. With this in mind, we enlisted the help of OKA Co-Founder and hostess extraordinaire Sue Jones, who shares her expert advice for entertaining in a distinctly British way. It’s all about providing the comforts of home with minimal fuss and, perhaps ironically, allowing your guests a bit of space.
“There’s a great appetite to get out again, and the thing I’m most looking forward to is just sitting down and chatting,” says Sue. “I’ve missed that so much; we all have I think—everyone’s a bit Zoomed out.” This is a sentiment that most people can relate to, but before we reach those halcyon moments, it’s time to get ready for your guests. So, where to begin? For Sue, preparation is key. “Do as much as you can beforehand,” she advises. “If you’re running around looking harassed and busy when people arrive, they’ll feel guilty,”—not the best sensation.
Getting organized covers a wide spectrum of bases, but let’s start with the most important element: the guest bedrooms. According to Sue, these should be treated like a luxury hotel experience; as quiet, peaceful and private as possible, so guests can go at their own pace. Because, she muses, “why should I ask people to come and stay in my house, if they’re less comfortable than they would be at home?” Think white cotton sheets, sweet-smelling fresh flowers by the bed and a designated space to make tea and coffee, if you have the room. It goes without saying that everything should be perfectly in place for when your guests arrive.
The food is another thing to check off your list when it comes to preparing. Sue’s tips include making a list of any dietary restrictions or foods that guests like and dislike—“I’m terrified of vegans; we’re big meat eaters,” she laughs—then planning the menu around these items. Cooking seasonally is another preference, to ensure you’ll be serving the highest quality produce at your table. “I like to shop locally for dinner parties; I like seeing what I’m buying and love to support small businesses,” she says. “Plus, I’m always worried that an online order won’t turn up in time, but it’s always wise to have a well-stocked freezer in case something goes wrong!”
At mealtimes—which should be set and communicated to guests—split up your duties, advises Sue, whose husband is always the master mixologist. “I never ask anyone to help with the cooking unless they’re absolutely brilliant at it, so I’m happy to leave my husband to do the talking and get on with the drinks while I sort out the food.” There’s something so special about sharing food face-to-face, especially after such a long time, so now is the time to embrace “restaurant life” and enjoy long, leisurely lunches and dinners—“there’s nothing worse than feeling rushed,” she says.
When it comes to the table, it’s important to ensure that nothing looks too casual; making an effort shows your guests that you’re pleased to see them. “When your tabletop looks lovely, you’re halfway to having a good time,” muses Sue. So, regardless of whether you’re by the pool or in the dining room, always set the table with pretty china and your best glassware, and add fun little details, whether that’s candle holders or a floral centerpiece. If you’re mixing and matching different groups of people, make sure to include place names to avoid any awkwardness when it comes to sitting down. After the past year, though, “we all ought to wear name badges anyway in case we’ve forgotten what to call each other,” chuckles Sue.
The most important thing, however, is to ensure your guests are relaxed and comfortable. That, for Sue, is the host’s “fundamental requirement.” “I always feel sorry for guests, they’re at the host’s mercy,” laughs Sue. “There’s nothing worse than feeling out of place in someone’s home, you might as well not have gone at all.” So, keep this thought at the front of your mind when entertaining; make sure there are things for people to read and watch if they so choose, that they feel able to help themselves or can slip away for a walk if they like.
Now that you have all the tips and tricks, you can start getting excited about the long-awaited get-togethers, hugs included.