10 Ways To Impress Your Guests

(Without doing anything difficult) 

You know how it is. You go out, to a friend's place or spend time with an acquaintance, and have the most marvellous time. You'll marvel at their table settings, the flower arrangement in their hall, and the way they just manage to charm everyone around them. And you leave for home, happy and uplifted. But, by the time you get your key in the door, you're already worrying about the return leg. When you have to entertain. Okay, they're your friends and they'll love you no matter what you serve up, but what if you have to cater, or just entertain, complete strangers?  How do you impress them?

Over the years, here at Raggedy Ann Girl, we've worked out a few simple things guaranteed to impress everyone and not take hours to enact. And, you know what? They might even do the trick on those relatives who are never impressed by anything …


1 Pay attention to details.

Dust, vacuum and plump cushions before everyone arrives. Light a scented candle in the bathroom. Make sure the bed (or whatever surface you intend to stack coats etc) is clean of animal fur. Remove anything you don't want people to see. Light a few candles in lanterns, dim the lights and make sure you have coasters where you want guests to place their glasses.


2 Set a pretty table.

I know, I know, there are all kinds of wonderful things you can do with napkins and centrepieces. And I've tried that, I really have. But I'm afraid my artistic efforts end up more Jackson Pollack than Joshua Reynolds. Far better to keep it simple. Don't worry about flowers or anything fancy. If you want to be festive, sprinkle some toning table confetti around. Otherwise, clean linen napkins, matching crockery and cutlery and a few candles on the table, make for an impressive, yet laid back, table. If you have more guests than you have matching place settings, worry not. Mix up a few things, make sure everything looks eclectic and make it seem deliberate.


3 Have nice, appropriate music playing.  

Okay, we're not trying to recreate a theme park here, and you don't have to match Tacos to mariachi music, but something that at least nods to the evening ahead provides a welcome that puts people right in the mood. If in doubt, and for a classy restaurant feel, opt for Sinatra, Martin and the gang, or for a night in with the girls, I find it's hard to beat Edith Piaf.


4 Introduce people to each other.

How many times have you been at a 'do' where you don't know anyone? As a host or hostess, you might assume that people are going to just chat along without you, but most of us are shy in company.  No need to make a fuss, just a name and how you know that person should suffice. We shy types need someone to break the ice. Don't rely on the consumption of alcohol to do it for you.  


5 Remember people's names.

Okay, I'll admit, I'm rubbish at this. I have some kind of mental block when it comes to recalling names of people I've just met. To be honest, I've been known to temporarily 'mislay' the names of people I've known for years. I think I get it from my Granddad Buckler (who, to my knowledge, never remembered anyone's names – including those of his immediate family). But I do try. Because it's really nice when someone has paid enough attention to remember my own. If you're good at this, you'll show instant class. And if you have five minutes, tell me how you do it …


6 Know how to fix at least one classic cocktail.

Being able to stir up a classy martini, a tropical margarita, a super-chic mojito or a fun tequila sunrise is always going to impress guests. Particularly if you can serve it in the appropriate glass. If you're trying to make a serious statement, perhaps stay away from anything brightly coloured or containing a cocktail umbrella. Otherwise? Why not?


7 Make something from scratch.

Yes, you can get away with buying in much of what you offer your guests. But try to make at least one thing. A soup, the bread, a dessert, some cakes, even the after-dinner chocolates. Your guests will be so impressed. And they'll remember it. And tell people. Job done.


8 Have a signature dish.

We all have a signature dish. We just might not all realise it yet. Think of something you can cook well. Something you enjoy making and, perhaps, have put your own twist on. That favourite, probably quite simple, pasta dish or a heart-warming soup or a delicious casserole? Make that your signature dish. Mine happen to be a vodka-tomato pasta I got from a Nigella Lawson book and Swedish poached salmon with dill and akavit that I made up myself.  Sound fancy, don't they? And yet they are so simple. And quick. And almost foolproof.


9 Know how to make proper tea and coffee

Nothing finishes off a meal better than a relaxing tea or coffee. And nothing says 'hostess with the mostess' more than tea made from proper leaf tea in a proper teapot, or coffee made from actual coffee grains and delivered to the table on a tray. 


10 Above all. Relax.

Keep in mind that people have come to your home to enjoy themselves. Don't try to enforce a strict schedule on them. If you have really strong ideas of where they should sit at dinner, write out place markers. Otherwise, let it be and roll with it. Unless you want a dinner party reminiscent of an Alan Ayckbourn or Mike Leigh play …