Society / The Seen

The New Dinner Party Rules — Notable Texans Open Up on Hosting a Get-Together in Coronavirus Times

Much More Intimate and Shorter Nights Become the New Norm

BY // 08.14.20

COVID-19 notwithstanding, we simply cannot stand it any longer. We must see our friends. We are driven to answer our inherent need for socialization. Thus, those of us who are resisting the temptation of bars and restaurants are turning to at-home dinners for a tight circle of friends.

Home alone no more.

But the dinner party has changed. Precautions are taken. In lieu of going out, meals are takeout from favorite restaurants or caterers and, of course, the occasional work of a private chef.

The guest list of the pandemic era requires much closer scrutiny. Who has been following recommended guidelines? Who has been keeping their bubble tight? Who has been lighting up Instagram with photos of nights out and a zillion social interactions? The latter will not be included.

Gone are the giddy days when consummate caterer Jackson Hicks laid out his 10-step guideline for planning the perfect party.

“Start with the guest list: It should be diverse, have some artists, some soul, some tycoons, some devastating beauties — both genders. Add people who are animated and make good conversation,” he advised PaperCity in 2017.

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Such a lively, diverse crowd is not recommended at the moment. Health conscious hosts are limiting the number at their dinner table with six guests the max and just another couple the norm. Even the most noted hosts and hostesses are bending their social habits to pandemic requirements.

In July, we were invited to the art-filled Memorial area home John and Becca Cason Thrash where we were surprised to be greeted with our hosts wearing masks. We had entered wearing our masks as something of a joke. Not funny with this couple, who both have certain health issues. Cason Thrash, nevertheless, was stunningly dressed for cocktails and maintained her signature conviviality. We were directed to the bar and were asked to mix our own drinks, as is present day protocol, and then were invited to have a seat. My husband and I were seated a good 10 feet from our hosts, who remained completely gracious under the circumstances.

Once seated for dinner, across a wide table from one another, the couple donned their masks as they brought each course to the table.

On another evening we joined Janet Gurwitch and Ron Franklin in the breakfast room of their River Oaks home for dinner prepared by a French chef. While skipping the air kisses and hugs, the warmth was maintained even as we sat down at the glass-topped table. As our hostess pointed out, the original top had been replaced with a larger top in order to more generously accommodate six guests.

Phoebe Tudor setting the table for four at her vacation home in Nantucket. (Instagram photo)
Renowned hostess Phoebe Tudor setting the table for four at her vacation home in Nantucket. (Instagram photo)

The most detailed take on the new socializing came from Phoebe Tudor. Both she and Cason Thrash have held coveted positions on The Salonnière‘s list of the nation’s top 100 hostesses.

“No hugging or kissing or even handshakes,” Tudor says. “Air hugs from more than six feet apart is what we do.”

Tudor and her husband, Bobby, are spending the summer in their vacation home in Nantucket where there has been a certain amount of socializing with health safety protocols.

Guests are invited to pour their own drinks or presented with their own bottle of wine for refilling their own glasses. Guests have their on individual snack bowls — nuts, olives, etc.

“One dinner was a buffet where everyone served themselves, one at a time to stay apart while serving,” she says. “One was takeout and everyone got their own order and unpacked it on their own plates.”

Tudor also advises including only four to six people and keep the dinner shorter than normal, no lingering hours.

“Nevertheless, it is so nice to see friends in person rather than on a screen,” she notes. “And the smaller size can make for real connections and great conversations. We have really been missing our friends.”

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