The Passover Seder is the most widely celebrated festive meal among both devout and ordinarily non-observant Jews. It's a ritual filled with storytelling, song, prayer, wine, and of course, a festive meal. But there's a lot for the hosts to coordinate, and the evening can run long. So how do you keep your guests comfortable and happy -- even if it takes a while to make it to mealtime?
Don't underestimate the calming power of a few strategically-placed bowls of almonds and raisins or crudites around the Seder table. Working your way through the Hagaddah can take a while, and if guests are hungry, they're more likely to gripe, or -- perhaps worse -- stoically slog through the readings without really feeling engaged.
While you don't want to ruin anyone's appetite before the various ritual eats -- say, that first taste of matzo or charoset -- it's a nice gesture to make sure guests can take the edge off their hunger if they're feeling peckish. For kids or for those who live with conditions like diabetes, having snacks at the ready that they can graze on unobtrusively can make a huge difference in their comfort level and well-being.
Pour Good Wine...
Whether by dint of availability or force of sentimentality, many people pour sweet sacramental wines like Manischewitz for the Seder. But kosher wines have come a very long way, and the selections are constantly expanding and improving.
I've seen many articles over the years that suggest offering "real" wine at the Seder instead of the cheap, cloyingly sweet stuff, but then go on to list bottles in the $40 to $60 range. For most Seder hosts, that's not at all practical or affordable, considering that each guest will drink four glasses of wine -- and many Seders have upwards of 20 guests!
But there are nice bottles in the $10 to $15 range that make great aperitifs -- especially perfect for those first two cups of wine that come before the Seder meal. Bartenura Brachetto, for example, is a crowd-pleasing quaff that's fairly low in alcohol. Though sweet, it has nuance, and a pleasant light fizz. For frizzante lovers, a Malvasia is another good choice. Once the meal begins, there are countless options for affordable wines that pair well with whatever is on your menu.
...But Offer Grape Juice
Though there is a halachic (point of Jewish law) imperative to drink wine rather than grape juice at the Seder, there are lots of reasons that someone might choose the latter. Perhaps a guest has a non-divulged medical condition that would make juice the safer choice. Maybe there's an expectant mom at the table who hasn't yet announced her pregnancy, and who doesn't want to draw attention to her status. Folks who don't regularly drink wine may feel its effects after a glass or two, and simply prefer to switch to juice.
Having a carafe or two of the stuff on the table will make it easier for guests to drink what makes them comfortable, without feeling like they're imposing, or worrying that others will notice that they aren't partaking of wine. If you're serving a variety of wines, it's a nice gesture to have a variety of grape juices on hand too. That way, no one will know who is drinking the fizzy grape juice instead of the sparkling rosé -- unless the drinker cares to share.