How to Host a Dinner Party Like Fanny Cradock

With the festive season well underway and Christmas right around the corner, the time for hosting dinner parties and entertaining guests is nearly upon us. To help you throw a dinner party to remember we’ve delved into our archives to get the best tips from legendary chef Fanny Cradock, who’s paid homage to in our new show A Celebration of Fanny with Nadia G, which airs on Saturday December 6th.

1. Planning Makes Perfect

If you’re working single-handed as a hostess, time management can become a real problem when it comes to combining your duties in the kitchen and keeping the living room tidy for your guests to enjoy. However Fanny has a solution for this inconvenience; go through your planned menu, pick out the essential moment when you must collect something from the kitchen, and at the same time whip away any offending items. As Fanny put it herself “Nothing is more objectionable than returning to a room made shoddy by littered ashtrays and dirty glasses”.

2. Don't Peak Too Soon!

One bit of advice Fanny isn’t shy about giving in her book Giving A Dinner Party, by John and Fanny Cradock is to never give guests hard liquor before a meal. In addition to hard liquor, Fanny also informs us that cocktails have the potential to blunt the fine edge of the palate. Fanny adds “Cocktails are a number of good ingredients ruined by being mixed together”. We’re guessing she never served cheeky vimto’s at one of her parties, then!

3. Fit to Measure

Nothing cramps style more than being, well, cramped for room at the dinner table, so make sure you have enough space for dishes, glasses and any decorations you want to brighten the table with. Don’t worry, though, as Fanny has done all the maths for you. She deciphers that with an average size meat plate (10”) and both a wine and water glass (an additional 3”) each ‘cover’ will take up 13 inches. Double the size for the person sitting opposite and you have 26 inches of room being taken up, leaving 10 inches for candles, flowers or whatever other decorations you desire in the middle of the table. And if you have a round table? Fanny recommends a table a minimum of 5 foot in diameter.

4. Covering Up

If you’re going to take advice from anyone about how to lay the perfect cover for your guests, make sure it’s Fanny. One of her most useful tips is “a hostess’ first duty is to consider the ease and comfort of her guests”. Fanny continues “If table cloths are so large when put over the table that the corner points fall below the floor level, the departing guests when rising from their seats can very easily trip over them. We solved the problem by taking the lace points and craftily pinning them up with small safety pins to the inside of the satin under-cloth which ensures the lace folds clear floor level”. Utilise this trick so you can focus on preparing delicious food rather than your guests safety.

5. Formally Speaking

If you’re hosting a formal dinner party, Fanny lays down the law for who sits where, and with whom. She tells us that the hostess and her husband should agree on who is the principal female guest, and that is who the host will take into dinner. Then, during the drinks period in the sitting room the hostess, while effecting introductions or while greeting male guests, indicates to each one who they will be taking into dinner. Finally, once the dinner is announced the host takes the principal female guest in first, before the rest of the couples follow and the female hostess goes in last with the principal male guest. With the hostess’ decision being final, of course!

6. Left, Right, Right. Right?

All food is offered from the left; all plates are withdrawn from the right; and all wine drinks are served from the right. Got it? If you’re struggling, make sure to come back to this article for a quick reminder.

7. An Eye for An Eye

Fanny places a large amount of emphasis on eye contact when trying to convey a message at the dinner table, stating “When the hostess decides she wishes her woman guests to leave the table, she has to contend with the tricky business of catching her women guests’ eyes”. She continues “The hostess then rises, the men rise too, she turns towards the door and follows her women guests out into the sitting room”. And she doesn’t stop there; Fanny then adds that as the hostess rises the male nearest to the door must open it for her. So make sure you keep your eye on the ball, or more appropriately the hostess!

8. Shake It Off (the table)

Every dinner table normally has shakers containing the inseparable duo salt and pepper on it, but according to Fanny the presence of such condiments at a dinner party is an admission of the chef’s incapability. Fanny describes the appearance of these dual monstrosities as “an admission of failure” by the chef as food should “not need to be cooked by the diner”. She does, however, concede that the cook may provide salt and pepper if he or she knows that they have a weakness for under-seasoning. So long as they are cleared from the table before anything sweet is served!

9. Fork Ever, Spoon Never

Fanny lifts the lid on an old nursery chant that Nannys used to drum into children, signifying that whenever food can be eaten with just a fork you should do so using your right hand. Conversely, Fanny also states that when a spoon is necessary, for example when eating pudding, a fork should still be used in conjunction with it. Hence fork ever, spoon never (well, almost never).

10. Glass Two-Thirds Full

A good glass of wine can transform a dinner party from acceptable to exceptional, but it’s important that you don’t give your guests more than they can handle. Fanny specifies that the acceptable amount a wine glass should be filled lies between half a glass and two-thirds of a glass full. This allows your guest to swirl their wine and ‘taste’ it without running the risk of spilling it all over their dinner – or worse, your immaculate cream carpet.

What are your best tips when it comes to hosting a dinner party? Leave a comment below

Fred Stanley