Solutions: Discovering the secrets of entertaining

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

Entertaining is an acquired skill, just like cooking or decorating or any other creative endeavor with components that come together as a whole. Over the holidays, we were invited to a variety of gatherings and I am always inspired by what I see.

While most of our friends seem to have inherited the hosting gene, I am trying to find my way. For some, the practice comes naturally and they genuinely enjoy the process. Some of my recent observations encouraged me to give it another try.

When a friend broke her ankle the night before she planned to have around a dozen people over for a Secret Santa exchange, another friend offered to host it with less than 24 hours notice. I would need at least two weeks to get my act together.

It turned out great and I was reminded that my friend always has her dining room table beautifully set for the holidays, in this case with colorful ornaments and seasonal dishes. Because we had paper plates, there was still something pretty to see after you finish eating and there’s less work for the host.

The next day we were off to an annual champagne brunch and cookie decorating party that is always a lot of fun and the hosts have it down to a science from years of experience. One of the tips I plan to borrow is to cut bagels into quarters to make them more manageable for guests.

Though we planned to spend a nice quiet evening at home on Christmas Eve, a last-minute invite to an open house was something we simply couldn’t resist. A good time is practically guaranteed at this home where everyone gathers.

On Thanksgiving they had more people come and go in a day than we do in a year.

For parties, my friend labels the food with ceramic dry-erase signs and keeps it hot in a triple crockpot. On Christmas Eve, her husband was roasting chestnuts on an open fire and making mulled wine. I felt like I had gone back in time; it was like being at Greenfield Village.

Another holiday open house that was packed with people featured fun traditions like their quirky assortment of musical Christmas toys. My husband enjoyed a tour of their wine collection and I thought about hosting our own annual party.

During a yummy lunch at another friend’s home the next day, she baked cookies while we were there so they could be served hot from the oven. Even her Fritos looked fancy when placed in beautiful white bowls, which is doable even for me.

When we have an open house, I never have enough time to talk to everyone. So, I plan to break my entertaining into smaller chunks by hosting smaller groups more often. My first guinea pigs will be invited over this month for a simple brunch or cocktail hour. If all goes well, I might improve my entertaining skills while sharing some of my own tips along the way.

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at