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How to....

Keith Lathon, Builder/ Developer (Retired)
Building Tips and Meet the Artisans
Paul R. Williams, Architect: Recognize a Great One
The World's Best

I just love Room Service!

How to Throw a Dinner Party


Do you lie awake the night before a dinner party fraught with anxiety? What if they don't come? What if the food is lousy? What if they have a horrible time? Quell those misgivings with a streamlined plan


  1. Choose a cause for celebration. It will set the tone and anchor all the elements of your party.
  2. Select a date. Make it easy on yourself and pick a day and date that gives you enough time to prepare without being rushed.
  3. Choose a style--an informal gathering with a few friends, a backyard picnic for the team, a low-key cocktail party for 20 or an elegant fund raising dinner for 50. The reason for the party and its style provides the structure for all other components to hang on.
  4. Compile the guest list and send out invitations. Casual affairs need a few days to a week's advance notice by phone or e-mail, while written invitations to formal dinners might be mailed a full month ahead.
  5. Create the desired ambience. Whether it's simple candlelight or more ornate decorations, everything from your table settings and decorations to the menu and music will set the tone.


One Week Ahead

    • Create the menu. Instead of immediately searching cookbooks for recipes, begin by thinking about what flavors, tastes, textures, colors and sensations would complement each other. Visit a farmers' market and taste what's fresh, in season and delicious. Keep balance in mind: If you're having cheese tortellini, don't serve cheesecake for dessert and overload on dairy and heavy creamy textures. And last, be realistic about how much time you have to prepare before choosing your recipes.  
    • Start thinking about how you'll arrange seating
    • Hire help or rent supplies from a party rental store. Consider getting extra plates or silverware, bar glasses and linens, as well as serving help, a caterer and a housekeeper to clean up after.


Two Days Ahead

  • Polish the silver, wash the stemware and iron the tablecloths. When you set the table, pay attention to details. Arrange flowers in dramatic side-table displays or individual vases at each place setting. Tuck a sprig of lavender into crisp, cloth napkins; float candles in a bowl of water; craft simple but classy name cards. Centerpieces can be anything from a simple bowl of lemons to a beautiful floral arrangement Select dinner music that enhances your ambience and is well matched to the menu.

 Choose wine for the meal. Go to for tips about pairing wines with foods. One type of red and one white will suffice. Figure two to three glasses per person when estimating how much to buy--one bottle holds roughly four glasses.


 Party Time

  • Mastermind the mingling. Create conversation corners in your cocktail area. Instead of one marooned chair, think huddles of chairs. Seat guests with similar interests next to each other.
  • Enjoy yourself. Have fun and relax--it will be infectious and will set your guests at ease.
  • Pay attention to cues that the party is wrapping up, including ignored wineglasses, yawns and nervous comments about babysitters. Graciously thank your guests for coming and help them gather their things. To get people moving out the door, drop subtle hints ("Does anyone need a last cup of coffee?"). If all else fails, start clearing up glasses and dishes.
  • Celebrate sweet success. Once you've done a load of dishes, kick off your shoes, settle back with a last glass of wine, and enjoy rehashing with your spouse or co-host.


  • Tips: Prevent logjams by setting up the bar away from the buffet table.


  • Get out the platters or dishes you'll use to serve the food. Label them with sticky notes so you're sure you have enough serving dishes for everything on the menu.


  • Remember--you want your guests to be relaxed and have a great time. Cue the mood by relaxing and enjoying yourself, too.


  • A manageable dinner party size is 6 to 12 guests. Consider how many can  sit at your table without bumping elbows.


  • To remove red wine stains, blot up as much as possible with an absorbent cloth. Saturate the stain with club soda. Later, apply a paste of three parts baking soda to one part water. Let dry, then vacuum.


  • Do your shopping three to four days in advance, except for vegetables, fresh fish and flowers.


  • Consider shopping online for your groceries, flowers and wine--many food delivery sites sell all three.


How to Set an Formal Table


1.      Use white, damask tablecloth..

2.      Rent or assemble enough tableware and glasses for a five-course meal.

3.      Space place settings equidistance apart.

4.      Fold linen napkins and place in the center of the dinner plates.

5.      Place knives to the right of the plate. Use maximum of three: one for first course, one for main course and one for a salad course. Blades face the plate, not outwards.

6.      Place forks to the left. Use no more than three: one for first course, one for main course and one for a salad course.

7.      Place soup or melon spoons to the right of the knives. The dessert spoon lies at the head of the plate.

8.      If you like, an old-fashioned finger bowl might be presented on the dessert plates after the meal.

9.      Set out glasses in order of use above the knives. Usually that means setting water glass to the left, then to its right are the red wine, white wine, sherry and then champagne glasses.


ˇ                                   Tips:  The silverware at a formal dinner is generally silver or silverplate.

ˇ                                   Butter dishes are not traditionally included in a formal table setting.

ˇ                                   Rolls are placed directly on the tablecloth.

ˇ                                   Dessert forks come with the course

ˇ                                   Huge centerpieces can block lines of communication.

ˇ                                   Accidents are usually the result of cramped quarters.

ˇ                                   White or Black Plates .
White plates are best for most dishes. But, if you have pasta with alfredo sauce, an all-white meal, it looks best on a black plate. The same goes for chicken and other white foods.

ˇ                                   Decorative napkins
Instead of folding napkins into plain squares, fold it in an artistic way; Lady Windamere's fan or Bishops Mitre for example, and put it in the middle of the plate. This will make an elegant impression on your guests.



How to Eat at a Formal Dinner

The silverware is placed on the table in the order in which it will be used, starting with the outside pieces. Let this be your guide as you work your way through a meal.




Put your napkin on your lap. Unfold it, but don't spread it.



Use outside fork for first course, unless soup is served, then use the outside spoon.



When you are finished with the course, place your fork at the right end of your plate, using a slight diagonal. This signifies that you are done. For a soup course or another course that uses a wide bowl, place the spoon on the plate below the bowl. If a shallow bowl is used, place the spoon on the bowl in the same manner as a fork on a plate.



Continue by using the new outside fork. If the course requires a knife, use the knife farthest to the right.



Use fork closest to your plate to eat your entre. The spoon and fork at your plate's head are for dessert.



Drink water from the largest glass at your setting.



Drink red wine from the big bowled glass; drink white wine from the narrower bowled glass.



If a little bowl of water is on the table, or appears with the dessert, wash the tips of your fingers in it. Dry them on your napkin.



Refold your soiled napkin when you leave the table.




It is proper etiquette to wait for the host or hostess to unfold the napkin and begin eating before the guests do likewise.



If you're uncertain about how or when to use a certain utensil, watch others and do what the majority of them do.



When eating bread, tear off pieces with your fingers - don't cut it. Also, butter the piece you've just torn right before you eat it; don't butter the whole piece first.



To eat soup, dip the spoon into the soup, then remove it by going away from your body, not toward it. Sip the soup off the side of the spoon, instead of placing the whole spoon in your mouth.







Practice makes perfect
Practice proper dining manners at home. This way you won't feel so awkward when attending a formal occasion.







Formal Dinners
Remember, when you are placing a cloth napkin on your lap, put the crease of the folded napkin away from your body (closest to the table). Do not wipe your mouth with this napkin, gently dab the sides of your mouth. Place the napkin back on your lap, and remember not to flatten the napkin down. Wearing your napkin as a bib is a big no-no. Working from the outside in is the biggest helpful hint.


How to Pull Off a Last-Minute Party


Friends just called to say they're in town, you just landed a promotion or maybe just the movie was sold out. Whatever the occasion, be quick on your feet to pull off a fabulous spur-of-the-moment fe^te

  1. Stock a range of party staples that can become an instant feast. Pasta is easy and quick--and almost everyone has an extra box in the cupboard. Other basics include balsamic vinegar and olive oil, Parmesan cheese, canned whole tomatoes, jars of pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, crackers, chips and jars of salsa, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar (for easy dipping sauces), boxed cake mixes and ice cream
  2. Stock extra wine, champagne and beer, hard alcohol and mixers. You can blend margarita mix and tequila with ice in seconds.
  3. Give them something to snack on: You should always have nuts and olives at the ready. Then put out crackers, chips and salsa, raw veggies and ranch dressing, or quesadillas cut into thin strips
  4. Fire up the grill. People can catch up outside while you make appetizers(grilled bread with mozzarella and fresh basil), dinner (salmon, kebabs, portobello mushroom burgers) and even dessert (grilled peaches with vanilla ice cream).
  5. Let your guests assemble and serve their own meals from food bars with mashed potato fixings and chili, build-your-own burritos or ice-cream sundae ingredients
  6. Buy a roasted chicken for an impromptu dinner party and pull together easy side dishes: smashed boiled red potatoes (skins on) with herbed goat cheese mixed in, a green salad and the frozen green veggie of your choice cooked with a little butter and salt.



ˇ                                   Create mood lighting; glaring bright lights can kill any party. Turn off overhead lights, light some votive candles and turn on low table lamps.

ˇ                                   Chocolate chips can be melted in a microwave and drizzled on top of vanilla ice cream.

ˇ                                   If you're serving takeout and passing it off as homemade, saute' an onion and a few garlic cloves on the stovetop over low heat. The whole house will smell like some serious home cooking.

ˇ                                   Make use of your grocery store's convenience foods such as prepared fruit trays, bagged salads, deli potato salad and marinated and assembled kebabs from the meat counter.  

 How to Plate Like a Professional


1.    Bigger is better: Crowding Food is a no no. Large plates allow for separation between items, which lets the inherent beauty of each one shine.

2.    White is Right: Use white or earth tomes; these will complement any color of food.



What grows together goes together: Preparing Fresh ingredients that are in season doesn’t just taste better it looks better. Seasonal produce tends to fall into both culinary and visual harmony.



1.    Clock Wise: The Conventional, looking at the plate as a clock.

*Starch @ 10’o clock

*Meat @    2’o clock 

*Vegetables @ 6’o clock,  is always safe bet.

2.    Focus, Baby: “Find the focal point” of the meal (usually the protein) and elevate it by placing it on or leaning it up against the starch.

3.    Get Sauced: Spoon sauced under the meat, rather than on top. This allows the meat’s crust to stay crisp while also offering a contrasting circular shape beneath. 


How to order in a French Restaurant & understanding the Menu


When confronted with a menu in a restaurant in France, many people have no idea where to start. The following will help you avoid ordering chocolate mousse as an appetizer or goat cheese salad for dessert.


Expect to see a lunch menu from about noon to 3:00 p.m., and a dinner menu from about 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Many restaurants close between lunch and dinner.



Find out if the restaurant features a "plat du jour," or daily special. This typically includes meat, vegetables and perhaps potatoes, all for one low price.



Understand that the word "menu" doesn't mean the same thing in French as it does in English. It's a fixed-price meal of three or four courses, and usually the most inexpensive way to order a full meal.



Start with an "entroe" if you prefer to order a full meal from the menu. Again, this doesn't mean the same thing as it does in English; it means "appetizer" in French.



Follow the "entroe" with one of the "plats principaux," or main dishes.



Eat your veggies by ordering from the "logumes."



Reward yourself with dessert. Finally, this one means the same thing in French as it does in English.



Realize that "fromage," or cheese, comes between the main course and dessert in an elaborate dinner.



Before paying, check to see if the menu says "service compris," or service included. If it does, you needn't add a tip, though it's common to round up when paying.




Small cafés or snack bars typically serve fewer courses. Here it's common to simply order a sandwich such as a "croque monsieur" (toasted ham and cheese).



If you order water, the waiter will usually bring bottled water. Ask for "une carafe d'eau" if you just want tap water.







Look at the menu first. Often the combination of courses is considerably cheaper than if you selected the various dishes individually - in some cases it is cheaper to have a three course menu than a two course meal (you can, of course, order the menu and simply not eat the extra course if you don't want it).


How to order in a Italian Restaurant


When confronted with a menu in an Italian restaurant, many people have no idea where to start. The following will help you avoid ordering gelato as an appetizer or minestrone as a dessert.




Expect to see a lunch menu from about noon to 3:00 p.m., and a dinner menu from about 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Many restaurants close between lunch and dinner.



Look on the menu to see if it says "coperto" or "pane e coperto" (cover, or bread and cover). Many Italian restaurants charge a few dollars just for the privilege of sitting down to a meal.



See if the restaurant features a "meno turistico," or tourist menu. This is a fixed-price meal, usually consisting of a few courses, and is typically a good deal.



Start with an "antipasto," or appetizer, if you prefer to order a full meal from the menu.



Order a "primo" (first course) next. These typically consist of pasta, risotto, or occasionally, soups such as minestrone.



Pick your main course from the list of "secondi" (second courses). These are the meat and fish dishes.



Be aware that "formaggi," or cheeses, come between the main course and dessert in an elaborate dinner.



Look for "dolci" (sweets) on the menu if you want dessert, but be aware that Italians usually prefer cheese, fruit, sweet wine or simply coffee to end a meal.



Order fewer courses if you like; many travelers save a lot of money by skipping the "secondo," typically the most expensive part of a meal.



Look to see if the bill includes "servizio," or a service charge, usually 12 to 15 percent of the total. If it does, you needn't add a tip, though it's common to round up when paying.




Small cafés or snack bars typically serve fewer courses. Here, it's common to simply order a plate of pasta or a "panino" (sandwich).



If you order water, the waiter will usually bring bottled water. Ask for "acqua semplice" if you just want tap water.


How to Choose a Fine Caviar

After harvesting, caviar, or sturgeon roe, is graded by size and color (just like pearls). Caviar typically comes from one of three species of sturgeon: beluga, the largest of the fish; osetra, the second largest sturgeon; or sevruga. These types of caviar all come from the Caspian Sea area.


  1. Select caviar that has been processed "malassol," or "little salt."
  2. Taste all three kinds of caviar to determine what you like. Beluga caviar is light or dark gray with largish roe. Osetra is golden or dark brown, also with large eggs. Osetra eggs are occasionally light gold. Sevruga roe are small and dark gray.
  3. Understand that caviar is graded according to the size and color of the egg. Some people swear by lighter caviar with larger eggs, but others say the grading doesn't necessarily make a difference.
  4. Avoid using silver or stainless steel spoons when eating caviar - they give the eggs a tinny taste. Traditionally, horn, bone, mother-of-pearl or even gold spoons are used, but you can use glass or wood.
  5. Ask when the caviar was harvested when making your purchase. You want the freshest caviar you can get.


Tip: Beluga is commonly thought of as the highest-quality caviar - the eggs are silky and rich. Osetra has a stronger, nuttier taste. Rare gold osetra ("royal caviar") is highly sought after. Sevruga has a fresh taste and firm texture. Taste the different types of caviar and determine for yourself which you like.


*Only sturgeon roe can be called caviar, at least without specifying the type of fish the roe comes from ("salmon caviar," for example). In addition to Caspian caviar, however, there's American and Chinese caviar, which also come from sturgeon, if different varieties than their Caspian cousins.


*Store caviar at 26 to 32 degrees F (in the coldest part of your refrigerator, not the freezer) in the original tin.


*Unopened caviar lasts for 1 1/2 weeks.


*Finish the tin, or store it with a piece of plastic wrap tightly pressed onto the eggs' surface to dispel air. Turn the tin once or twice a day to distribute oils.




How to Tip Properly in North America


One of the most common questions asked by vacationers is "How much should I tip?" The answer is complex when you consider various protocols around the world, but general rules do apply here at home. Commit these tipping tips to memory to avoid getting fleeced or forgotten.
1.  Don't tip if it's not deserved. You're essentially buying good service, and if it's not earned it shouldn't be rewarded. You're only promoting poor service habits and wasting money.
2.  Tip above the norm for two reasons: if service is exceptional, and if you plan on returning to the hotel or restaurant in the future. Big tippers are rarely forgotten by the staff.
3.  Tip discreetly. There's an art to passing money: Fold the bill three times, cup it in your palm with your thumb, and hand it to the staff member with a casual handshake while saying, "Thank you."
4.  Tip big when first checking into a hotel to assure better service throughout your stay.
Overall Tips:
When in doubt, tip. Failure to tip--or not tipping enough-- can have dire consequences to your vacation, from lost luggage to molasses-slow restaurant and room service.
Airport Porters $1 per bag for normal sizes, $2 per bag for large or heavy items.
Chauffeurs 10 to 15 percent of fare.
Coat Check $2 to $5 upon retrieval.
Concierges or Guest Services Representatives $10 to $20 depending on the complexity of the service--theater tickets, restaurant reservations, tour bookings, last-minute arrangements.
Hotel Door Persons $2 for summoning a taxi by phone, $1 for hailing from street, $2 to $5 if they opened the door for you each time you entered and left the hotel.
Hotel Porters $1 to $2 per bag, $5 minimum.
Housekeeping Staff $2 to $5 per night, paid daily or as a sum at checkout.
Parking Valets $2 to $5 for parking and delivery.
Restaurant and Bar Service 15 to 20 percent of the total tab.
Room Service $5 minimum.
Taxicabs and Hotel Courtesy Cars 10 percent of fare, $2 to $5 minimum depending on service. Add $1 per bag placed in trunk.
Restaurant delivery person
The tip for a delivery person in North America should be 15 to 20 percent, just as if you had been served in the restaurant. The employee most likely took your order on the phone, submitted it to the kitchen, then packed and made sure everything ordered was there, then drove it to your door. I would say they did more than the waitstaff just bringing your order to your table in the restaurant, they just brought it to your door! And they do so in all kinds of weather!

Less than minimum wage b
I understand that tips are not required, but the US government does consider it a substantial part of your income. Because of this, waiters and bartenders are not required to be paid minimum wage. Most servers make only $2.15 an hour. The average meal when you eat out is over an hour. So for your family's (and the four families next to you) drinks, food, extra dressing, special requests, and anything else you desire, that serve racked up a whopping $2.00.
Also take into consideration that if you food is messed up it is the kitchens fault, not your servers. If you drink from the bar takes forever, it is the bartender running behind. Remember that normally one or two bartenders not only provide total service to everyone at the bar, but are required to make every drink in the entire place. Servers can only be held responsible for the things they can control. Honestly, most of the time it is guests that slow things down. A 5 ounce steak can not be cooked well done in five minutes. Special soda orders usually take two trips to different places to make, only to be empty in under two minutes. I'm not saying that you should put up with bad service, but try to keep your expectations realistic.

How to Tip in a Foreign Country

When you're abroad, tipping can be a perplexing experience: In some countries it's expected, in others it's an insult--and the rules are constantly changing. As corporate mentality replaces traditional ideology (that the honor of providing hospitality is reward itself), tipping etiquette has become more mainstream.
Overall Warnings:
Double-check the tipping protocol at South Pacific and Asian hotels. Many prohibit tipping to prevent staff from hustling guests for money.
Australia and New Zealand Round up taxi fares and restaurant bills to nearest dollar.
Austria Service charges generally included in bill.
Britain and Ireland Service charges usually included in restaurant bills; otherwise, standard U.S. tipping rules apply.
China and North Korea Tipping is illegal.
Czech Republic Round up the bill to nearest koruna.
France and Germany Service charges generally applied to bills; customary to add 5 percent extra.
Hong Kong Tipping is common--about 10 percent in most situations--even when a service charge has already been applied.
Hungary 10 percent tip is customary.
Indonesia Service charges are usually included in bill.
Israel Restaurants and hotels typically add 10 percent service charge to bills; otherwise, tipping not expected.
Italy Tipping is customary, about 10 percent, even when a service charge is already included.
Japan Tips are usually included in hotel and restaurant bills; otherwise, tipping is not expected.
Malaysia Tipping is expected for porters and room service.
Mexico Tipping is customary, about 10 to 15 percent. Service charges rarely applied.
Philippines 10 percent tip is common for most services.
South Korea Tipping is not expected.
Spain Offer a 10 to 15 percent tip even when service charges have been added.
UK tipping
Tipping in the UK is not as common as it should be - I think this directly contributes to the poor service which we tend to receive here, compared with the USA. I have lived in both countries for 10+ years each, and worked as a waitress and barmaid in the UK. Please do tip your servers, it is always appreciated and does ensure that you receive better service. As a general guide, I would say 15-20% in a restaurant, and offer to get them a drink when you buy each round. A good bar person will not drink while working, but they can take $3 or so for themselves from your change.
Tipping in Holland
I lived in Holland for five years and have some insights and anecdotes about tipping in Holland as an American.

The Dutch consider themselves very thrifty, to say the least. In general, service costs are built into the bill and the Dutch do not consider it necessary to tip for services. Table service reflects this culture norm and tends to be minimal.

Generous Dutchies will leave small change never exceeding a couple of bucks. A five Euro tip on dinner for two would be considered very generous.

On more than one occasion, I have had Dutch nationals take my excessive (10%) tip and pocket most of it stating "you are spoiling the pot". I suggest handing the tip to the server in any case as a matter of politeness.

Taxi rates are so excessive that tipping is seldom if ever done.