How to Keep Guests
Out of the Kitchen

And understand why they’re
in there to begin with

By Lessley Anderson

You’ve seen it before: party guests crammed into a tiny, hot kitchen while the living room sits cool and empty. It’s frustrating for the host, particularly around the holidays, when he or she is trying to finish preparing an elaborate dinner. But before you can figure out how to get people out of the kitchen, you have to understand the reasons they head there in the first place. CHOW talked to sociologists who’ve studied people’s relationship with food and cooking to find out why people hover in the kitchen, and how one might make them leave.

They Just Want to Be with You

The only person at the party whom everybody knows is you. “The host is the node, and the reason everybody’s together,” says Emilie Hardman, a sociology PhD candidate and food blogger. They feel most comfortable with you, and you’re in the kitchen.

Solution: Make guests feel comfortable somewhere else. When they arrive, sit down with them in the living room first, bring them their drinks there, and introduce them to others. Better yet, get a friend to play surrogate host in the living room, while you sneak back to the kitchen. Like parents who put their baby down before leaving him with the sitter, your guests won’t notice your absence if you ease them into the less familiar social situation.

The Food and Drinks Are in There

The place of food preparation is “easily associated with feelings of warmth, assurance, and happy memories,” says Barbara Watson, a retired sociology professor. Good smells are coming out of there, guests want to help with the work, and they typically see the host “bring people into the kitchen to get drinks.” Says Hardman, “People end up staying with their drink, because it’s a place that the host will come back with each new guest,” making it an “active place to be with good oversight of all the people attending the gathering.”

Solution: Put snacks in other parts of the house. Ask your guests to help lay out the food, so they feel they’re assisting you. Set up a bar in another room, and don’t forget the cocktail shaker: A guest who has bartending experience will usually come out of the woodwork and begin mixing drinks. The alluring sound of ice being knocked back and forth will draw guests from other parts of the house. Also, stick beers in a cooler full of ice, rather than in the fridge.

The Kitchen Feels Warm and Fun

The kitchen is a comfortable space in which to relax, whereas the living room and dining room of a house are often more formal, says sociologist Joan I. Biddle.

Solution: Make your living room alluring. Install a dimmer switch for your overhead light, or use candles or small colored lamps to create sexy lighting. Make sure there are enough spots for people to sit down. Don’t roll up the rugs because you’re afraid they’ll get wine spilled on them. Put lounge-friendly music on the stereo. Discourage people from turning on the TV to watch the football game, as this will alienate half your guests. Worry less about flower decorations and Nativity scenes on the mantel, and more about serving well-made cocktails to your friends in this room. If it’s drafty, set up a space heater or light a fire.

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