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Advice from Dear Abby

From her column today:

"It's not what you put on the table, but whom you put in the chairs, that makes a successful dinner party."

Agree or disagree? Let the discussion begin!

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  1. It's not that black and white and I'd rather not have to choose between the food, but...

    but I have a better time with good company and worse food than the other way around.

    1. I can't think of a meal where I left thinking "that was the best food I ever had, but I never want to eat with those people ever again!".

      Fair enough, I've never eaten at any Michelin star rated restaurants (with good or bad company) - but I have been to a few fancy dinners for work functions and never really remember what I ate.

      3 Replies
      1. re: cresyd

        Boy, I can. Maybe not the BEST food I ever ate but unfortunately I've eaten a number of really excellent meals with some really unpleasant people over the years.

        1. re: ratgirlagogo

          I second THAT emotion. I will always give someone's food a second chance, but life is too short to eat with unpleasant people.

          1. re: Cheflambo

            I'd give it a 3rd. I have had some meals ruined by unpleasant or impossible to please people.

      2. Hard to enjoy good food with bad company - business dinners come to mind - I would rather be eating hotdogs in my yard with can beer and good friends than fine dining with someone who makes my stomach churn.

        my only caveat to the quote is that the food has to be palatable - otherwise the good people in the chairs need to order a pizza.

        1. I've eaten some of the best food I've ever eaten my life with some of the most pretentious, smug and obnoxious people I've ever met in my life.
          I'd have forgone the food in order not to have eaten with them…or have ever met them, for that matter.

          1 Reply
          1. re: latindancer

            It's difficult if they're family, and you can't get away.

            1. Agree. If I'm bored or not enjoying myself, I'll find fault in anything I'm eating. And probably will forget the food and remember the poor experience. But if I'm happy or in a good mood I will either ignore the bad or remember the good.

              1 Reply
              1. re: viperlush

                If I'm eating with some one at a restaurant or home and I'm not enjoying the company I just get up a leave.
                It's no longer even an 'issue'. Every one knows I do this and have for decades.
                I'll go get a burger and watch 'the game' or read the paper. No 'Biggie'.
                This has probably saved a lot of discord for all involved.
                Has for me.

              2. This has been discussed ad nauseam on these boards and there is no one answer. Folks also get quite test about it so I am IBL.

                While I would prefer both sublime food and wonderful/entertaining company I will choose company as what makes a great dinner party.

                Boorish, boring, cranky people can ruin even the best food.

                1. Yeah, but unfortunately you have to invite all family to family gatherings so the food might as well be good.;-)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chowser

                    "you have to invite all family to family gatherings"

                    I have relatives who disagree with you.

                  2. I was at a dinner party this week. "Roz" and "John" had a recent spat, and had not seen each other since. "John" was open to putting differences aside, but "Roz" only spoke to him through clenched teeth and and made a point of laughing loudly when speaking to others at the party. The behavior strained the overall vibe of the gathering, but the dinner was a knock out success cooked by a friend who has a genuine gift in her cooking abilities. Had the food been bad, the party may have been a flop - but it made all the difference. I think Abby is right that it is the most important part, but would disagree it's all you need.

                    1. Interesting that almost every agrees--better to have great guests than great food. One reason I posted is because there are many people who post on these boards that are very, well, picky about what they serve, what guests can bring/not bring to pot lucks etc. Family occasions aside, we generally choose we want to entertain but sometimes you just have to invite the boss's wife, a friend of a friend, etc.

                      Thanks for sharing.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: alwayshungrygal

                        In my recollection so many of those threads show an underlying dislike for the people they are entertaining.

                        Most of the office potluck threads are thinly veiled insults about the people they work with daily.

                        Often the holiday dinners/meals are really about not caring about one in law or another, the bossy cousin, the drama queen sister or mother. I often read those posts as a desire for the OP to hear "you are right-those people are awful!"

                        While there are exceptions it is rare to see someone go on and on about how wonderful X is, how much they liven an evening, etc so they don't care if X insists on bringing packaged food or puts no thought into their potluck dish.

                        Or that even tho SIL bring xyz to Christmas dinner even though she KNOWS that it is MY speciality it wouldn't be Christmas without her and they are willing to put up with it. No it's usually that SIL is a passive aggressive bitch and the food thing is just one more reason I hate her.

                        There was recently a thread about how noone could imagine that there are families don't cook. What do they even eat??? I posted about a friend who I love dearly who doesn't cook and what she and her family did eat. My thought to this day is that my life would be a lot less joyful without her in it so I am happy to eat what she serves or just have her at my house.

                        1. re: foodieX2

                          I completely agree.

                          One of my best friends in the world can not cook. At all. There was a period of time where she was delighted to discover that baby food didn't taste so bad and made for an excellent snack at work.

                          She's excellent company and a wonderful friend, and most meals we eat are either out or made by myself. But I would never think 'I will never stay at her home because the odd breakfast/meal that we eat in won't be good'.

                          On the other hand, a member of an old social circle would often make attempts at throwing dinner parties that inevitably weren't great but she also had other irritating qualities. It was always easier to complain about her cooking than to be like "why do we continue to socialize with someone who irritates us???"

                        2. re: alwayshungrygal

                          Yes, people make the difference for sure. I would say it is 75% of a good party. But we're not Chowhounders for no reason! I like good food too! "Roz" insists on green bean casserole at all holidays - even the 4th of July when she could buy fresh she uses canned. And while her sour disposition and stubbornness are an issue, if I looked forward to her food it would ease the pain!

                          1. re: alwayshungrygal

                            Given the number of posters there are here and the number of times we all entertain/are entertained, the number of threads about poor guests/bad food is surprisingly low, imo. People generally don't post about the hundreds of dinners that go well. Good food was had by a great crowd--I'd say that's by far the majority. Keep in mind that a lot of these etiquette questions are also by first time/one time posters.

                          2. Both. When I read your question, the first thing I thought of was a neighbor years ago inviting us to dinner and serving one chicken wing per person, all neatly plated. We were all living in the poor student economy but if I had anyone to dinner on 0 money I made a giant pot of some hearty thick minestrone-like soup with beans and pasta in it---use whatever was affordable and somehow figure out how to make it good but, ye gods, enough. So I don't think Abby is 100% right. You could be sitting across the table from Descartes and Erasmus and Enrico Fermi but, no, one chicken wing ain't gonna do it.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Querencia

                              Your response is interesting to me. I think a lot of what we do is because of what we have learned either at home, or through our own experience. My parents entertained quite a bit when I was growing up and it was typical for my mother to serve 2 proteins (pot roast, chicken) and a lot of sides, almost everything from scratch. So that for me was normal and for at least for the first few years after I was married and my then-husband and I entertained. To him, that was strange. His mother was a terrible cook, and never entertained, so he had no experience in that way. I still tend to cook traditional meals when I entertain (2 proteins, starch, sides, salad etc) instead of a big pot of xxx or soup like you suggested.

                              I also remember being invited to a friend's house once or twice. She cooked exactly 3 chicken breasts--one each for her, me and her husband. I realized they were probably on a limited budget but I was happy to be invited (I had just gone back to work and was a newly minted single parent). Me, I would have found a way to make extra...I always have extra so anyone can have seconds or thirds.

                              1. re: alwayshungrygal

                                In my family, we cook EXTRAS. As in, if six people are expected, there's enough to feed twelve hungry linebackers. We really don't seem to know where to stop.

                                On the other hand, we tend to be good cooks and enjoy leftovers, so there's no losing anyway. :)

                            2. Really, really excellent meal had at a steak house under a guise of "business" but it was really just a bitch session. We (SO and I) left with leftovers and we still talk about "the dinner" - it was all about the food and the booze.

                              Flash forward a few years and there was a steak dinner at a relative's house for a BD. Food actually was really good and in great abundance and I barely had two bites and refused anymore food. The "company" was nasty and we left as soon as we could.

                              So I will say, maybe it goes both ways. Of course, I was invested in the company meal but maybe, I just knew to keep my head down and change the subject if that was an option. Maybe the family meal was too overwrought w/ with the BS that comes from living with those people. Dunno. We still discuss "the meal" in regards to how great the meal was. We never discuss the family meal .

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: JerryMe

                                A variation on this theme - I think that company and experience can also elevate a meal to levels that it probably doesn't deserve. When I was 13 I was returning to the US after being on an exchange program in Europe. Our whole group got bumped to business class - and the novelty of business class and being with my friends - it ranks as one of the best meals I remember from childhood. I'm sure the food technically wasn't that good....but in those circumstances it was amazing.

                                1. re: cresyd

                                  "I think that company and experience can also elevate a meal to levels that it probably doesn't deserve. "

                                  Wow, you better not start posting CRAZY TALK like this around here when Thanksgiving rolls around.

                              2. that was such a 'phone-in' gimme column.