Corporate entertaining at home? No way. Most people would rather have Keith Flint and The Prodigy round for a light evening's Russian roulette than invite work colleagues to set foot across their threshold. It's like exposing yourself. Not only will your guests be judging you and assessing your likely career path on the strength of everything from your taste in wallpaper right down to your nibbles, but they also probably view an invite to dinner as a superb intelligence-gathering opportunity.
'The first thing I do is rifle the host's bathroom cupboard,' says a much-in-demand girl in the Notting Hill dinner-party circuit. 'It tells you all you need to know about them, like whether they have dandruff, heavy periods, heart problems or bad breath. I found Viagra in one of my colleague's bathroom cupboards. Knowing that not only gives you a thrill, but an edge when doing business.'
But these days, when people run small businesses or work at home, entertaining is a legitimate way to get to know people. But, as the host or hostess, you must feel relaxed and at ease, whether you live in a castle or a one-room flat in Hendon. Never mind where the flowers came from or whether the wine is perfectly chambred or whether the sauce gribiche is the right consistency, the point is that relaxed guests are a by-product of relaxed hosts.
You can sit down with the CEO, dead casual, dressed down, over a casserole of stew served on the kitchen table and get along famously, provided you're relaxed and engaging. But if you're pinioned at the far end of a polished table with liveried footmen and tinkling crystal, agonising over whether your guests are really bonding over the vodka-seared barramundi starter or just faking it, the conversation isn't going to live up to the napkin origami.
Confidence is important. This comes from experience. Fashion retailer Joseph Ettedgui recalls being puzzled at one dinner party to find his host's dining table unlaid and the kitchen bare. 'At 8.45pm,' he recalls, 'the doorbell rang and in came eight portions of fish and chips individually wrapped in newspaper. It was so chic. Few people have the confidence to do a thing like that.'
That's not to say an official corporate pecking order should not be respected.
Guests will mentally assess how your wealth squares with your corporate status. Obvious discrepancies will cause alarm. A lowly employee who flaunts a smarter car and house than his seniors may ruffle feathers ('We're overpaying you!'). A senior executive's ego can be bruised if he has to face an advanced course in cutlery.
For the host, the most important items on the dinner party agenda, in order of precedence, are the mix of guests, the wine and the food. 'Most people mistakenly reverse the order,' says corporate dinner party chef Lorna Wing. 'Food should never be the hero.' Downplay the wow factor, or restrict it to the pudding (something amusing or flamboyant, but no sugar-spun corporate logos). 'I cook the pudding and lay the table the night before,' says the wife of one Tory MP who can extemporise dinner parties for up to 20. 'To speed things up, I never bother with starters. I throw everyone together and tell them to be out of the house by 11pm.'
Children cut both ways. Received wisdom says they are best gagged, bound and locked away, or better still sent to stay with friends. But in role-reversal households where the alpha male is played by the wife and the corporate wife is played by the husband, children can work to one's advantage.
'Clients usually feel far more comfortable about paying me pounds 500 a day if they see that I have children,' one PR woman told me.
As for the guests, bringing boardroom or dealing-room sensibilities to the party is an absolute no-no. You know the type ... 'How much did that painting cost then?' ... 'What's the depreciation on the dining room table?' Playing host to Al 'Chainsaw' Dunlap at his Mexican retreat, the late Sir James Goldsmith spotted him eyeing the superfluous regiments of cost-cuttable staff and told him: 'Not now, Al. This isn't business.'