When entertaining, there are two secrets to a host’s success: An ability to bring together people and create lasting memories, and the foresight to see — and resolve — problems before they arise. Once a week, our resident experts Mindy Lockard and Coryanne Ettiene will weigh in with helpful advice to help the modern host tackle even the stickiest of situations with grace.
This week’s question:
Nothing is worse than a dinner party that is too small due to guests who can’t RSVP. I recently invited 12 friends for a dinner party, expecting eight to 10 would be able to make it, but all said yes — and I have room only for six. What should I do? I’m thinking of disinviting some, but would I kill my "hostess-with-the-mostess" standing with friends?
Although we might be tempted to disinvite, a gracious host never, ever withdraws an invitation — that is, if she ever wants to have guests over again, as guests do talk and a "disinvite" will certainly give them something to talk about. The key here is to think ahead. Before the invite goes out, consider how many you can accommodate not just around the table, but also how many sets of dishes, glassware, and flatware you have. Invite only as many as you can fit — your “A-List” — then if someone can’t make it, invite those who are next, your “B-List,” until all seats have been filled.
In your case, where you’ve over-invited and are in a bind with not enough space, alter the formality of your get-together and food offered. We all know guests come more for the fun than anything else, so change up your seated dinner to a themed buffet or a casual potluck where people can sit on chairs, a raised hearth, even the ground. The key to being a good host is to find clever ways to make the most of what you have.
Aside from cancelling the party and starting all over again (which is an option!), there is only one occasion where it would be appropriate to disinvite a guest, and that would be when an invited couple turns into two single guests by the time the party arrives. In this scenario, the split couple will often work out the best way to approach the invitation and keep you informed of their plans so there is no need to retract the invitation. Should something dramatic occur that leaves you feeling like you need to disinvite a guest, honesty is the best approach — there is no use in making the situation more complicated by being dishonest about your decision. (Photo credit: Jane Bruce)
In general, should you absolutely have to disinvite someone, inappropriate or not, you are doing so at your own risk. A true friend, while potentially hurt by the choice, should understand the situation (rather than never speaking to you again). Make it up to them by planning a separate get-together, or sending flowers. Next time, be especially vigilant when planning the guest list — and, if it’s for cocktails, plan on a few extra plus one’s to appear, especially if your friends are single.
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