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November 9, 2010

Your Guide to Hosting Dinner with the Boss

You've invited the boss to dinner, but now what? We asked the experts how to make your foray into business entertaining a success ... and found out what to serve.

woman baking

Photo Credit: TrunkArchive

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It sounded like a bold career move at the time, but now you're completely panicked. (Deep breaths!) We asked etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, author of Business Class, how to navigate the inevitably thorny issues and come out feeling like that promotion is in the bag.

Should I invite my boyfriend to a dinner party with important work associates?
I'm an advocate of inviting the spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. You can tell a lot about a person at work, but when you get to meet her significant other, it kind of puts the other pieces of the puzzle together.

What if my officemates find out? They'll think I'm a total brownnoser.
Yes, they're probably going to perceive you as someone who is trying to win favor with the boss. I personally think it looks better if you extend an invitation to more than just the boss, perhaps another junior-level colleague or two. It just seems less loaded.

Is it OK to talk shop over dinner, especially if spouses are present?
Keep it to a minimum. Definitely avoid doom and gloom, like impending layoffs or missed quarterly projections. It's dinner. Everyone's there to have a good time.

What if my boss wants the grand tour? My bedroom is a disaster zone.
You have to assume when you have a party that everybody's going to want to see your place. So clean up top to bottom. If you know that there's a room that you'd rather not show, just keep the door closed, which is a clear indication that it's not OK to enter.

I normally like a glass of wine (or two) with dinner. Is that OK?
When I'm with a client, I keep it professional. If she wants alcohol, you can have a glass. If she doesn't, than you shouldn't. Just be careful — don't lose sight of the fact that you're still being evaluated.

Can I mention the promotion I'm up for?
Unless someone else brings it up, it looks self-serving. Dinner at your home isn't the right forum, and your boss might feel ambushed. Remember, you're there to showcase your hospitality and social skills. Leave the rest for the office.


Even if dinner at your house usually comes in a take-out container, you'll need to step it up if you're expecting VIP company. But don't get too ambitious, advises Jamee Gregory, author of New York Parties, who suggests this chic yet easy-to-execute menu. (Avoid embarrassing snafus by doing a dry run of all your courses for some friends in advance.) And yes, it's OK to order the food from a restaurant — just make sure it remains your little secret. "Don't ask, don't tell. That's what I always say," adds Gregory.

Hors d'oeuvres: A simple crudités platter loaded with veggies and dip. Offer guests a glass of wine — Gregory's favorite under-$20 whites are from Saint Véran — and let them chitchat while you prepare your first course. If dinner is called for 7:30, serve no later than 8.

Appetizers: Look for smallish honeydew melons, slice in half, and remove the seeds. With a melon baller, scoop out the flesh, then put the scoops back in the melon half. Splash with some port or lemon and top with sprigs of mint. Inexpensive but very impressive.

Entrée "I always serve chicken — only white meat," says Gregory. "It's a safe bet and healthy." Gregory's favorite: chicken curry with basmati rice (get a great recipe here!). Decorate your table with blue and white ceramic bowls and porcelain noodle spoons and fill them with slivered almonds, coconut, raisins, and chutney — the perfect "fixins" for curry. Regardless of what you're serving, keep butter and a basket of bread on the table.

Dessert: Hit up your local bakery for a pie-size meringue shell. Spread with a light layer of whipped cream and top with sliced strawberries and vanilla ice cream. Serve on a large platter with chocolate sauce and whole strawberries on the side. "It looks so festive and always makes people gasp," Gregory says. Afterward, move your guests to the couch for coffee. Put out a bowl of candied orange peels or chocolate coffee beans, just in case someone's still hankering for something sweet.

Table settings: Opt for a colorful tablecloth or place mats with a matching floral arrangement in the same hue. Keep it simple — two dozen or so of a single flower, their stems cut short so they peek out right above your vase. "You want to make sure you can see your boss over them," says Gregory.

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