The Art of Hosting

The Art Of HostingBy Karen Cleveland
Photography by James Pattyn


There is something undeniably satisfying about feeding people you love. If your go-to dinner party plan consists of ordering take-out and eating on the couch, step up your game with these hosting guidelines.SET THE TABLE: Place dinner plates in the middle of the setting. Glasses go on the right side of the plate–first the water glass, then the wine glass. Place side or salad plates to the left of dinner plates.
Forks go to the left of plates; knives, then spoons, go to the right. Just to make things complicated, small cocktail forks go to the outermost right. Blades of knives face in towards the plate, and napkins go to the left of the forks.

NOW SET THE TONE: Anticipate your guests’ needs. Be ready to stash jackets, wet umbrellas and anything else they need to unload, and welcome them into a clean, tidy, cozily lit place. Washrooms should be spotless and fully stocked with provisions like toilet paper, soap, clean towels and a scented candle. Immediately popping a welcome cocktail into your guests’ hands won’t hurt, either.


LIBATIONS: Aperitifs are meant to open up and stimulate the appetite. (Cocktail trivia: the Latin word aperio means “to open.”) For a refreshing start to the meal, offer a Campari and soda (with a twist of orange) or a glass of champagne. Avoid anything too intense that could singe the palette. After dinner you can serve digestifs, such as scotch, brandy or port. Darker and typically higher in alcohol than aperitifs, these nightcaps are meant to help digestion.

HOW TO SERVE AND CLEAR: Serve your guests from their left and clear from their right. Typically women are served first, starting with the eldest through to the youngest. Once the ladies have been served, dole out to the gents, starting with the most senior. Or, if there is a guest of honor, begin with him or her and serve clockwise from there. Alternatively, you can serve family-style: place serving dishes on the table and let guests help themselves.

KEEP A HAWK-EYED POST: Keep an eye on your guests to ensure they have what they need. Keep their wine and water glasses topped up and ensure that dishes, sauces and condiments make their way around the table to everyone. Offer guests second (or third) helpings and revel in their enjoyment. When everyone is finished the main course, clear everything from the table, except what’s needed for the dessert course, and tuck it out of sight in the kitchen. Then you’re ready for the grand finale of dessert, digestifs and coffee. At the end of the evening, make sure your guests are able to get themselves home safely.

(Originally published on 2 For Life Magazine, August 2013)


Host an “Oh, it’s no big deal” Summer Party

As promised, here’s the second in a little series as a guest contributor for This Beautiful Day.

Host an “Oh, it’s no big deal” Summer Party

We’re helping you have the BEST summer evaaaaa with Etiquette ExpertKaren Cleveland who will be sharing her gems all summer along. This is the second in our three-part series. Missed the first one? Catch it over here!

Summer weekends are prime real estate in social calendars, booking up well in advanced. Between cottage weekends, weddings, showers and vacations, I’m lucky if I’ll be able to round up all of my dearest and dearest before Thanksgiving! When weekend dinner plans aren’t in the cards, midweek entertaining is the answer. Even an intimidated host can pull together a Thursday night dinner party with ease and it is a fantastic respite to break up the work week.


The dog days of summer, with fresh produce, late sunsets and BBQs, beckon for unfussy dinners. Invite friends a week or so out, then use that window of time to set mini deadlines. Plan the menu one night, shop for beer, wine and shelf-stable ingredients the next night. Buy flowers and ice, do some chopping and before you know it, everything will practically be done.

If your space (and menu) is conducive to it, make the most of your BBQ. You can tend to it within chatting distance of your guests and it minimizes clean-up. Bonus! Grill everything you possibly can: some bread to serve with a salad to start, fish, meat, veggies or pizza for mains, then some hard fruit for dessert (grilled peaches with a brush of bourbon? Pineapple with a super easy rum sauce? Yes, please). Add in some beer and wine on ice at arm’s reach, an abundance of white candles and a fun soundtrack — recipe for a nice midweek for the night and you’re set. Best part of grilling your entire meal? Very few dishes to wash up.

(Originally published on This Beautful Life, July 2013)

Be the BEST Damn House Guest this Summer

I was thrilled to do a little guest post for my friend and recent Toronto expat-to-California, Lisa Ng. This is the first in a series, so watch this space (and Lisa’s great site) for more to come!

Be the BEST Damn House Guest this Summer


Photo Credit – House Dreams


We’re helping you have the BEST summer evaaaaa with Etiquette Expert, Karen Cleveland who will be sharing her gems all summer along. Karen and I first met when we whisked off to Madrid, Spain for 72 hours to cover a Coldplay concert from a bull ring….fuuuuuun! I literally met her in the departures lounge and thankfully she came from the world of awesome because I will never forget that trip. She’s also very wise on the etiquette-front, so listen up!

Score yourself an invitation to a friend’s cottage or beach house? Lucky you! Charm your hosts so much on your first visit and you just might secure an invite for every weekend until Labour Day. The more pleasant the experience for the people hosting you, the better the odds of keeping your name at the top of the invite list.



· Know what time your hosts expect you to arrive and depart, so you don’t surprise them with an early arrival, hold up dinner plans or overstay your welcome.

· Overestimate the travel time, it’s better to kill 15 minutes by stopping for a coffee and a stretch than it is to show up late.

· Arrive with a little something for your hosts — something to snack on and wine are perennial good bets.

· Make yourself helpful by pitching in with meal preparations and cleaning up.

· Relax and enjoy your host’s space. Having a great time? Do they make the best Caesar you’ve ever tasted? Tell them. They’ll love to hear it.

· Show your gratitude by swiftly sending your hosts a thank you card once your visit is over, telling them how much you enjoyed their company and their lovely space.




· Don’t leave a trail in your wake. Your hosts shouldn’t see your products all over the bathroom vanity or your things strewn across the dock.

· Be negative by complaining. If you can pick the onions out of your salad or tan on the dock instead of swimming in the weedy area of the lake, do so quietly and humbly.

· Make yourself at home to the point of being boorish. We’ve all borne witness to those dirty iPod dock hijackers,

Karen Cleveland is a marketer and brander by day, etiquette steward by night. You can follow her Twitter, visit her at or send her questions at


(Originally published on This Beautiful Day, July 2013)