On a bitter cold night in the dead of winter, an invitation to dinner at someone's home is a welcome treat.
But it's no fun if you take off your boots at the front door and find yourself barefoot on frigid wood floors, or if you spend the evening shivering, wondering whether you have the nerve to bump up the thermostat a few degrees when nobody's looking. (More on that later.)
Throwing a party during an Arctic blast or after a blizzard is a wonderful way to bring housebound friends together to try to forget the misery that is the outdoors. Consider the weather when planning your party, say entertaining experts, and channel hygge, the Danish winter mode that involves hot tea, hand-knit throws and log fires. Dump the icy cocktails, heat up some glogg and get a fire going, even if it's a fire pit in the back yard. Light lots of candles and serve comfort foods. What you want for a winter party is an atmosphere of coziness and warmth — both mentally and physically.
"I think that when people come in out of the cold, it's so nice to give them something in a mug that will warm their hands," says Susan Gage, founder of the Washington catering firm that bears her name. "It makes them feel welcome immediately." She suggests hearty food, such a boeuf bourguignon and warm bread pudding or apple crisp.
If your home follows a no-shoes policy, you might want to make an exception. "In the winter, women aren't used to being barefoot," says Mindy Lockard, an etiquette expert and consultant. Our toes might not be well kept or we might have a hole in our sock. Relax your rules about shoes, or at least provide a basket of socks."
Hosts should keep their homes at a temperature that most people feel comfortable. Lockard says there are no strict guidelines about this, but she would recommend a starting party temperature of 70 to 73 degrees.
"As a host, it's important to monitor and adjust the temperature during a party as it's important to adjust the music," says Carla McDonald, founder of the Salonniere, a website dedicated to the art of entertaining. A house full of people and a hot stove may raise the temperatures a bit as the party plays on.
People who know they run cold will position themselves near a fireplace or heating vent, "But don't make a scene about this," Lockard says. Guests should have some forethought to bring a wrap or something that doubles as insulation. Raiding the coat closet is a party downer. "You don't want to put on your puffy coat," she says. "That signals you are ready to go home and that kind of breaks up the energy of the party."
"The comfort of your guests is one of the main aspects of being hospitable," says Steven Stolman, a lifestyle consultant whose latest book is "The Serial Entertainer's Passion for Parties." The temperature of a venue is as important as the lighting and the decor, he says. To guests, Stolman says not to suffer in silence; ask your host directly whether you can borrow a sweater or throw. Or politely suggest they raise the thermostat.
Would Stolman dare to turn up the heat himself? He didn't rule it out. "I'm pretty fearless," he says. "I'm the kind of person who hates bright lighting, and I will look for the dimmer in the dining room and adjust the lights down."
Lockard says helping yourself to the thermostat is a no-no. "Being mindful of the collective experience is important; if you do that you are assuming that other people are also uncomfortable or you're not caring about them," she says.
Your best bet, McDonald says, is to tough it out and give your host some slack. "Some hosts may still be learning about everything that goes into throwing a great party," she says.
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So hosts, here are a few tips for welcoming friends into your home, even during a future Snowmageddon.
Warm up. Nudge your thermostat up a few degrees higher than you normally would for the start of your party, as guests arrive from the Arctic chill. You can turn it down if it seems warm later from all the additional bodies and your hot oven.
Create ambiance. Make a fire, whether gas or wood-burning, to add a cozy feel to your gathering. Light lots of candles; even candlelight can make you feel warmer. McDonald says a grouping of candles at the center of your dinner table gives a nice glow.
Start with a nice welcome. Greet guests with a mug of cider you've heated up on the stove or some soup, Gage says. Stage a hot chocolate bar, says McDonald, or a Scotch bar. "I would not do frozen margaritas," Gage says.
Anticipate soggy coats and footwear. Create a spot with a rug or tray and a chair for guests to take off boots at the door. If you don't like shoes in your house, provide a basket of new socks in several colors that guests can help themselves to and take home as party favors, Gage suggests. Empty your own coat closet for the night so guests can hang up their many layers of outerwear instead of dragging them into a bedroom.
Be ready with wardrobe reinforcements. Keep some wraps around in case people are cold. Stolman stocks up on cheap pashminas from New York street vendors when he's up north. McDonald says it's nice to gather around a fire or fire pit and pass out inexpensive little throws, all in the same color. McDonald says, "It will create warmth for your guests and the perfect Instagramable moment for your party with everyone wrapped in one."