Dear Miss Manners: My mother was from the South, and accordingly she impressed upon me the fine art of entertaining guests in one’s home. I love to cook, and I truly prefer to cook dinner for friends over meeting at a restaurant.
My problem is that, invariably, every guest feels that an invitation for 6:30 can mean 6:45 or 7 p.m. This literally happens over and over again. What I don’t understand is that people never do this to a restaurant.
Right now I am sitting at my computer at 6:47 waiting for a guest who was supposed to be here at 6:30; she texted me at 6:25 saying she was just leaving her home, and from her latest message, she is still another 12 to 15 minutes away. Needless to say, the dinner is completely overcooked.
What should I say when inviting guests to dinner? Should I ask people to call an hour in advance if they know they will be late? Should I only cook food that can sit in the oven for an additional hour without being ruined? Give up inviting people to our home?
I would think it was a not-so-subtle commentary on the quality of my cooking if I didn’t get besieged with requests for my recipes.
Gentle Reader: Miss Manners is loath to question the hopes of Southern mothers, good cooks and hospitable hosts, and she lacks sympathy with tardy guests.
But you sound in need of a drink.
It doesn’t have to be alcohol, and you don’t even have to drink it yourself. But you could save yourself angst by providing the usual half-hour in which those who arrive on time are served drinks and small nibbles.
Now please stop tearing your hair out; it might get into your beautifully cooked food. Miss Manners is not absolving the latecomers; she is going to teach you to retrain them.
When you issue invitations for 6:30, you should add, “We will be sitting down to dinner promptly at 7.” Not only will this warn the stragglers, but it will relieve those who time their arrivals to avoid the endless cocktail hours to which other hosts have subjected them.
You will have timed your food accordingly and should serve it at the announced time. Guests who arrive later should be seated then, and told graciously, “I knew you would want us to go ahead.”
Lest you feel rude about doing this, Miss Manners assures you that there is distinguished precedent for this. That Southern gentleman George Washington insisted that official dinners over which he presided would be served at the announced time, explaining that delay would upset the cook. In your case, you know that to be true.