As a cooking aficionado and single woman from Hawaii stationed in Baltimore for a medical residency, Lena Stewart learned how to make room for all her leftovers by hosting elaborate dinners for professional stragglers far away from home; those who have no time or will to head home go for the holidays. A Christmas dinner in 2009 for 4 close friends turned into a festive meal for 32, most of whom were strangers to Lena – friends of friends and then some of their friends.
For 28 year old Lena, saying no to guests was not an option and with that began her supper-at-home for singles tradition. And it’s not too late for you to do the same now that Passover and Easter are fast upon us. Here are some tips for pulling a solo-friendly gathering together just in time for the holidays:
1. Warm Up with a Meet and Greet: When guests bring guests to a holiday celebration, the crowd needs a little time getting to know one another. Kick start the event and spark conversation with a pre-dinner reception. Just be sure to pass around appetizers and drinks to tide people over until the main meal is served.
2. Mix Up and Match the Seating: If you are planning an elaborate sit down meal, make sure to seat guests who don’t know anyone alongside one another or next to individuals who you know are friendly and welcoming. And don’t try to play matchmaker! Instead plan a game of musical chairs by asking guests to swap seats when each new course is being served.
3. Try Not to Obstruct the Views: If you want table talk to flow, it’s up to you to get creative! Since the theme for this holiday is spring, why not fill a clear bowl with colorful seasonal stone fruit like cherries, plums, apricots and peaches! It’s also nice to include individual centerpieces such as mini candy baskets, tea light candles or bud vases with a single stem near each place setting. Make sure to avoid (or remove) tall floral arrangements, candlesticks and anything else that may prevent people from seeing and/or talking to one another.
4. Choose Foods Wisely: Holiday foods such as gefilte fish and chopped liver or roasted ham and pork are not for all crowds. Try to anticipate guests’ dietary and food preferences and make sure to have substitutes to satisfy individuals who are vegetarians, kosher, highly allergic or unfamiliar with certain dishes. And don’t kill yourself cooking everything from scratch! Scour local gourmet food shops for prepared entrées, side dishes or desserts and make sure to put in your orders in advance!
5. Make it Meaningful and Interactive: When it comes to the holidays everyone has their own separate customs and traditions. Make guests feel at home and interact with one another by inviting them to bring something meaningful along with them such as a holiday tradition, dish, song or story and have each one of them take turns sharing a piece of their past, heritage and where they come from.
6. Get Help Where You Need It: Need a server, bartender, table setter or someone to work the crowd while you are busy cooking? Remember, you can take a little help from your friends especially at holiday time. Take the pressure off by creating a list of everything you need and assigning tasks to those best suited to get the job done!