It goes without saying that hosting is an art. It takes a certain finesse to pull off the perfect dinner party, especially one centred around the year-end holidays. Here, as we sit down with etiquette expert, Astrie Sunindar-Ratner of A – The Etiquette Consultancy, and speaker and host, Simone Heng, they share their top hosting tips on how to organise the celebration of the year.
Astrie Sunindar-Ratner on entertaining in style
Many of us find the idea of entertaining at home stress-inducing. I certainly used to think so; I’d overthink the whole event and often spend the days leading up to it fretting over which aspect of it I would overlook. To put my mind at ease, I eventually came up with a formula that I could use for any type of event and developed an easy pre-hosting checklist to follow. This worked wonders for my pre-dinner jitters and I began relishing the opportunity to entertain at home.
Theme: Deciding on a theme will help you stay focused and provide direction for the colour scheme, dishes, drinks and music.
Guest list: To me, this is probably one of the most important parts of hosting. This is when you need to get creative but also be mindful and considerate. Hosting is all about making sure everyone feels included and welcome.
Table setting: Decide whether your meal will be formal or informal. If it’s formal, keep it simple. Formal dining is all about quality over quantity. Start off with gorgeous table linen and napkins that are well-ironed—I prefer white for formal events, in linen cloth, damask or embroidered cloth. Use your prized silverware and special plates. For formal plates, I suggest plain or printed plates with gold or silver trims—get a unique set if you host often; these can be family heirlooms to pass down to the next generation. If it’s informal, be as creative as you want but stick to the theme, and ensure all the colours come together nicely. Linens and napkins can be in any fabric and colour, but never use plastic covers on top of your tablecloth.
Finishing touches: This completes the look and feel of your dinner and I believe the more personalised it is, the better. Have flowers where possible, and a handwritten or digitally designed menu (Canva is my top tip for lovely menus). Also take time to prepare handwritten place cards and candles—remember not to use scented candles on the dining table, but put your favourite scents at the entrance or living area. Finally, create your own party playlist in advance as this lends a wonderful atmosphere conducive to an unforgettable night for all.
Overall entertaining: Go with what you’re comfortable with and the night will go smoothly. When the host is happy and relaxed, your guests will unwind and have the best time. Have drinks and canapes prepared, and take a moment to appreciate the looks of delight on your guests’ faces as they eat and make merry. That moment is truly priceless.
Simone Heng on forging genuine human connections
It’s interesting to think about what makes a good party. When I lived in Dubai, I went to some of the most incredible ones. But as I’ve gotten older—and especially with the influence of COVID-19—I’ve distilled it down to one thing. What you really need for a good party is connection. It’s possible to be surrounded by people and yet feel lonely; that’s what happens when everyone is standing around not really talking to each other. So as an antidote to the pandemic, this festive season we want the opposite of that.
As a host, your most important job is to disseminate information. Tell people where the toilet is—or if your toilet has some funky-junky plumbing, like the shophouse that I live in. Ensure that the ladies know where they can dispose of their lady stuff if they need to. Making good, thorough introductions is also a part of this. We sometimes have what we call an orphan’s Christmas at our place, with family but also all our friends who weren’t flying home for the festive season. It’s a diverse group of people—and that’s when conversation can be tricky sometimes. Obviously, what my British expat friend does day-to-day is different from my Singaporean cousin.
“COVID-19 has atrophied some of our social skills, but shift your mindset from being ashamed of that to accepting that it’s a beautiful, communal experience”
It’s bridging that gap that forms cohesion across the dinner table and facilitates conversation. As a host, I usually get my guests to introduce themselves by saying where they’re from and what they do, and then reveal something not many people would know about them. It’s a fantastic way for everyone to show some vulnerability and find material to connect on. Going around the table with questions like ‘What is the worst haircut you have ever gotten?’ always gets people launching into fun stories that others can build upon.
COVID-19 has atrophied some of our social skills, but shift your mindset from being ashamed of that to accepting that it’s a beautiful, communal experience. Your job as a host is to have the confidence to command the room. If there’s a lull in conversation, for example, you can go, ‘Hey guys, we are going to play a little game here’. It’s okay to be a little socially awkward, especially after an era of social distancing—the key is to make everyone feel warm, included and at home.
Foolproof pre-hosting routine
Plan: Plan your seating chart once your guest list is confirmed. Seat people in interesting combinations, identifying points of relatability you can raise in your introductions.
Prepare: Prep the house with essentials like clean hand towels.
Pose: If you’re feeling socially anxious, don’t underestimate the effectiveness of power poses. Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on body language has some good examples.
Phone: Be contactable on your phone for the 30 to 45 minutes before your party starts in case your guests need to contact you.
Play: An easy way to bring the joy in is a game like Cards Against Humanity. Stock up on a few and you’ll always have something to engage your guests with.
Photographer Darren Gabriel Leow
Styling Desmond Lim
Location Madame Fan
Hair Marc Teng using Keune Haircosmetics
Make-up Dollei Seah/Makeup Entourage using Charlotte Tilbury
Photographer’s assistant Halid
Fashion assistant Joey Tan
Make-up assistant Mandy Yeo
Model Nina Monzolevska/Ave Management, Yin Guo/Ave Management and Alexis Cook/Now Models.