You’re starring in the new hit reality show “Feed Your Future In-laws,” featuring your soon-to-be husband and his parents.
Scene 1: the doorbell rings and your in-laws are at the door.
It’s here that the show can take an ugly turn, morphing from lighthearted family comedy to film noir or even, gasp, a dark scene of horror and mayhem. You’re a nervous wreck, the food is under seasoned and overcooked, and you forgot to get rid of a cobweb in the dining room.
Gulp. Let’s replay the scene. The doorbell rings. You’re prepared, gracious, relaxed and smiling. The mood is welcoming, dinner is under control and your mother-in-law is beaming. You really are taking good care of her baby.
Now that’s more like it.
Entertaining your prospective in-laws for the first time can be tough on the nerves. nerve wracking. “Keep it simple,” said lifestyle expert Barclay Fryery, star of “House Wars,” on the USA network. “You should have a sense of your in-laws’ backgrounds and taste level. Don’t do anything that will make them feel uncomfortable. When in doubt, don’t try too hard.” A lunch or brunch can be less formal than dinner, depending on the circumstances. “You don’t want to get into a one-ups contest with his mother. IF she wants to help in the kitchen let her.”
The thing is, you can pull off a sophisticated dinner without breaking too much of a sweat if you plan in advance, said Daniel Briones, director of catering for the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia, “If the evening is a special occasion, you need to think of it as an event,” he said. “You want the house to be clean and cozy, with plenty of candles and fresh flowers. Wear something you feel good in and do as much prep work as you can in advance.”
This can include setting the table, washing and chopping vegetables ahead of time and even preparing a few of the recipes the day before.
Wow your guests with the quality of your ingredients as well as the dish itself, advised chef Tom Hannum, of the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Deleware. “An ingredient like crab meat or shrimp says that you went to a little extra trouble to make something special,” he said. Buy the best you can afford, and whatever you prepare will taste better for it.
Once you’ve taken into consideration any allergies or dietary preferences your guests may have, plan a menu that is relatively classic, without being over the top. And don’t feel you have to make everything from scratch. Buying an assembled dessert and a loaf of artisan bread are two examples of short cuts that save time without skimping on flavor.
What you don’t want to do is view the dinner as a pass/fail test, advised psychologist Susan Newman, author of Nobody’s Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationship With Your Mother and Father, (Walker & Co., $24) “Keep in mind that your in-laws are probably hopeful and nervous too. Don’t attempt more than you can comfortably do, and be yourself. You’ve probably already won them over anyway, so relax.”
What NOT To Do and Say
Small talk expert Don Gabor, author of ‘Words That Win: What to Say to Get What You Want,’ (Prentice-Hall, $14.95) offers this list of don’ts to keep your dinner conversation on track:
- Criticize or debate the in-laws.
- Talk about ex-spouses or relationships.
- Talk politics or religion.
- Show off or try too hard.
- Be overly intimate with your fiancé or husband during dinner.
- Talk too much about yourself or your work.
- Tell off color jokes.
- Reveal any family secrets.
Last Minute Decorating Tips
You want your new home to look just right. Melissa Birdsong, director of design for Lowe’s, offers a few simple tips sure to impress the in-laws.
- Use pretty paper cocktail napkins during the appetizer course, switch to linen napkins for dinner
- Set the table in advance. Be sure your linens are pressed, check for spots on glassware and flatware.
- Make a tablescape with cut flowers and candles highlight your mother-in-law’s favorite bloom.
- Prominently display a family wedding gift, photo or heirloom.
- Use plants to soften a room’s hard edges.
- Pre-select music to set a relaxing tone remember, it’s about what your guests like, not what you like.
- Do a last minute check for dust and cobwebs then forget about it. Candlelight can hide a multitude of sins.