This blog is going to be on the short and sweet side because I’m a little busy today.
I’ve got to finish packing for my upcoming glamping trip with my mom (we’re leaving tomorrow morning), plant my porch pot flowers, answer the backlogged email, finish the laundry, run to the market, and make a batch of Fiesta Miracle Muffins for my husband to share with some of his old high school friends who are coming to visit while I’m away camping this weekend.
Oh, and when I ran into a couple of friends at my quilt guild meeting yesterday, I invited them to come over for dinner tonight. They’ll be here in 5 hours.
That’s right. Even though I knew I had a very busy day ahead of me, I went ahead and invited a couple of friends over on the spur of the moment.
Now, some of you completely get this but a lot of you are saying, “That’s crazy! Why would you suddenly invite people over on such short notice? And for dinner, no less. That just sounds so stressful!”
You have a point. Entertaining can be stressful – for you as well as your guests. But it doesn’t have to be. Not if you keep a few simple principles that will make get togethers a pleasure for you as well as your guests.
Are you ready? Here’s my crash course on Hospitality 101.
CHOOSE YOUR ADVENTURE
A couple of weeks ago, I hosted a dinner for some people who attend my church, none of whom I’d met previously. This is something my congregation does every few months, as a means of helping people connect.
My calendar wasn’t terribly packed that week, so I decided it would be fun to make a really special meal and prepare it all myself rather than asking people to bring a dish. I created a taco salad buffet and two kinds of little mini dessert parfaits. It was pretty darned adorable. (I’ll be sharing photos and recipes in an upcoming post.)
Getting ready for that party involved quite a lot of work. It involved lists, trips to a number of different stores for ingredients, online ordering for some serving pieces I especially wanted, and a good bit of time for flower arranging, table setting, and food preparation. Everyone had a lovely time, including me. I really enjoyed the chance to meet new people and hear their stories.
Tonight’s supper with girlfriends will be much simpler. I’ve got some store-bought guacamole and chips we can munch on while I’m tossing together a big salad and heating up some pulled chicken barbeque (also store-bought) that I’ll serve on slider buns. I’ve got some ice cream and raspberries for dessert. My total time investment for this dinner is perhaps an hour, including a quick trip to the grocery store. But I’m sure everyone will have a lovely time, including me. I’m looking forward to catching up with my friends and I know they’ll appreciate the gift of a meal that they don’t have to prepare.
Moral of the story: Sometimes it can be wonderful to go all-out when you’re entertaining, sometimes it’s best to keep it simple. Either approach can result in a fun, memorable party. Don’t let being short on time shortchange you from the joy of showing hospitality.
FOCUS ON FRIENDS, NOT FOOD
I hate to burst your bubble, bunny, but unless your day job is as chef de cuisine at a Michelin star rated restaurant, people are not accepting invitations to your house because of the food.
Sometimes, as hostesses, it is easy to focus on all the wrong things – i.e., the food and party preparations instead of the human beings actually attending the party. That sort of thing has been going on for a long, long time. Remember the biblical story of Mary and Martha? Mary was so busy fussing about the food and work of serving it, that she completely forgot to spend time with her guests – even though one of the guests was Jesus. What a shame. And what a missed opportunity!
Remember, if people are coming to your home, it’s probably because they want to connect with other people – including you. Parties are about people. Don’t get so wrapped up in the details that you miss the big picture.
YOUR HOUSE IS GOOD ENOUGH
I know a lot of people who won’t entertain because they don’t think their house is “good enough”.
Really? Huh. How shall I put this?
Sure, the size of your home may put some limitations on the number of people you can invite over at one time, but your house is definitely good enough for entertaining! As with food, the principle is the same – people are coming to see you, not your house!
What matters here is not the size, or condition, or location of your house but the spirit with which you welcome people into it. Welcoming others into your home does require preparation, not perfection.
Before guests arrive, make sure things are clean and tidy. Sweep or vacuum the floor, put away things that have piled up on counters and tables. Make sure the guest bathroom is clean and supplied with soap, towels, and toilet paper.
Set a pleasant atmosphere by lighting a few candles and putting on some cheery music (not too loud!). If you have time, it’s nice to pick a few flowers from the garden for the table.
When guests arrive, be sure to greet them with a big smile and tell them you’re happy to see them. Offer them something to drink right away.
(Pro tip: when I’m entertaining someone for the first time, I always leave a few little things unfinished in the kitchen. If I realize that one of my guests is on the shy side, I ask if they can help me by putting the glasses on the table or peeling some carrots. Having a task to focus on can help an introvert get over the first awkward moments in a new setting with new people.)
PUT ON YOUR LISTENING EARS
The primary reason we entertain is because it helps us create or extend connections with other people. Giving other people a chance to tell their story is the most important, and most pleasurable, part of hospitality.
Before your guests arrive, start thinking of questions you’d like to ask them about themselves. Try to go beyond the usual “what do you do for a living” and “do you have children” questions. Here are a few icebreaking questions that usually lead to interesting stories.
What was the best job you ever had? What was the worse? (That second one can lead to some hilarious tales!)
Do you have any trips coming up this year?
For couples, How did the two of you meet? (This is one of my favorites. It always leads to an interesting story.)
For people who’ve recently moved, What made you decide to settle here?
For people who’ve always lived in the area, How has the town changed since you were a kid?
Those are just a few suggestions but you get the idea. Ask questions that will get people thinking, talking, and sharing their stories. When they’re talking, make sure you are really listening. Focus on their face, give them your eyes, your ears, and your complete attention.
More than anything else, I believe that people want to be heard. Giving people the gift of a listening ear is the most important part of sharing hospitality with others.
At the end of the day, showing hospitality isn’t about how great your food is or how beautiful your home is. It’s about how you open your home and heart to others.
If you do so with sincerity and joy, you’re sure to get an A+ in Hospitality 101.