Back in the 70s and 80s “ladies who lunch” was a derisive term describing society wives who took leisurely, gossip-filled lunches while most of the world was at work. But now that feels like ancient history—these days everybody is so scheduled (“ladies”, men and kids alike), with our smartphones always reminding us of the next item on our to-do lists, that we often barely have time for a mid-day sandwich.

As I share in Candy at Last, I was never very comfortable at those idle ladies’ lunches back in the day, but now I think it’s important to indulge in an elegant lunch with girlfriends every once in a while. It’s a great way to reconnect with friends and hit pause on your frenetic schedule. Here are a few tips on how to host a lovely lunch for girlfriends.

Have fun setting the table. You probably own some beautiful china and table linen (maybe family heirlooms) that you never use because it feels too feminine or “daytime” for other meals–well this is the time to use it, even if you have to mix and match colors and patterns a bit. It will be a treat for you and your guests to dine surrounded by these beautiful pieces.

Keep food elegant but easy. Create a menu that doesn’t demand a lot of work on your part, with dishes you can make (or buy) ahead of time. Think a chilled soup as a starter, followed by a hearty salad and delicious bread with a spread like hummus, tapenade or boursin cheese. Finish with fresh fruit topped with mint or a dollop of whipped cream. In the fun cookbook Cooking for Madam, Jackie O’s former household chef writes that when lunching at home with friends Jackie would serve watercress soup followed by chicken or crab salad and pita bread and fruit for dessert (so this menu has a storied history!).

Offer delicious drinks. Serve fruit-flavored ice tea or Arnold Palmers and offer white wine as well. I’ve never been a mid-day drinker (a glass of wine at lunch can wipe me out for the afternoon), but you want the lunch to feel a bit decadent, and sipping wine hours before 5 pm will do the trick.

 

 

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