Just because the food is gone doesn’t mean the meal is over.

I believe entertaining friends and family “at table” is one of the greatest gifts you can give to those you love. The setting, the food and drink, the conversation, the sharing...what could be better? And in a time like this, when that kind of gathering is either prohibited or severely restricted, I’m thinking about that even more.

I will admit to you that I tend towards what might be called “old fashioned” when I entertain. The table is beautifully set. I pull out all of the silver and crystal and china. There must be candles. And there are multiple courses; very small ones, yes, but often 6-8. I am not suggesting that that’s for everyone, but it makes the gathering seem very special to me.

I know that kind of formality doesn’t work for all people in all situations. And gathering around a huge bowl of perfect pasta is as magical as any formal dinner! But I’m going to suggest one of my “old fashioned” touches that is easy to incorporate into any meal, formal or casual, that will have everyone at the table sitting up, taking notice, and smiling.

The after-dinner drink.

I know. “Is he serious? We’ve had cocktails and wine with dinner. Now he wants me to serve more alcohol??” Hear me out. Just as an aperitif whets your appetite for what is to come, a digestif settles you, rounds out the meal, and probably most important of all, allows everyone to stay comfortably at the table for an extra half hour or so. And, many agree, one of the most important dietary contributions to overall health and wellness is that break in time we take to enjoy a meal with loved ones—talking as well as eating. Instead of a hurried rush to shovel food, no matter how “healthy,” into our mouths... slow down and enjoy.

My first experience with an after-dinner drink occurred when I was at university in Toronto. A dear classmate and I were having dinner. Originally from Jamaica, he was well traveled and 10 years older than all of the rest of us in our acting program. And all of us, callow children that we were, were in awe of his worldly sophistication. He and I were having Chinese take-out in his dorm room. At the end of the meal, of course, there were the ubiquitous woody and tasteless looking orange slices. He told me not to eat them, and brought out a bottle of Cointreau and two tiny crystal glasses. One sip of that indescribably delicious orange liqueur, and I was hooked for life. Not just on Cointreau, but on the idea that the meal continued after the food was gone.

Almost 50 years later, finishing a meal with a tiny glass filled with something amazing is as integral a part of my entertaining philosophy as the food itself. Even if I’m only having one or two people over. I think you’ll be surprised at how sitting at the table for that extra half hour turns a meal into an event people remember.