Charlotte Moss is a New York interior designer and author who loves to entertain. She is known for her romantic rooms and inventive table settings. In her 10th book, “Charlotte Moss Entertains,” she celebrates the art of the table, sharing her opinions on stylish table settings and party planning. She also makes a case for setting the table every night in a special way, saying it’s part of making a home your own.
Moss answered reader questions in a recent live Q&A. Here are some of her thoughts on seven common entertaining dilemmas, edited for length and clarity.
Q: Is it okay to start loading your dishwasher between courses? We have a small kitchen, and I need the space on the counters. But I think it is kind of rude.
A: Loading the dishwasher means you’re not at the table with your guests. Clean up should be done after all the guests are gone. You might think about a folding table where things can be placed, but no machines should run during dinner.
Q: If you are a guest at a party and you think the lights are too bright in the dining room, can you secretly turn the dimmer down when nobody is looking? Or can you ask your hosts if the lights can be dimmer? I hate dining in lights that are harsh and bright. It ruins the mood.
A: You can do whatever you want at your own party, but let your friends have their own. There can be no end to the things that other people disapprove of.
Q: Should you help your hosts clear the table? How many people should get up if it's a dinner party of six or eight? You feel rude if others are doing it and you are just sitting there.
A: If your dinner guests are really good friends, they are probably clued into your modus operandi. However, when you invite friends to your home, you did not invite them to work.
Q: How do you handle cutlery for a buffet dinner? I have a small dining room and often have to resort to buffets. I have oversize plates, but I'm always worried about what to serve and how people will juggle the knives and forks and napkins.
A: I love the buffet format for dinners. It is a commitment to a certain type of menu, what I call “a fork dinner.” That is one requiring minimal use of a knife.
Q: We have pets but also host parties from time to time. What are your views on managing our animals during parties? They are generally well behaved, so I'd prefer to let them roam but don't want to make anyone uncomfortable.
A: Considering your guests comes first. Your party is not about your dogs. Some people may have allergies or fears, or the dogs might look at them wantingly for what’s on their plate. This is an interruption that you do not need. Don’t tempt fate.
Q: How do you know how to seat people not knowing their personalities so there is easy, flowing conversation at the table?
A: Today we have the advantage of Google, and we can find out what people do, what they’re involved with, and can gather enough information to make intelligent guesses. Sometimes strange bedfellows can be the biggest success story of the evening.
Q: We often host gatherings where everyone brings their own dish, which of course means we cede some control over the menu and presentation. How do you recommend we plan for the unexpected dish or serving situation when getting a space ready?
A: Losing control is the first problem. I think in this instance being open-minded and having a sense of humor will get you through a sticky situation. How to be prepared? Have extra dishes available that you can switch out and good serving utensils. After that, go with the flow.