l.a. times:
reed johnson
barbara king
laurie frank

LA Times "Mastering the mix" [ part 1 | part 2 | part 3 ]

July 3, 2003
'Introduce every guest to everyone'.

*We asked Laurie Frank for tips on how to throw a memorable dinner party (without driving yourself or your guests crazy).

By Laurie Frank

I like my dinner parties to star the guests and not the food or the hostess. I'd like everyone I invite to feel they have equal billing — I only invite people who I'm really, really crazy about. I don't even think of including my friends who like to hold forth, argue ferociously on topics everyone agrees on anyway, or shanghai too many guests at one time in any one conversation.
My most important work as a hostess is to introduce every guest to everyone else as they come in. I make no exceptions; I interrupt any conversation — it doesn't matter what people are up to, in my house they are going to meet everyone who walks through the door. Unless the possibility of sex is involved, people only talk to people to whom they've been formally introduced. I try to mention one thing about the person I'm introducing, so the others have a clue to where to start the conversation once I've left to go back into the kitchen.
I invite people of various ages, backgrounds and occupations. It is possible in L.A., I promise.
For me, drinks are as important as the food — I never serve only wine; I find it makes people sleepy and drunk, as opposed to festive and drunk. When offered a martini, I want people to feel the way they do at their favorite restaurant — only they can take their shoes off, smoke cigarettes inside and actually meet all the other diners in the room who seem interesting. I always try to have a variety of nonalcoholic choices other than bubbly water — my friends who don't drink should feel equally loved and looked after.
My table is extra-skinny, which makes it easy for guests to be engaged by the person across from them as well as those at their left and right. I love seated dinners because people are forced to talk to people they don't know; at buffets with the same number of guests, people can leave without talking to a single new person. Often I can go to a dinner party and not be introduced to anyone at all. I never do a seating plan. I like to see where people put themselves, and I love making them take responsibility for where they're sitting. It makes for lucky accidents and no hurt feelings.
I always say yes when my guests want to bring their houseguests or old college roommate from London. I love to discover people I don't already know at my parties — if my friends like them enough to hang out with them, I'm sure I'll like them too — and this way it never gets boring for the friends who get invited regularly. I like to try to find just the right mix so there's a sense of good friends coming together and also the excitement of "who will I meet tonight?"
You can't have too many exciting, challenging, attractive people at one time at your house. Lots of people cancel at the last minute and no one ever seems to mind squeezing one more person in.
I like to serve my guests at the table and I love to let them help me serve and clean up. I'm shy myself, and I know it helps me to be doing something at other people's dinners, and helping in the kitchen makes my friends feel that they're part of the family. I have yet to discover anyone in the serving and cleanup contingent who doesn't end up bonding with everyone else in the kitchen. And it helps maintain the balance between the graciousness of formality and the freedom of intimacy.

LA Times "Mastering the mix" [ part 1 | part 2 | part 3 ]