What The Reagans Taught Me About Hosting

Recently, Husband and I hit up The Ronald Reagan Museum in Simi Valley.

No this isn’t a political blog, and I’m not here to soapbox. I only discuss politics and religion with family and very close friends (and never at dinner).

Besides getting to go on Air Force One, what I dug about it was the insight into the lives of the heads of state. And I found myself taking away from the museum not just a feeling of patriotism and gratitude for what I have, but I also took note of the high level of class they had as guests, homemakers, and hosts.

In the White House Kitchen

1) Have Style.

No, we can’t all wear designer get ups and attend white tie events. But Nancy always looked stylishly appropriate. Whether in her smart dove-grey wedding suit,  her striking red coat and cap on Inauguration day, her lovely green and gold brocade dress when visiting China, or the black mantilla she wore to visit Pope John Paul, Nancy’s appearance reflected a respect for and understanding of her environment and the people she would be encountering. She totally rocked that sense of “here I am, and I’m dressed  for you” without sacrificing style.

Nanc, Ron, and JP

Interesting story: when people called her out on her sometimes extravagant clothes (many of which she had for years or borrowed from designers), she poked fun by dressing in an outrageous thrift store ensemble at a fancy dinner,  proving a valid point: we like people to look appropriate, whether or not we realize it.

When a host or guest looks together and stylishly assimilated, people are put at ease. So take pride in getting a little gussied up, and try to rise to the occasion.

2) Have Manners.

Embarrassingly, I got two wrong on the etiquette quiz for attending a State Dinner. Manners and etiquette are good to know, especially if you’re going to be dining at the White House.

My quiz results seem to think I’d do okay as a white house guest, but there’s always room to improve. I didn’t know that the bowl of warm water was for dipping your fingers in and then wiping with your napkin, and that food is always served from the left and cleared from the right. Thanks, Reagan Museum!

I’m ready now!

Whether at a home, event, restaurant, or even the movies,  try to be polite, and have some manners. They go a long way. My general rule about manners is to be observant. What are other people at the event or your hosts doing? Are they sipping tea and making small talk? Then I try to do the same. Are they jumping around and yelling and getting hammered? Then it’s probably okay to get a little crazy.

If you don’t know what the customs are, ask. I once carried a host home from Catholic mass because I wasn’t sure what to do with it. In the car, everyone laughed at me. So even if you do screw up, remember to have a sense of humor about it.

Not sure about what proper manners are? Here are some basics which work in any situation, and add a classy touch.

  • Don’t start eating or drinking until everyone at the table is served.
  • Chew with your mouth closed.
  • Excuse yourself if you must leave the table. Keep your time away to under 3 minutes and only between courses.
  • Stay at the table once food is served until guests are done.
  • Keep your voice at a reasonable level, and keep it PG-13.
  • Don’t smoke unless there are ashtrays, and be prepared to share your cigarettes.
  • Gents, hold open doors, light cigarettes, stand when a lady is seated or rises.
  • Ladies, say thank you.
  • Don’t browse, text, or use your cell phone during dinner or while conversing.
  • If you must take a call, step away to take it and keep it brief.

3) Have a Partying Attitude.

Having manners doesn’t mean that you need to be stuffy. It’s important to have a disarming, gracious attitude with your guests, so that they truly feel welcome.  No one wants to feel they are intruding, or they can’t measure up.  The Reagans invited people into the White House, saying “Welcome to your home, which you’ve loaned to us.”  Go out of your way to make your guests comfortable.

As a guest, don’t be afraid to cut loose. When, at a black tie dinner, John Travolta learned that Princess Di wanted to dance with him, he shyly said ” I can’t ask her to dance with me.” Nancy Reagan replied, “Oh YES YOU CAN!” So go ask that princess to dance. The highest compliment you can pay to a host is to have a great time.

The 80s fairy tale: Princess Diana and John Travolta tear up the flo’

4) Have Emergency Cake.

Here’s an adorable fact about Air Force One during the Reagan administration: they always kept a chocolate cake on board in case it was someone’s birthday or anniversary.  I think that’s simply lovely. Everyone should live life prepared to celebrate at a moment’s notice.

5) Have A Taste Test.

Even if you have five-star chefs preparing  meals, you should always taste the food you’ll be serving your guests. (If you’re a guest, salt the food AFTER tasting it. This was also on the etiquette quiz, and  I got it right!) As a host, you want to make sure that your company is getting the highest standard of service possible. So, even if you’ve made that recipe a dozen times, always taste!

Nancy, taste-testing party treats


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