So, you’ve decorated the tree, got most of the shopping done, helped the kids with their homework and made Christmas cookies. That leaves just enough energy to make it over to the couch and collapse until the New Year’s Day.
The thought of entertaining on top of everything else during this hectic time of the year sends most folks into a tizzy. Who’s got time to cook and clean the house?
That’s why I like to throw my dinner parties at restaurants.
That way, somebody else does the cooking and cleaning up. They wait on you. Everyone gets to eat what they like. What could be better?
I’d love to treat all my buddies to a meal out. Right after I win the lottery.
But you don’t have to wait for an unlikely windfall. It’s perfectly appropriate to ask friends to join you for dinner at a restaurant, Dutch Treat.
There are a few simple steps you can take to pull off the perfect party at a restaurant. Here’s the scoop on easy entertaining:
X marks the spot
Pick a place that suits the occasion. You can go casual (The Onion, Spaghetti Factory, Frank’s Dairy Freeze) or do it up big at some elegant venue (Clink’s, Beverly’s, Luna).
It would probably help if you were familiar with the menu, so you know if everyone will be happy. (Any vegetarians in the group? Better skip the steakhouse this time.)
If you don’t know what’s on the bill o’ fare, call up and ask. Inquire whether daily specials are offered or if substitutions can be made on the menu.
Once you’ve settled on the spot, get on the horn and issue the invites. Or, if you want to get the Miss Manners seal of approval, send out written notices.
Dust off the datebook
The farther out you schedule something, the better.
Tables get booked quickly during the holidays, especially with larger parties. Scheduling something at least a week ahead of time also allows restaurants to make an extra effort.
“If we have some notice, we can do some special things like get flowers or order a cake,” said Tim Rooney, owner of Jake’s on the Lake in Hayden Lake.
Be sure and ask what they can do for you.
At the very least, making reservations early means that you should have a crack at a choice table.
Rooney said: “When we have parties in here for a special event, we try to give them a table with some privacy.”
At Rock City Grill, owner Jim Rhoades usually steers people in the opposite direction.
“A lot of people might prefer to be in our back room, but I try to talk them into coming into the regular dining room, into the center of the action,” Rhoades said. “If you’re stuck in the back, it could become the most boring thing you can do, especially if you have people who don’t know each other very well.”
That restaurant’s boisterous atmosphere can add energy to your gathering, if that’s what you’re after. There are plenty of other spots for quiet conversation.
One of Spokane’s hidden treasures is the dark recesses of Patsy Clark’s. That restaurant’s reputation as a special occasion haunt is solid, but even most regulars don’t know that down a narrow spiral staircase, there’s a private dining room in the restaurant’s impressive wine cellar.
Put together a group of 12 and you’ve got the place to yourself for no additional room charge. (Any fewer and there’s a fee.)
It doesn’t hurt to ask if there’s any kind of special space at the restaurant you have in mind.
Make a list, check it twice
When you’re setting things up, be as specific as possible. Restaurateurs try to be accommodating, but they are not mind readers.
“You should talk to the restaurant and tell them about any dietary restrictions or spell out special requests,” said Meg Edwards, chef at Fugazzi.
Obviously, you need to let them know how many people will be in your party, but you should also say whether any of those folks are kids who need high chairs or booster seats or if they need to leave room for a wheelchair.
If there’s going to be a gift exchange, request a little extra space where presents can be stowed.
It’s always a good idea when making a reservation to specify whether you want an out-of-the-way table or something smack in the middle of everything. Tell them if you prefer a booth or a table.
Some eateries have a service charge for tables of six or more. Be sure and ask, so you don’t get zinged when the bill comes.
Also, ask if it’s possible to do separate checks. If not, bring a calculator or invite an accountant.
Be a host with the most
Even if you’re not picking up the tab, you can still play host.
Of course, guests should be told up front if they’re buying their own dinner. But if you’re doing the organizing, spring for a bottle of wine, some appetizers or a dessert. Make a gesture. People appreciate that.
If it’s appropriate, arrive a little early and decorate the table. This week, I arranged a champagne tasting at Cafe 5-Ten and brought in some “Happy New Year” paraphernalia. Sure, I’m rushing the season with those noisemakers and that confetti. But only in the same spirit as those merchants who start the Christmas carols well before Thanksgiving.
Mix things up a bit and make placecards. Split couples up for the evening. That can lead to some interesting discussions.
Even if people have RSVPed, give them a reminder call on the day of the event. Of course, after you throw one of these successful soirees, guests will look forward to the next one and won’t need to be nagged.
Don’t wait for a special occasion
I’ve heard of lots of informal dinner groups, who get together regularly just to enjoy each other’s company.
Carol Phillips has been meeting monthly with her friends for 12 years.
“We met doing theater work at Civic and all came from different walks of life, but we had such a good time together we’ve kept it up,” Phillips said.
They try to hit a different restaurant every time and talk about the food, sometimes critically.
“If we don’t like a place, we won’t go back,” she said. “But the food is almost beside the point. We just enjoy getting together.”
Mind your manners
If you’ve made a reservation, but have to bag it at the last minute, call to cancel.
“We have had to turn people away because we had a large table reserved and they never showed up,” said Edwards at Fugazzi.
Finally, be respectful of other patrons. Keep the noise level down if it’s a small intimate place.
Either that, or invite others to join in. A good party is hard to resist.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Do yourself a party favor Ring-a-ding-ding. Holiday party season is in full swing and if you don’t have the energy to entertain at home, have a dinner party at your favorite restaurant. Here’s how: Select a spot you like. Make sure there’s enough variety to the menu to please everyone. And that the prices won’t be too hard to swallow. If it’s Dutch Treat, let people know. But be a host with the most and buy a round of hors d’ouevres or pay for dessert. When making reservations, hammer out the details with the restaurant. If you want a booth, ask. If someone in your group has dietary restrictions, mention that. Be creative. Bring decorations for your table. Buy a toy tiara for the “Birthday Queen.” Pick a theme and ask your pals to join in, like wearing vintage ‘60s stuff for a martini tasting. Don’t wait for a special occasion. Life is hectic. Who’s got time to clean the house AND cook dinner for 12? Sharing a meal with friends at a restaurant is an easy way to socialize and maintain your sanity.