We asked a few real people known for their hosting warmth and grace to share the keys to building beautiful gatherings, and answers to your most pressing questions—on everything from the ideal invitation to how to get your guests out of your party.
So without further adieu, meet our hosts!
Kenisha White is the co-founder of conscious lifestyle community Rage & Release, and their food programming series Da Bang Bang, a “culinary culture clash” which explores Afro cultures around the world, showcasing diversity and resiliency through immersive vegetarian dining experiences. Susan Korn is the founder and designer of Susan Alexandra, whose fashion shows are as one-of-a-kind as her beaded creations and have become a fixture of recent NYFWs. Chef Tara Thomas is the co-founder of Breaking Bread NYC—a non-profit dedicated to fighting food insecurity and inequity—and a contributing editor to Caldera Magazine, an experimental platform for BIPOC and queer voices.
Q: What is your favorite form of invitation?
Kenisha: I love handwritten invitations and e-vites that have a personal touch to their designs. The more creative the better. It gets people excited for what’s to come.
Susan: I like my invites via e-mail so I can easily add to my calendar. Extra points if the host CC's the entire guest list so you know exactly what kind of thing you're getting yourself into…
Tara: My favorite form of invitation is a save the date text and a follow up formal invitation perhaps in the form of a digital card or handwritten physical copy!
Q: What counts as fashionably late?
Kenisha: Fashionably late to me now is arriving just as the welcome drinks are in hand and filling that last seat at the table before dinner begins.
Susan: Oy, whatever fashionably late is, I make sure to come an additional 15 minutes after...I'm perpetually running behind. If I'm the host, I prefer my guests no later than 30 minutes. and NEVER, EVER come early. What a nuisance!
Tara: Fashionably late is arriving a half hour late to the gathering.
Q: What is the most unexpectedly useful or delightful hosting gift you’ve received?
Kenisha: Wine is always welcome but I really love gifts that are given with the host in mind. I’ve had potted plants in hand-painted pots and fun playing cards for when I have company. Whatever it is, it‘s nice when it brings more love into the home.
Susan: I love extra desserts. There can never be enough desserts. Also, once a friend brought me a linen sachet filled with lavender for my bead. I use it every night. Not at all related to dining but a thoughtful gift nevertheless.
Tara: The most delightful hosting gift is incense and fresh fruit! I adore cleansing my space post guests to reclaim my sanctuary as well as eating fresh fruit throughout the day, it’s my form of stability.
Q: What is essential for building the ambience of a night?
Kenisha: Decor, lighting, and music truly set the scene for the night. I love creative tablescapes and candles or soft lighting. Then pairing that along with music that matches the vibe but doesn’t overpower the conversation.
Susan: Music and copious amounts of seltzer.
Tara: Building ambience is creating a space to be present. To me this means engaging the senses. 1. Cleaning/decorating 2. Lighting incense, candles, and building the aromatic dimension to the space. 3. Offering fresh fruit, water, and small bites so guests can help themselves and make themselves at home. 4. Playing a playlist, records, or DJing to engage sound 5. A spot for all guests to sit comfortable is important to creating collective presence.
Q: For when the fun is wrapping up—what’s the best way to get your guests to leave the party?
Kenisha: Dinner parties can go on for hours. It’s hard to say goodbye when everyone is having such a great time. I find that there needs to be some kind of conclusion whenever you’re hosting whether it’s a heartfelt “thank you” announcement to everyone for a wonderful night or handing out a parting gift to direct people towards the door. In any case, clearing the table always seems to clear the space.
Susan: I always sort of sigh and say "Ok...I'm exhausted" and hope that that's enough.
Tara: My method to wrap up a party is to learn about what guests are doing later or the next day. I think it’s important to create space for everyone to prepare for what’s next. Whether it’s leaving on time for a good night's sleep, sending off with a treat for later, and sharing gratitude.
This guide is part of the Graza Guide to Friendsgiving!