‘Barefoot Contessa’: Ina Garten Has 3 Tricks for Limited Seating When Guests Have to Eat Dinner on Their Laps

Ina Garten is well-versed in entertaining and, while she loves to have a small number of guests seated around a small intimate table, that’s not always possible. For those times when seating is limited and guests have to eat the meal on their laps, Garten has plenty of tips and tricks that accommodate this shortcoming perfectly.

Ina Garten toasts with a glass of wine while she dines with Willie Geist on October 10, 2018
Ina Garten | Mike Smith/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Ina Garten shares the perfect dinner party size

Garten’s preference is to keep her dinner party size small and she has the ideal guest list number in mind. She also seats everyone around a small table and strategically places the more talkative folks on opposite sides.

In a 2006 House Beautiful article, Garten shared her advice for seating. “I like small parties,” she explained. “With 6 people, you can really get a conversation going. The ideal table for 6 or 7 is a 48-inch round, because everyone is equally engaged in the conversation.”

“If people are a little crowded it feels even more intimate,” she added.

She also shared how she seats people for the best conversation. “While we’re having cocktails, I’ll decide who are the two most talkative guests that evening and seat them opposite each other, which keeps the conversation flowing,” Garten explained.

“If the two most talkative people are seated next to each other, the conversation ends up being on one side of the table and the other side is totally left out.”

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Ina Garten gives her best tips for limited seating

Sometimes the guest list is larger, however, and the idea of an intimate dinner isn’t possible.

When a reader wrote, “I have too many people to seat them at a table. Is it all right to have them eat dinner on their laps?,” Garten shared some ways to make the best of the situation.

“If you need to invite more people than you can seat at tables, and you just can’t afford to rent them, serving dinner on your lap isn’t ideal, but it’s just fine,” she answered.

“However, you’ll want to plan the menu carefully,” Garten continued. “First, serve things that don’t require a knife and fork — think about juggling utensils and a glass of wine while keeping up a conversation. Not easy!”

Garten also offered suggestions about what to serve, recommending that you avoid anything that’s too messy or too hot.

“I wouldn’t make something that was soupy or had a messy sauce so you won’t end up with beef Bourguignon on your living room rug and your friends won’t be dripping clam chowder on their party clothes,” she explained.

“Finally, I wouldn’t make anything that had to be served piping hot, because everyone won’t be eating dinner at exactly the same time,” she added. “I might serve room temperature food like grilled salmon and orzo with roasted vegetables.”

“On a cold wintry day, maybe something that stays warm, like lobster pot pie or lasagna with turkey sausage,” she advised.