Rita Konig, the London-based author of "Domestic Bliss," shares her must-haves for entertaining and the tactics that allow her to actually have fun at her own parties.
The author of Domestic Bliss: Simple Ways to Add Style to Your Life and a columnist for British Vogue, Rita Konig is as quirkily endearing as Bridget Jones, yet (unlike Bridget) enormously competent when it comes to throwing parties. And her advice is never improper: Her mother is London interior designer Nina Campbell.
What flowers do you use on the table?
For one big party I did recently, I had loads of different-colored carnations. I know people think they're awful, but having multiple colors is key, and the flowers must have fat heads.
What are some strategies for getting guests to relax?
You have to be at ease yourself; if you're worried about getting guests to relax, you get stressed out, and no one's comfortable. I like offering a cocktail before dinner, like a Belliniwhite peach puree with Prosecco.
What are your favorite bargain wines?
There's a wine called Morgon, a light French red, that's really nice. It's not expensiveI'll often find a bottle, like a Georges Duboeuf, for under $15. For a white, I really like Pouilly-Fumésay, a Ladoucette, which is under $25.
How do you set your table?
For water glasses, I have these small jewel-colored French tumblers from Summerill & Bishop in London ($41; 011-44-207-221-4566). I'll sometimes use them for white wine, but never red, because in a colored glass it looks like poison. I use glazed pottery from an American company called Potluck Studios. I have mustardy-colored plates and acid green bowls (from $20 for an 8-inch plate; 413-442-8200). I'll mix and match plates. Unlike our parents, who got stuck with one pattern when they married, my generation is mixing and matching more. None of us are relying on marriage to provide us with china, which is something of a relief.
Tell me about your most recent dinner party.
I cooked for friends just last night. I was waylaid heading home, which put things behind schedule. After cocktails, I could tell people were getting hungry, so I brought out the salad and cheese first (I usually serve them last). That kept everyone going while I got dinner ready. As for cheese, get a single great onelike a fantastic five-year-old Parmesanand serve it boldly ($17 for 8 ounces from Artisanal; 877-797-1200 or www.artisanalcheese.com).
Do you prefer plated meals or buffet?
I'm not that big on buffets. Guests can feel embarrassed that they've taken the wrong amount. Or they'll find something great at the end but their plate is full. It's also a reflection of the space in my house: You need a big sideboard to have a buffet, and I just have a small dining table, which I absolutely lovePhilippe Hurel's "Gouvernail," and his "Gala" chairs. Plated meals are equally difficult, though. If you don't eat your potatoes, everyone knows you're on Atkinsthen everyone will start telling you that you shouldn't be on it. What do you say? "Sorry, but potatoes dauphinoise just isn't good for my bottom"? It's easier if you don't have to serve it to yourself in the first place. I like putting all the food on the table and letting everyone pass dishes around and serve themselves.
What do you do for dessert?
Sometimes I don't do dessert. Instead I'll make a coffee tray with all sorts of treatsice cream bonbons, chocolates, cookies. Also, consider serving hot chocolate instead of coffeein an espresso cup, very dark, with very little milk. You make it small enough that people won't feel piggy, and bitter enoughat least 60 percent cocoathat it has intense flavor. Bonnat just started making a mix infused with lime blossom honey ($23 for 14 ounces from A Taste of Art; 212-964-5493 or www.bonnat-chocolatier.com).
What are some of your favorite hostess gifts?
I like to give honeyit's a tradition at Jewish New Year, to help celebrate a sweet start. My mother gave it as a gift when I was younger, and I remember thinking it was such a nice thing to do. Or bring chocolate. There's a place in London called Rococo Chocolates that has all these great bars with black pepper or Earl Grey tea ($6 for 2.3 ounces; 011-44-207-352-5857 or www.rococochocolates.com). I think flowers are difficult giftsif the host is cooking, someone else has to find a vase. Best to send flowers the day of the dinner, with a note that lets the person giving the party know you're so looking forward to coming over. And even if you just arrive with a pineapple from the market, it shows high spirits and fun.
What's the best music to play at a dinner party?
I'm so bad with music. I have this fear that if I put a song on, the whole room will go silent and everyone will think, "Who put that on?" But music is very important, so I'll ask someone to do it for me. My friends DJ'ed at my birthday party. If you have a friend who has trouble with his or her music selection, it's great to burn them a mix CD that they can play at the dinner. That takes time, which is sometimes the most thoughtful gift.
What are some tips for decorating a place for a party?
You want to make little cornersplaces for two guests to sit, instead of a lonely chair. And tables to put drinks down on, with a candle and a bowl of something to nibble.
What did you learn from your mother about entertaining?
She's always adding something new to a party. If she's just gone to Morocco and found amazing nuts, she'll bring some back for a dinner.
What's your party pet peeve?
When the host makes everybody change seats after each course. Usually the tricky time is in the beginning; after a while, you can get in the throes of a good conversationand then the host comes over and makes you take another place for dessert to talk to someone's really boring husband named Jeffrey. And you have to move all your stuff with youwater glass, wineglass.
Do you ever decorate the powder room?
I really like to put flowers and a couple of candles in the bathroom. You don't want too much light in there. I always forget to put out hand towels, but it's really nice. You can find pretty little linen ones at flea markets. They don't have to be too twee, like your granny's, which is what people fear. Vintage dish towels can work as well.
Do you think it's a good idea for guests to help in the kitchen?
Sometimes it's really nice to have someone in the kitchen and other times not. The worst is when you say "No, thanks" and the person insists. Generally, I don't offer to help out in friends' houses.
Do you make formal seating arrangements?
When I have six guests, I let people gravitate toward whomever they want to sit next to. I'll take the place closest to the kitchen. When it's 12 or more, then place cards are handy to help remind everyone of names.
What restaurant do you go to that has great atmosphere?
There's a new place called The Wolseley (160 Piccadilly, London; 011-44-207-499-6996) started by the people who owned Le Caprice. It's in what used to be the Barclay's bank building. Architecturally, it's very square, and hard. It was decorated by David Collins with lots of Chinese panels lacquered black and brown. But it's not dark. I've been there for breakfastwaiters carrying endless trays of brioche and pastries and delicious-looking things kept walking by.