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Hosting The Spouse's Boss - Advise please?

After the end-of-year holidays cease, and the winter doldrums set in, I know the perennial question of hosting my Hub's boss and wife for dinner will come up. Other circumstances have intervened, thankfully, in the past, but this year has a few extra twists and I think I will have to do it, for reasons related to work politics and marital harmony.

I have never hosted a two-couple dinner with the Boss being an element, and am feeling like a newly-wed Laura Petrie ("Oooooh, ROB...!!). Am looking for some sage advice from those who have quaked in their boots and gritted their teeth and gone on. And survived.

My most salient questions (I'm sure I'll think of more later):

- How to deal with a Boss who has extremely non-chowish tastes (per reportage), especially since my Hub (gotta love him) has lauded my cooking to the Boss. Problem: I cook fairly chowish AND ethnic AND, well, with seasonings. How have you managed this?

- How to manage the alcohol consumption (of both Boss and Hub). Cheeriness and conviviality, yes, but intoxication, no. How have you managed this?

- How one deals with the fact that one's setting is "not like other settings;" to wit, we are a household of artists, both trained and untrained (Hmmm...sounds weirdly icky), and our home is not exactly decorated in a Dinner With The Boss fashion. Does one dumb down the more creative home in case it doesn't loo "right," whatever right is? How have you managed this?

- Finally, are any of my paranoid (I admit I am) worries even warranted? Can one be as one is with one's friends: welcoming, convivial, feeling accepted simply by opening one's home and being oneself, or is there a complicated recipe of political maneuvering and host choreography that I did not line up for when they handed out this knowledge?

I would appreciate success stories as well as cautionary tales. Really. Either that, or send tickets for me to be far, far away...

Thank you!


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  1. I haven't had to entertain "the boss" in many years (being divorced and all) but I'd concentrate on getting the best quality ingredients, and make the best damn roast chicken (or beef tenderloin), the best potatoes au gratin, and the best (simple) roast veggies ever. Make a terrific chocolate layer cake, some crudites (using the best produce you can find) and a great dip and call it a day. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and stiffle the your chowish instincts.

    As for the alcohol consumption, you have to be a responsible hostess and cut them off. Lock the liquor cabinet or say you just didn't buy enough. Don't worry about your home, if it doesn't look right to Mr. Boss that isn't your problem. (Unless of course, you have *questionable* items on display, and I'm thinking of "The Birdcage" movie that was on the other night!)

    Edit: Relax, and have a great time!

    2 Replies
    1. re: rednails

      Yes. Roast chicken is the first thing I thought of when Cay said boss is "non-chowish." With any dinner where you're hoping to impress someone, or nervous for some reason, it's always best to go with a dish that you could make in your sleep. Now is not the time to try new recipes that you're not sure about. It could turn out great, but the stress involved isn't worth it.

      As to the other issues, e.g., how the house is decorated, etc., don't be crazy. It's your house. They're your guests. They don't like it, they don't have to come back.

      I can't imagine alcohol consumption being a big problem if you're dealing with normal people. Is there some reason you (addressed to OP) are worried about this? Just pace things and hope that your guests follow your lead.

      1. re: rednails

        I love "The Birdcage"! If you serve soup, make sure there aren't questionable poses depicted at the bottom of the soup bowl!

        Have you considered making soup? Even non-chowish tastes will enjoy a beautiful, hearty bowl of soup, esp. this time of year. I think rednails hit on the head with her suggestion of traditional dishes with the best ingredients possible.

        As for your home, don't change a thing, but make sure it's clean. I think, if anything, cleanliness would be noticed more than decor. Of course, the aforementioned questionable items notwithstanding!

      2. Hi Cay,
        Repeat after me... "Your husband's boss is JUST a PERSON". I have been on both ends of the situation (both as the wife of the boss and as the underling) and I do think you are worrying too much!

        (- How to deal with a Boss who has extremely non-chowish tastes?)

        Stick to the basics and put all sauces on the side. make something like chicken or beef...maybe your husband knows of something he does like...what does he bring/eat for lunch??

        ( How to manage the alcohol consumption (of both Boss and Hub). Cheeriness and conviviality, yes, but intoxication, no. How have you managed this?)

        They're both adults, no? This should be a non-issue. I was recently invited to a girls night out with the women that work for my husband, obviously I had a couple glasses of wine but certaintly wasn't knocking back shots :-)
        However, if there is someone in the scenario with a true drinking problem, I would not advise cutting off the boss, this would only make him uncomfortable.

        (- How one deals with the fact that one's setting is "not like other settings;" to wit, we are a household of artists, both trained and untrained (Hmmm...sounds weirdly icky), and our home is not exactly decorated in a Dinner With The Boss fashion.)
        I would dim the lights and light some candles, if you have a fireplace, use it. Your place will end up looking cozy and maybe bohemian??

        (- Finally, are any of my paranoid (I admit I am) worries even warranted? Can one be as one is with one's friends: welcoming, convivial, feeling accepted simply by opening one's home and being oneself, or is there a complicated recipe of political maneuvering and host choreography that I did not line up for when they handed out this knowledge?)
        Again, he is just a person, relax and have fun!

        2 Replies
        1. re: SweetPea914

          All very well said. And if for some reason the alcohol consumption gets out of hand and it's time for him to go home (hopefully this doesn't happen before dinner), turn up the lights, serve coffee, etc.

          1. re: MMRuth

            RE: Alcohol - make sure you have snacks/apps while the pre-dinner cocktails are flowing to soak up libations.

        2. The answers you've received, pot roast or roasted chicken, should be right. You probably want something without a rigid timetable. Some $12 to $15 bottles of wine and some beer would be sensible. If the Boss has too much to drink, Mrs. Boss will probably be on him. If your DH gets too much too drink, well, it's his Boss, so why would he. You probably need to stay straight. The best thing you can do is be mannerly.

          1. I really don't want you to serve chicken to the boss unless he is no-meat-eater. I would do a beef burgundy (make the day before to marry flavors) with pasta or noodles, a lovely green salad and crusty bread plus red wine.
            If you are worried about alcohol consumption, have a short cocktail hour, your dinner is hearty and have a dessert and COFFEE.

            10 Replies
            1. re: Gail

              I'd avoid any food made with alcohol! No matter how much you think the alcohol is cooked off, some still remains......

              1. re: rednails

                I'm not sure about that. But even if some remains, it would not be enough to create any physical or mental impairment.

                1. re: Gail

                  My point is--why even take the risk? I wouldn't serve anything w/alcohol, on even a 1% chance that there would be any negative effect.

                  1. re: rednails

                    Are you talking about serving food to an alcoholic? I'm talking about possible dishes for the OP to serve to Mr. & Mrs. Boss. This thread has taken a real drift...

                    1. re: Gail

                      I agree - I don't recall the OP mentioning alcoholism as a problem, just wanting to make sure folks didn't drink to much.

                      1. re: Gail

                        I'm saying apparently there is an issue with alcohol, the consumption of it. Not serving an alcoholic per se, but when there's a potential of abuse, why exacerbate it? There are alternatives to beef burgundy, that's all.

                      2. re: rednails

                        Even when I was pregnant, and given a crazy list of things not to eat, beef burgundy, chicken marsala, and even penne a la VODKA were all deemed ok by my Dr. If we were talking about true alcoholics, then maybe a dish with alcohol might be an issue. But I think a dish with cooked alcohol should be fine in these circumstances.

                    2. re: rednails

                      I've always wondered about the alcohol cooking off issue. My only point of reference is a very good friend from London who comes to stay with me for a few weeks a couple of time a year. He's been very active in AA for more than fifteen years now. When I first started cooking for him on a regular basis, I asked him about putting white wine in mussels muniere, for instance, and he told me to go ahead, that the alcohol cooks out and only the flavor remains. And this is from a man who will ask me to taste his dessert for him to see if it has any alcohol in it.

                        1. re: danhole

                          Thanks for pointing that out to me. Both the article and the comments and links were very interesting. I don't know whether or not my friend knows that, or if it would change his mind if he did. I guess he must go by the assumption that if he can't taste it, it's not a problem for him.

                  2. Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking books have wonderful stories about entertaining under less than ideal conditions, by the way, in case you need more moral support!


                    1. Re: your "homey, artsy" decor. I know how you feel about that, too. Just make sure it's clean and clutter free - (hide toys, everyday stuff) in the back room. Not only to impress your company, but to alleviate your own self consciousness about your space. Suddenly, when I have guests, the cat's play toys or two day old newspaper suddenly stick out more than before.

                      Make sure Mr & Mrs Boss have a place to put their coats, and you're set.

                      The art of home entertaining is kind of SADLY dying, so I'm sure anything you do with warm hospitality will be great.

                      Have Mr. & Mrs Boss had you over to THEIR home in all the years your hub has worked for him? If not, The Bosses shouldn't be too picky. Is Mrs. Boss bringing wine? Or, are you in charge of it all? If she asks with sincerity, I would make her feel important by letting her choose the wine. Plus, it alleviates you of having to decide what to buy. One less thing for you to stress out about - and you can tell a lot about people by what wine they would bring.

                      Beef is the best choice. It is a "power" food, and Mr. Boss will surely enjoy it. And, chocolate cake is a great idea. Since it is post-holiday season, stay away from pie.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: stellamystar

                        Just out of curiosity, why is chocolate cake a great idea and stay away from pie?

                        1. re: yayadave

                          Because many people eat pie around the holidays, so it would be nice to have something else.

                      2. I say let the boss, and your husband consume as much alcohol as they wish. You are not their mother, and they are both over 21 I imagine.

                        As for a menu item, a nice prime rib, roast beef, or roasted pork should do the trick.

                        1. Cay! Get a grip! Drink some ice water and calm down. A rib roast, or tenderloin will do well. Forget the chowish ethnic dishes, but do keep the seasonings. Unless he has some type of ulcer or something, flavor isn't going to kill him, unless it's too spicy, so avoid that!

                          Alcohol? Do you know his habits? Is he a wine or liquor drinker? If it's wine, pour for your guests and yourself but nurse yours for a long time. Same with mixed drinks.

                          As far as your home - it's YOUR home! Do not be ashamed. I'm sure your DH isn't going to be fired for your decor. To each his own. Our house is a very eclectic mixture of things, art, sculptures, knick knacks, photos, etc. and people always enjoy the atmosphere, even if they live in a "Dinner with the Boss" house ;-)

                          You are freaking over nothing. Be who you are and that is the best you can be! One time, many years ago, my DH was in a play and the choreographer was a well know broadway master. He had even choreographed the original Broadway West Side Story! So my hubby makes friends with him and tells me that he is bringing him over for supper the next night. Poor guy, living in a hotel room while working on this play, and all that. Well, I am 19, a newlywed, small apartment, no money for a feast, and not into chow type things back then. I freak out, scrounge around and figure I can make a pot of chili (it was in winter) and have some stuff on the side. No wine, beer, liquor, just iced tea. Cleaned up best as I could, and shook in my boots waiting their arrival. It turned out to be one of the loveliest evenings ever! He was charmed by the unpretentious nature of the whole thing, grateful for a home cooked meal and totally awed with the chili. We had tea with dinner and coffee and ice cream afterwards, and listened to some music in the background. But he made us feel like we were the best hosts in the world and we remained friends for a long time afterwards even though he was in NY and we weren't. So, if I could succeed at 19 you will far surpass me!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: danhole

                            Mrs Hole, what a great story!

                            And I agree fully: Cay, its your party. Relax. I'm sure other CHers who have read your posts agree that you're an intellegent, resourceful, and thoughtful person who cooks well and appreciates good food.

                          2. The only thing you need to put away is any really obviously potentially offensive art, like Robert Mapplethorpe prints or giant phallus sculptures from Thailand where they worship the penis. I wouldn't leave the video Lesbian Spank 5 and its ilk within eyesight either. But those things are obvious. The rest, you leave. It's you and if they don't like your style, that's fine, they don't have to return again and it relieves you of future hostess duties. But people like seeing different places instead of the same-old cookie cutter type furnishings, even if it's not how they'd do up their own place. Gives them something to look at and talk about.

                            Place out coffee table books that can make good conversation starters in case there is a lull.

                            Don't bother with a full bar and don't put too much alcohol out, visibly at once. Just serve what they bring you or whatever you normally serve. If it looks like there is TONS more, people tend to drink more. Make it look like there's a lot more food than booze and people will eat more and drink less. It's a visual trick.

                            Cook as much ahead as you can so that all you basically have to do is reheat. And turn up the heat, but not too much. People hate going to someone's house when it's dreadful cold. We all have heat bills but for goodness' sake, turn up the heat when guests are coming, it's one day.

                            As to the non-chowish people, make it easy on yourself. Buy some of those frozen snackies that non-chow people (and some chowers) love like those little pinwheels and pizza rolls and junk like that, fill in with stuff you enjoy. Then there's plenty of choices.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: rockandroller1

                              RAR1- haha, your first paragraph truly made me lol. For a few years my roomate was an older man who happened to be gay. he had some "questionable" art on the walls of the living room. Every so often someone would come over and I would totally for get about the art. It was always a "bridcage" like moment!

                              Regarding the advice to "turn up the heat". I actually open windows/turn down the heat when guests are coming because our place always tends to get warm depending on how much you're using he stove. Maybe that's a NY city thing since we don't have the ventilation and windows that a house does?? Also I tend to do this when there are more than just a few people coming over. Obviously you should do whatever you need to to make sure your guests are comfortable.

                              1. re: SweetPea914

                                It does depend, I was generalizing based on my midwest experience. My place is an apartment and does tend to get too warm for most people. Which works for us, because we definitely like it way, way hotter than most. When we have people over, we always cool the place down as much as possible so it will be more "normal" for people. But everyone I know here has a house, and they are always FREEZING in the winter when I visit. I sympathize, I understand heating costs are astronomical (part of why I live in an apartment, with free heat), I'm just saying when someone is coming to visit, try to make it a normal comfortable temp. Just last week I went to someone's house for a short, small meeting and everyone left their coats on as we sat around the table. That's a sign that it's too cold, hello. :)

                                1. re: rockandroller1

                                  No, No - I live in KC - I have been to many folks houses where I am like - is the heat even ON?? So, I just drink more wine hoping to warm up!

                                  1. re: rockandroller1

                                    Yes you and I do the same thing. I do understand though. My in-laws live in a drafty old farmhouse in Massachusettes and never turn the heat on and I am often cold when others are warm. My husband will turn it up when they're not looking!

                              2. In "Julia Child and Company" she recommends prime rib for dinner with the boss.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mexivilla

                                  With the added benefit of looking impressive yet being the easiest, least time consuming entree ever.

                                2. a long long time ago there was a commercial on tv with someone (florence henderson?) repeating a very old saying.... "always treat your family like company, and your company like family." I think it was the first time I ever heard my mom agree with anything anyone said in a tv commercial.

                                  A dinner for four in your home is about as intimate an event as you are likely to have with your spouse's boss and their spouse. Make it comfortable for you, and your comfort will telegraph to them.

                                  1. One thing I forgot to suggest is just ask hubby if there are any allergy issues w/Mr/Mrs Boss. Or call them yourself, and ask. Or at the very least, find out what they DON'T like/CAN'T eat. I'd rather not take the chance that anything I'd serve wouldn't go over very well. Many, many years ago, I had a friend and her boyfriend over for dinner, and I made quiche (well, it was the 70s!) and she didn't eat cheese....she was gracious about it, but ate a lot of salad. I learned my lesson that night the hard way.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: rednails

                                      This happened one of the first times I had a girlfriend over for dinner. I fixed chicken piccata, one of my favorites. She came in and I told her what we were having and she said, "Is there any way to pick the chicken out of it?" (obviously she'd never eaten it) She ended up eating plain pasta and salad, not very exciting.

                                      1. re: rockandroller1

                                        I know this issue has been dealt with on other threads but it should help the OP here.

                                        If I'm having a small group over, and I'm doing a plated meal, I always ask (if I don't already know) my guests' dislikes/issues. If I'm hosting a large group, then it's a buffet, I make sure I have lots of choices, and everybody had to fend for themself.

                                    2. Wow! Pardon the Paris Hilton voice, but I have to say that this is *like* the cheapest therapy *evvvvverrrrr.*

                                      Okay, OP here. As I said I would probably have a few more questions, and I'll get to them. First I'd like to thank you posters who said a few things I needed/wanted to hear:

                                      - as to the quirky decor, loved the comments on "The Birdcage" (one of my all-time favorite movies). Despite our not having the odd phallic sculpture on any given table, we still see through different eyes when hosting more staid personalities (in-laws still haven't forgiven a toy display one year...don't ask, but it wasn't dirty, just political). Check on that. We're good, I'll relax, and let the theme for decor be "creative, but that's just us" and relax (sipping the ice water...)

                                      - as to the food - I so appreciate the jogging of the thought process toward beef. I know from reports that the Boss's favorite food is a cheeseburger. Roast beef and au gratin potatoes is a perfect suggestion, one I would not have thought of in my muddled angst. From there it's easier with sides. No allergies, so not an issue. I'll keep it simple and delicious. Check.

                                      - As to the ambient temperature. Thank you all for alerting me. As "une femme du certain age," I typically keep my house cool. Thanks for the head's up on this. It never occurred to me before. Check.

                                      Now, a clarification: as to alcohol, my concern is not about alcoholism, either chronic or situational. More about work politics. The Hub and Mr. Boss have been professional friends for more than 15 years (predating me....and I have met neither Boss or Mrs. Boss), and have had their share of carousing, of which I have heard. Since the new-world-order in the relationship involves Hub being the heir apparent to Mr. Boss and in line for a significant promotion in the wake of a merger, I wish to mitigate any fallback on the part of Hub and Boss to carousing-days tippling, leading to the inevitable "here's another thing that pisses me off" statements that so frequently occur in such instances. It's not what I serve in the wineglasses or as apperitifs, not whether there's wine in the beef gravy, but the Miss Manners element of how to politely manage the drinking of, most specifically, an individual in charge of one host's future. Is there a really polite way to cut the Boss off? If you've found it, tell me about it. (Hub has been warned, but as you know, these things can take on lives of their own, especially when one doesn't want to diss the Boss.) And no, I have no evidence that this guy is a sloppy drunk; just likes the looseness, and the looseness of others. Therein lies the maneuvering I must do.

                                      Preprandial snacks will abound, as well as post, and coffee will flow prior to "quitting time" as some have suggested. I've hosted many, but never a dinner as "loaded" as this one.

                                      (Sipping ice water again.)

                                      Thanks you all so much for your responses. Still a little wigged out, but that's sometimes a static state for me. I'd love to hear more.


                                      1. As a frequest guest of former and current Bosses' wives, I can tell you that you needn't worry about the decor. Just keep the bathrooms clean and stocked with TP and clean towels. That is about all my Bosses' wives have ever done in preparation. Perhaps they never felt obligated to impress me, but I did hear that at least one of the them used to worry when I was coming to dinner. Artist's tastes and decor, with the exception of things that might offend, such as nudes, should be fine. You are unique and should be proud of it. Every home doesn't need to look like a cookie cutter was used to decorate.

                                        Some have been neater than others, and if they all didn't live in magnificent houses, you wouldn't have guessed for the world that this was the Wife of the Boss who did the cooking. One was a Cordon Bleu chef -- no competing there. Her house was kept the messiest, but she could cook. One other couldn't even boil rice and managed to try her weirdest new recipes on me, which were sometimes virtually inedible. One, I could swear, was made of plastic. Even the food seemed to be made of plastic. None had homes that looked like "Boss's" homes in terms of their content. I tell you this so that you don't remain so fearful of what happens when the shoe is on the other foot. They are human too. Just don't worry about the house and be yourself.

                                        As for the food -- try chicken. Or a roast. Or a ham. Everyone eats these things unless they don't eat pork. Spice it as you like. Choose potatoes or rice and some kind of vegetables. Maybe a salad with a simple dressing. Some kind of cake for dessert, or bread pudding, and you may want to remember to start with some kind of appetizer. Cheese and crackers are simple enough for the least CH among us. Keep it really, really simple, but elegant in a CH way.

                                        Serve wine. Beer consumption is harder to control. If you have to serve beer, your DH needs to keep a lid on his consumption in order to keep a lid on the Boss's. Just don't worry so much.