However you choose to decorate a table, the most important thing, Anselmo says, is preparing both the table and the food in advance so you can be relaxed and present for your guests. “Timing is a key element to me,” she says. “Not waiting too long before another course arrives. There should be a pleasant overall flow, and with that, a flow in conversation.” The mark of a good dinner, she adds, is when “people are engaged with one another while enjoying the food.” And that, above all, is the reason we host—however the table may look.
On the advice above, I have invested in a tablecloth and a couple of candles. At a recent Sunday roast (a British tradition)—cooked on four hours sleep—I laid out the tablecloth, placed some flowers in a vase, and put my candles on the table in an antique candle holder. My friends quickly moved most of these items off of the table—so that we could better see one another, eye to eye, and to make room for the roast pork I had cooked. No one took photographs of the food (let alone the spartan table), but we did take photos of one another. As they left, having failed my first attempt to up my game at tablescaping, I mulled over one of life’s less important questions, but one that endures all the same: When hosting a dinner, is it chicer to make a big effort, or to appear to have made very little?
For the everyman who likes to host dinner parties, this aestheticism can create a certain pressure. I look upon them with appreciation and wonder probably because I am so incapable of achieving the same “Oh this? I just threw it together” kind of elegance myself. I would consider myself an above-average cook, but I am incapable of setting a beautiful table. I could go even further: I am bad at creating ambiance all round. Considering which tablecloth to use would come at the expense of an edible dessert. Curating a guestlist feels natural, a bespoke dinner party playlist less so. More than once, my partner has had to remind me that it might be nice to light a candle. Perhaps I will never have—as The New Yorker put it of Gohar last year—“exquisite taste”.