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7 Essential Entertaining Tips We’ve Learned From Downton Abbey

Even if you aren’t hosting crowned heads, there’s no reason your party guests shouldn’t feel like royalty. Take a few hosting tips from the cast and crew of the Downton Abbey movie, out on Blu-ray now.

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Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary and Matthew Goode as Henry Talbot in Downton AbbeyPhoto: Jaap Buitendjik/©2019 Focus Features, LLC

Get inspired by Downton Abbey

In the latest Downton Abbey installment—the expansive film that hit theatres in September and is now available on Blu-ray—the Crawley family welcomes King George V and Queen Mary to their Yorkshire estate. And nothing could be a bigger honour. But what does it take to host a pair of VIPs? Leave it in the capable hands of the Crawleys and their devoted downstairs staff! If you’re thinking of throwing your own celebration (whether you’re entertaining royalty or showing off to your boss), take a leaf from the Downton Abbey playbook and take a tip or two from the film’s creator and actors.

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“The key is in the planning.”

Neglect the details and rue the day. Instead, execute your event beautifully with careful preparation and flawless presentation. Phyllis Logan, who portrays Downton Abbey’s Mrs. Hughes, says her character’s secret to a successful event is delegation, while Jim Carter, who plays Mr. Carson, notes that Carson “does everything by the book, so it’s all about timing.” For everything to be right in Carson’s world, he must see that “all the knives and forks are perfectly placed. The wine is decanted. Everything’s done to the dinner gong.” He even brings out a ruler to ensure that each place setting is evenly spaced. Mrs. Hughes and Carson are a pre-planning, troubleshooting, detail-oriented force, and—most of the time—Downton’s events go off without a hitch.

We’re counting down more life lessons from Downton Abbey.

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Jim Carter stars as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey, a Focus Features releasePhoto: Jaap Buitendjik/©2019 Focus Features, LLC

Consider the setting

Your venue will set the tone for your entire party, so choose wisely. In Downton Abbey, that backdrop is Highclere Castle, a 19th-century country house in Hampshire, England, where the series and film were shot. The house is “one of the leading characters,” notes writer and creator Julian Fellowes, and it had to be extraordinary so viewers could understand why the characters would live their lives in its service. “I felt that Highclere was that special house. It’s like a piece of sculpture sitting there. I think it commands a kind of authority over the characters.”

Take a behind-the-scenes look at Highclere Castle.

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Kevin Doyle stars as Mr. Molesley in Downton Abbey, a Focus Features releasePhoto: Jaap Buitendjik/©2019 Focus Features, LLC

A proper welcome shows respect

Bust out your best butler and your most competent footmen. Now isn’t the time for second-rate service! In contemporary Canadian terms, that translates into greeting your guests with a hug and a drink. Throughout the festivities, make the rounds, shake hands and show every guest your undivided attention for as long as you can muster. Much like Carson, Jim Carter believes in the power of consideration. “I’m of a generation where politeness and manners were drummed into us,” he says. Downton Abbey portrays “a polite society where people are given respect.” So put your phone away and show some courtesy.

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Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes in Downton Abbey, a Focus Features releasePhoto: Jaap Buitendjik/ ©2019 Focus Features, LLC

“Chilled soup should be an exquisite mouthful, not a bucket of slop.”

If you ask the downstairs staff—and Mrs. Patmore, in particular—the food makes the party. Whether you serve crudités or stuffed chicken, ensure that your dishes are well-crafted, fresh and served at the appropriate temperature. Sophie McShera, who plays assistant chef Daisy, and Michael C. Fox, as Andy the footman, couldn’t agree more. “A well-stocked fridge” is essential, says Fox.  “And maybe keeping everyone’s drinks topped up,” notes McShera.

Don’t miss our interview with Mrs. Patmore herself, Lesley Nicol!

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Clover Club from The Official Downton Abbey Cocktail Book: Appropriate Libations for All OccasionsPhoto: ©2019 Weldon Owen

The perfect (gin) cocktail makes the party

“You have a drink! And you have a drink! I want everybody to have a drink!” That’s a slightly paraphrased quote from a drunken Lord Grantham—a man who believes that the key to a happy gathering is a balanced drink. Though Carson might not approve of the cocktail trend (he’d prefer everything in his world stay “locked in aspic in 1912,” says Jim Carter) there’s now an entire book dedicated to bevvies fit for a special event: The Official Downton Abbey Cocktail Book: Appropriate Libations for All Occasions.

Craft this pink concoction, the Clover Club, when you’re looking to impress:

  • 1 fl oz (30 ml) gin
  • 1 fl oz (30 ml) dry vermouth
  • ½ fl oz (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
  • ½ fl oz (15 ml) egg white (about ½ egg white)
  • ½ fl oz (15 ml) raspberry syrup
  • 1 ½ barspoons simple syrup

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker and shake hard for 10-15 seconds so the egg white froths up and emulsifies. Fill the shaker with ice, re-cover and shake hard for about 10 seconds longer. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.

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Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Crawley and Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley in Downton AbbeyPhoto: Jaap Buitendjik/©2019 Focus Features, LLC

“A house party can be so flat if there’s no special moment.”

Cora says this line in season four when a buzzy Australian singer performs at Downton, but the same could be said of just about any party scene from the series or film. Whether it’s a performance, a much-awaited announcement or an epic waltz with full orchestra, at least one memorable moment is a must to differentiate your event from the dozens that have come before it.

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Actors Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery on the set of Downton AbbeyPhoto: Jaap Buitendjik/©2019 Focus Features, LLC

“Nothing succeeds like excess.”

There’s a time and place for cutting corners and saving costs, but—if you ask the Dowager Countess of Grantham—a once-in-a-lifetime celebration isn’t one of them. When an important visitor (or a significant occasion) calls for a party, display your best silver, take your tiara out of its velvet box, pop a bottle of Veuve and hire a jazz band. The only place you should rein yourself in? Redecorating. As Princess Mary says of her royal parents before their arrival at Downton, “Just don’t paint anything. They’re sick of the smell of new paint.”

Next, check out the best Downton Abbey quotes to live your life by.

Downton Abbey is now available on digital platforms, as well as Blu-ray and DVD as of December 17, 2019.