“And it was so simple,” Phil said as we drove home from an enchanting dinner party. I always use that word when it comes to summer dinner parties: enchanting. It makes me think of nights with their own soundtracks, where music is piped in, people dress, and we’re left to see the clinking of classes, whispers, looks across a table. It means flower arrangements, candlelight, and company. "How did you two meet" stories, new friendships, and new recipes. “So simple,” he said, though I’m guessing the chefs might beg to differ. The evening did have that seemingly effortless quality—like having good genes or an innate talent. But having thrown dinner parties, it’s never been simple. But maybe I could learn something.
On our flight from New York to Austin, Phil and I had to split up the Beer. Given the rows of three seats, Little Miss Beer would be sitting with me, with Lucas and Phil seated just behind us. We’d play musical chairs when the radishes got restless. Phil was quick to make friends with the woman seated beside him: talking finance and business after noticing the book she was reading. Three and a half hours later, they were exchanging emails, and only days after that she invited us to her daughter’s home for a Cuban dinner party. And it was just that: a dinner party. I’m not one to show up empty-handed and wanted to know what we could bring. Not having all the free time in the world to actually bake a torte, I asked Phil to ask what we could bring. Unless it’s a potluck, people will mostly respond, “Nothing at all. Just bring yourselves!” Then you show up with a bottle of boring.
“It’s just not memorable,” I said to Phil that morning, as we headed to the wine shop en route to the pool. “Can’t we drive to the bakery instead?” Admittedly the bakery was well out of the way, but I’ve never liked bringing a bottle of wine to a dinner party, no matter how special.
“Let me ask you something, Stephanie. What do most people bring to someone’s house for dinner?”
“Wine! That’s my point. If everyone does it, it’s not very memorable.”
“You’re ridiculous. Let me tell you something: NO ONE CARES!”
“No, you don’t care. You don’t pay attention to that stuff because it doesn’t matter to you. Those details are lost on you, but not everyone else is like that. The truth is, I want to be thought of as thoughtful, memorable, different. Not as the people who bring over a bottle of Beringer.” I’m well aware that it’s not about me. That I should consider the people hosting and bring a thoughtful something instead of even considering how I’ll be considered. But the truth is, I like doing a little extra when it’s done for people who care. I’m fine with bringing a bottle of wine when it’s a big house party, filled with faces we don’t know. But when we’re invited to an intimate dinner party, I want to show my appreciation by thinking or doing a little more.
“No one said anything about Beringer. We’ll get a nice bottle.”
“What for, if no one remembers it?” I’m not sure he heard me, though. Phil was already out of the car, into the wine shop. I wanted to go home and bake, to make something terrific, a conversation piece. I wanted to participate.
Add insult to injury, when we arrived for the dinner party, and I asked where the wine was… oops. It was home, chilling. Oh, dear, the two of us are a mess.
I’ll say this, though; while we might forget the broad strokes, the details are never lost on me. I adore the seating charts, linen napkins, and tight bundles of flowers. And when we have people over, and I fall asleep, rehashing the night at our own home, I turn to Phil and say, “She was just so so thoughtful, so nice. We need to make plans with them more.” No, it’s not because she did or didn’t bring a bottle of wine, but in the end, I’m more inclined to think it if the people who showed up showed appreciation. And that’s always the impression I want to make on someone: that all their effort wasn’t lost on me. It’s not about bringing an elaborate gift. You know they have children, bring cupcakes and a coloring book for their wee ones. People remember that. They don’t remember the bottle of wine, so why bother with it?
"Because it’s etiquette," Phil says. I guess I just want more than polite.