holiday hosting tips from a pro, Barbara Gandy
Entertaining Winter Holidays

Hosting Tips From A Pro

Learn the best secrets for being the most impressive party hostess ever, while still enjoying time with your guests and not stressing the whole time in this interview with a professional hostess. Written December 2014

My grandmother, Barbara Gandy, is a {modest} professional hostess. She’s been perfecting her entertaining skills since she was in high school, and studied hospitality and home economics in college. Her amazing mix of old-fashioned etiquette and modern simplicity create the perfect party every time.  She specializes in large dinner parties and event planning, but also enjoys intimate gatherings with short guest lists.

This Thanksgiving, I was able to sit down with her for a quick interview to gather up some of her best advice for hosting get-togethers. From menu planning to out-of-town guests, and everything in between, she shares some amazing knowledge that sheds new light on old practices. Enjoy!


hosting tips from a professional hostess, Barbara Gandy

An Interview With Barbara, Queen Of Hostessing

Do you prefer serving a meal or appetizer-style snacks? If it’s 8-10 people, I prefer a meal. But if the group exceeds ten or twelve people, I’d rather serve finger foods. It’s a lot harder to have a sit-down meal with a big guest list.

You sometimes host up to forty people at a time. How do you manage cooking and prepping while still mingling with you guests? (laughs) Well, that’s hard to do. You want to prepare most of the dishes in advance. It’s best to have most of the dishes out and ready by the time everyone arrives. I like to have a friend help out, too. She can greet the guests, take their coats, and ask what they would like to drink. It’s hard for just one person do everything when you have that many people over.

What are some of your favorite go-to snacks to serve for unexpected visitors? One thing I make quickly is an easy cracker dip. I just put cream cheese on a dish and top it with jarred hot pepper jelly. I put out different kinds of crackers and you just spread the cheese and jelly on. It takes less than a minute to prepare. I also always keep mixed nuts and chips and salsa on hand.

Tips on hosting a potluck? After the invitations have been sent out, I usually call the guests and let them know what kind of meal it will be, whether it’s sit-down or appetizer-style. Then I ask what kind of food they would like to bring. I tell them the categories (appetizer, side dish, salad, dessert, etc) and let them choose. I keep track of their choices so I don’t end up with a table full of just desserts.

When attending a party at someone else’s house, do you prefer to take a dish or a hostess gift? I’d rather take a dish, but if they specify that I don’t need to bring anything, I’ll take them a jar of homemade roasted nuts or a nice tea towel. Sometimes I’ll take them a bottle of wine.

How do you get guests to mingle with new faces instead of sticking with segregated groups? I try not to invite too many people that don’t know each other. I like to invite groups of people that share the same interests and are comfortable with each other. If inviting new people that may not know anyone, I try to introduce them to someone who is familiar with the majority of the guests. That way they can meet and greet with everyone and feel more at ease.

You’ve been hosting for many years. Are there any old-fashioned “rules” that people should continue to follow, even as times continue to change?  The biggest one is written invitations that include an RSVP should always be responded to as quickly as possible. People don’t really take RSVP’s seriously anymore, but they are very important. Another thing we learned in Home Ec classes in college was to never be in the kitchen while you have guests. That means to have everything done before they arrive. It takes a little extra prep work but guests feel uncomfortable if you are working while they are in your home.

What are the most versatile wines to serve that almost everyone will like? You probably need to have a red and white option. Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and White Zinfandel are good choices for white wines and I’d suggest Merlot or Pino Noir for red wines.

Has your hosting style changed over the years? Yes, as I’ve gotten older, my style has gotten a lot simpler. I try to keep things classic and easy so I can enjoy my guests.

So here’s a scenario: you planned for 15 guests but ended up with 25. How do you adjust and stretch your menu to accommodate the extra guests? You just have to pretend like it’s not a big deal. Shop your freezer and pantry for a few extra quick sides to add to the buffet. The more options people have to choose from, the less of each item they will put on their plate.

Store bought desserts: Yes or No?  As a general rule, no. I wouldn’t say that it would be bad to serve a store-bought dessert, but if you are having a group of new friends or coworkers over, you should make a homemade dessert.

What’s the best timeframe for a weekend party? I think the best time to start is about 6:30. Just in case they had to work on Saturday or had errands or housework they needed to do. You should take into account the time of year also. In the winter, it’s dark by 6:00 so it feels later and guests won’t want to stay out very long. But in the summer it doesn’t get dark until 8 or 9, so you can start your party later and guests won’t feel like they need to hurry home.

How do you feel about having an hors d’oeuvre only meal? I think it’s fine as long as you tell them that’s what you’ll be serving. They should be prepared for a small finger-food style meal instead of expecting a full dinner.

Do you go all out with decorations? Well, you eat with your eyes, so I always try to decorate the table with some kind of theme. If the party you’re throwing doesn’t have a specific theme, I’ll decorate a little for the nearest holiday. I always make sure I have a nice tablecloth and some kind of centerpiece to make the guests feel like I took time to impress them. Even if it’s just a vase of flowers and some cloth napkins, it’s better than a plain table.

So much knowledge packed into one little interview. I am so grateful for the chance to sit down with her and ask her these questions. She enjoyed answering them and hopes she helps many people with her advice.  I’d love to know which one of these tips gave you an ah-ha moment. Please drop a note in the comments and let me know!



  1. I love the interview with Barbara. she is definitely the person that is knowledgeable about dinner parties. love all the information that I gather from your tips. thank you.

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