Whether you’re hosting a few close friends or doing a Come Dine With Me-style supper club for a group of strangers (so brave!), it’s not just the food your guests will judge you on but your hosting and service skills too. It’s the little things that count: does the wine complement or clash with the dish? Did they find it difficult to chat because of a huge centrepiece, or were put off the food by heavily-scented flowers? To help make sure everything goes without a hitch, we’ve got 12 service commandments from three Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London.
Relax, enjoy and bon appétit!
Consult your wine merchant
Your local wine merchant can recommend the best pairings for your menu and advise on when certain wines should be opened and which should be served from a carafe. Don’t be scared of unusual pairings - be adventurous. Remember, there is no general rule. Red wine could match fish depending on the recipe, e.g Matelotte. A dry white wine such as a Chardonnay is always good for an aperitif.
Share your knowledge
Share your knowledge about your dishes with your guests or share your pleasure of cooking. It is essential that the host is familiar with all the dishes served - offering guests insightful information regarding the produce (where it has been sourced, why it has been chosen, etc) makes for interesting talking points for your guests.
Always have a crisp, ironed tablecloth
Nothing looks more polished than an immaculately set table. At Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, the front of house team iron the tablecloths three times! But if you can’t do that at home the trick to a perfect finish is to dampen it slightly before ironing.
Keep your table simple and personalised
Remove all unnecessary items to keep a clean table and avoid large centrepieces like bouquets of flowers, tall candles and anything scented that can interfere with conversations and flavours. Bring a personal touch to your table by crafting your own bespoke centrepieces. To mimic the unique vegetable inspired porcelain Gourdon pieces at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, tie together a bunch of seasonal vegetables with white butcher’s string and display on a wooden board.
Women should be served first
Service order should be as follows: women, men and host last.
Keep your plates warm in the oven
Plating your dishes on warm plates means that the food will be kept warm for longer.
Look after guests
Look after guests throughout the meal with small, special touches and give them options. Start the evening off with an aperitif - Champagne or sparkling wine is always a special touch. You could offer salted and unsalted butter with a variety of fresh bread throughout the meal and finish off with some sweet treats like bonbons or chocolates. Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester offers fresh infusions from a trolley at the end of the meal; you can recreate this at home by buying some fresh mint, peppermint, pineapple sage and cut it before your guests arrive and arrange it in a nice glass jar.
Keep spare tableware close to hand
Keep spare china and cutlery in a sideboard or on a console in the dining room. Having extras within reach saves you a trip to the kitchen.
Polish all tableware
Shine the glasses straight after they’ve been washed to ensure that there are no unsightly smudges. For best results, clean all china and cutlery with a mixture of white vinegar and hot water. If possible use gloves to handle cutlery, glasses or any surface where fingerprints are easily transferred. Wash and polish glasses by hand. Dishwasher tablets can leave residue on glassware and alter the taste of the wine. If you use silverware, clean it in a mix of water, salt, vinegar and foil paper.
Keep glasses topped up
Remember to keep glasses topped up throughout the meal. No one should have to ask for a re-fill.
Always clear from the same side
Always clear the dish from the same side that you served it. This means that with the exception of the bread plate, everything should be cleared from the right hand side. You could clear from the most convenient side so not to interfere with your guests! But always with the exterior arm.
Clear the table before dessert
The table should be cleared before dessert is served. All dishes, glasses, condiments, even salt and pepper shakers should be cleared and the table crumbed before dessert is served. Remember to re-set a bread plate if you’re serving a cheese course. Bring a fresh (and different if possible) napkin before dessert.