I recently watched the movie Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, which tells the story of the legendary Hollywood manager who’s credited with managing and helping to launch the careers of people as storied as Alice Cooper, Sly Stallone and Michael Douglas. He’s even credited with inventing the entire Celebrity Chef movement, Emeril Lagasse is a longtime client. But what impressed me most about Gordon aren’t his professional achievements, but his outlook on entertaining, an outlook that was passed down to him from one of his mentors, the famous chef Roger Vergé: when it comes to entertaining it should never be about what you want.
Gordon has an open door policy at his home, people come and go as they please and at least once a week, he’s hosting a dinner. What he’s learned over the years about entertaining is that parties and dinners are the best when you put your guests first. While this might seem like a “no duh” moment, it’s worth repeating, especially when you consider all the stress that comes with hosting a dinner party. If you want the evening to go smoothly, make it about your guests, not you.
The majority of friction that comes from an evening with friends is often when the evening doesn’t go as you’d planned. Assume that’s going to happen right out of the gate, and roll with it. Say you’ve made a spicy Indian meal and paired it with a delicious Riesling you’ve been waiting to open, but one of your guests can’t stomach spicy food and another doesn’t have a taste for Riesling, rather than force feeding the pair, or getting upset about it, accommodate them instead; open a different bottle for the friend – who cares if you think the Riesling is a perfect pairing – and make a grilled cheese for the other. A night doesn’t necessarily have to unfold the way you imagined for it to still be a success. The curve balls are what make the night interesting.
As Gordon discussed in the film, entertaining is all about bringing interesting people together and facilitating great conversation. Gordon even goes so far as forbidding any discussion of work at all – a night out isn’t the time to pitch someone on a new idea. He sees his role at a party as the one bringing people together and ensuring everyone has a good time, not the person whom the spotlight should be squarely focused on.
If someone’s in your most comfortable chair, who cares? As the host, sit somewhere else for the evening and let your guest enjoy the seat. And don’t obsess over things like controlling the conversation, or search for praise of your food and drink – asking people over and over again if they like the wine or have any issues with the meal. If people are having a good time, that should be all the praise you need.
Entertaining is about making other people happy. If that’s your focus, you’ll facilitate evenings people want to return to again and again. Remember, it’s never about what you want.
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