The thought of hosting a party sends me into a fight-or-flight panic. Even writing about thinking about hosting a party increases my heart rate. It’s not that I have agoraphobia or am an introvert or don’t love my friends and family, it’s just that I’m uncomfortable having people in my home whom I haven’t seen naked. (I know that sounds extreme, but in effect, it’s a great litmus test to restrict visitors.)
That said, I do enjoy going to other people’s homes for social gatherings and rarely turn down an invitation. I arrive fashionably early-latish, take the obligatory tour, peruse their bookshelves, eat Pinterest-wins off bamboo plates, and mingle with the other guests. But, make no mistake, I’m not there for pleasure; my real objective is research. I come to observe the hostess, because the concept of willingly entertaining people in one’s home is so baffling to me. I want to understand why and how she does it, so I find a good high-back chair with an unobstructed view of the kitchen and make like I’m Jane Goodall in the Kenyan highlands amidst a family of chimpanzees.
Over the years, I have studied dozens of hostesses in their natural habitats as they navigate the unpredictable and often calamitous terrain of hospitality. I have watched these women carry on conversations with people who are dropping Ritz cracker crumbs and sloshing red wine all over their floors, never breaking eye contact to glance down at the mess. I have seen improvisational maneuvers that would make Bear Grylls look like a tourist, executed flawlessly in Kork Ease platform wedges and slacks. I have grown to admire these ladies and respect their commitment to serve—though I’m still not called to emulate them.
I have determined that there are three kinds of hostesses: The Bold Hostess, The Loving Hostess, and The Sensible Hostess.
Which type are you? Take this quiz to find out:
One of your guests has clogged the main-floor bathroom toilet. What do you do?
A) Put an Out-of-Order sign on the door, and have everybody use the upstairs bathroom.
B) Make an announcement that you have a septic system and ask people to limit the amount of toilet paper they use, then try and find the culprit.
C) Take responsibility for the clog, citing your recent cheese binge, and try to plunge it yourself.
A friend brings her large, unruly dog to your backyard barbeque. The dog is knocking children over and snatching food out of people’s hands. How do you handle it?
A) Recommend that your friend leash the dog in your garage until he calms down.
B) Insist your friend put the dog in her car, knowing she may very well decide to leave.
C) Accept the dog as an extension of your friend and fetch him a bowl of fresh water.
Two of your friends get into an escalating political discussion with no resolution in sight. How do you curtail it?
A) Break it up by suggesting they should agree to disagree for the time being, then change the subject.
B) Stick up for whom you think is right and flex your debate muscles.
C) Whisk the weaker of the two away with the pretense of needing assistance in the kitchen.
You are hosting a multiple-course formal dinner, after which you serve finger bowls. One of your guests picks hers up and drinks it. How do you react?
A) Simply ignore her faux pas and carry on like nothing happened.
B) Inform her of proper finger bowl etiquette, including a history of its waxing and waning popularity throughout the last century.
C) Pick yours up and drink it.
Despite careful planning, there are an odd number of children at your daughter’s birthday party. When the kids pair off for a game, one little boy is left alone. What do you do?
A) Have the children take turns being the odd man out, making sure your daughter partners with the boy on the next round.
B) Remind the boy that this is just a game and life isn’t always fair, but give him the best prize.
C) Be the boy’s partner.
You witness one of your guest’s children accidentally knock over and break a decorative vase, but she doesn’t tell anybody. How do you handle it?
A) Mention to her parents that she broke the vase with the understanding that it wasn’t expensive, but you feel they should know.
B) Make her squirm by publicly accusing your own kid of breaking it, and see if that elicits a confession.
C) Discreetly pick up the broken pieces and say within the child’s earshot that you never liked that ugly vase anyhow.
If you answered mostly As, you are a sensible hostess.
You are practical, level-headed, and not easily frazzled. When you entertain, you like to focus on a specific occasion and do most of the preparation yourself. You are a wonderful holiday host, because keeping tradition is your strong suit. When things don’t go as planned, no worries, you’ve got a back-up.
If you selected Bs, you are a bold hostess.
You enjoy the attention that comes with entertaining and have a flair for the extravagant. You are in your realm hosting gala events and can delegate masterfully. You like big themes and big guest lists. When things get off track, you simply reset them your way.
If you chose Cs, you are the loving hostess.
Always sensitive to others, you go out of your way to make your guests feel at home. You like intimate gatherings, where spontaneous conversation is the focus, and you encourage friends to bring a dish to pass. When something goes awry, your guests’ feelings are paramount.
No matter your hostess style—sensible, bold, or loving—don’t forget to have fun at the party.