Americans often admire the European tradition of having a longer, more leisurely lunch gathering, yet they're not as common here. There's no reason why we can't encourage the tradition to take hold! Here are a few tips on how to create the kind of circumstances where your guests can linger and relax with you on a quiet afternoon.
• Be sure your friends know that this is what you have in mind so they come prepared to linger and are perhaps a little hungrier than they might normally be when lunch is just a sandwich and a cookie.
• Start your lunch a little on the late side so it can spill into the afternoon. 1:00 or 1:30 is good. I prefer Sundays as they seem more spacious to me than Saturdays. Plus, this is a good way to chase away those Sunday afternoon blues!
• Consider your guests. For this kind of afternoon, you want to invite the kind of people who enjoy discussion, debate, new ideas, telling funny stories.
• Children are of course invited but don't expect those little bouncing bodies to sit too long at the table. Arrange activities, or maybe a movie, in another room for them so that they can wriggle about without distracting everyone. Or perhaps they'll take a nap!
• In warmer months, consider moving your table outside under a tree or on the roof of your building. In the winter, this is the kind of party you can enjoy in front of the fire, if you are so lucky to have a fireplace.
• Don't make the table too formal. The idea is that people should relax and linger, so allow for mixed plates and cutlery, rumpled napkins, informal flowers.
• Plan your meal in courses. This paces the food and encourages a slower atmosphere.
• If possible, choose dishes that require very little last minute time in the kitchen so you're at the table with your guests as much as possible. Begin with some wine and nibbles already set out on the table: roasted nuts, some fruit, a whole baguette so people can tear off a piece and pass it on, a spread or two. Follow this with smaller bowls of soup. The main course can be something simple like a lasagna and a green salad or a roast chicken. Pace the dessert, too. Bring out coffee or tea with a simple single layer cake, followed a little later by some chocolate and maybe a bowl of fruit.
• Keep water glasses full and the wine/beer flowing (if you are serving alcohol which is of course not necessary) but have plenty of alternatives, like iced tea or lemonade. Again, the idea is that people loosen up and relax but not get too drunk.
• If you're so inclined, bring out a deck of cards or board game after dessert is finished.
• If you start at 1:30 and you keep the pace slow, your lunch can last until 4:00 or so, leaving plenty of time to clean up and get your life ready for the coming week.
Have you hosted or participated in a long, slow lunch party? Did you enjoy it? What worked and didn't work?