Before you even think about arranging some sort of gathering at your house, there is one thing you must have …
The phone number to your local Chinese, pizza, or sandwich delivery joint.
And you must be willing to dial the phone.
Everyone needs a back up plan and the good sense to implement said plan when all
hell breaks loose else fails. And someday, it will, so you might as well be ready. Even with the best laid plans, ovens break, electricity fails, grills catch fire (food and fire extinguishers don’t mix), dishes shatter, and sometimes (heaven forbid) you run out of food.
I stumbled across a video on YouTube about cooking with candles—fascinating, but I think I’ll keep the phone numbers handy.
I know, the idea of it just breaks your heart, but it takes the pressure off and puts you in the right frame of mind—nothing and no one is perfect. After all, aren’t your guests coming over to see you? Okay, fine, they are looking forward to not cooking for themselves too, but ultimately your guests are more interested in enjoying their evening than trying to calm you down from a panic attack.
I was so delighted to read a story in one of Ina Garten’s cookbooks about her doing this very thing, because stuff happens to the best of us. Why ruin a perfectly good evening with friends by sulking or constantly apologizing. Please, please, stop apologizing after the first one or two. Laugh about it, it will be a great story for years to come. Switch gears, let it go, and enjoy.
Okay, now that we have that settled and you know that no matter what your guests will not leave hungry, let’s talk about how to make a little more room in our lives for hospitality.
In a recent Facebook question posed, busy is the primary reason readers cited as to why they do not invite people over more often. I get it, and might I add, there are seasons of life that certainly dictate not adding one more thing, even good things. However, if you are stretched so thin and running from here to there that you hardly sit down to eat dinner with your own family much less guests, start with your own family and schedule something consistent.
When we learn to savor the company of our own family and value face time around the table, our outreach to others isn’t really far to reach at all.
Too busy to plan it, clean it, cook it, or clean up—ain’t nobody got time for that!
How to practice hospitality when you just don’t have time:
1. Shape the gathering around something already on the schedule. The most obvious is sporting events, recitals, non-family holidays like 4th of July, or dinner before a community or church event. Make food in advance like soups, casseroles, spaghetti sauce, or grilled chicken breasts for entree salads, which are all easy to prepare and freeze. If you’ve already carved out time for the event, invite friends to join you and serve something you prepared well in advance.
2. Keep it simple. Casual is your friend. Easy appetizers or soup and salad can be made in advance from basic ingredients—soup and bread is especially homey and satisfying. Pulled pork or chicken sandwiches can serve the same purpose in warmer months—although hamburgers sound easy, I avoid serving them to larger crowds because of the collection of condiments they require, as well as the extra time it takes to prepare them fresh. When grilling during the summer, rarely do I only grill for a single meal. Charcoal usually remains hot long enough to cook a few extra chicken breasts for salads later in the week or in this case, for salad entrees with friends.
In my experience, most friends ask if they can bring something. Let them and don’t be shy about suggesting what you’d like them to bring if they need guidance.
3. Let it be spontaneous. Something else gets cancelled or you forgot to defrost something, so call a couple of friends and have an impromptu buy-it and bring-it night where nobody has to cook and your dining table is the meeting place, plates optional. Or let them know you’re throwing burgers on the grill around 6:00 and you’d love it if they could toss a salad and join you. It doesn’t even have to be dinner, a movie and popcorn or late night root beer floats on the patio are fun too.
4. Think small, more intimate. Invite just one other couple or family; if you’re single, keep the group to around three or four at the most. I love the idea of Four Friends, $40 Budget at Mindy’s Meals on Heals, she even does the work of setting the menu within the budget—so smart. Serving one more couple, one more family, or one more person makes the math that much easier since all you have to do is double your best dish.
5. Cleaning and learning to “Fly”. This is another big stumbling block and could have been a post all its own, but it is closely tied to the issue of busy and just too much effort. While we addressed the need to let go of performance driven perfection in Entertaining & Hospitality ~ Performing vs. Serving, there is something to be said for making sure the restrooms are clean and the pet hair is not mistaken for a rug.
Okay, it’s confession time. I’ve only asked a guest to clean a toilet once. She’s my really close friend and she invited herself over one afternoon for lunch—when she complained about the bathroom, I let her know where the brush was located. She left fed and happy and my bathroom was spiffier so it was a win-win, but I’m sure this eliminates me from any Emily Post guest articles.
What I’m trying to say is, invite friends you’re not knocking your brains out to impress. Keep things welcoming and sanitary, but don’t sweat the small stuff everybody deals with and would be relieved to know you do too. If you have small children, your friends won’t be shocked to see a few toys on the floor. If you lead a crazy-busy life, warn them, tell them you’d love to have them around your table, but if you wait until everything is ship-shape, it may never happen.
If you have children, include them in the process of welcoming guests, which includes cleaning. They will learn the joy (or avoidance) of hospitality through you. Yes, they may complain, teach them anyway. Children under the age of six are certainly capable of picking up toys, clothes, and clutter. Children over the age of six or so can help set the table, wipe up messes, sweep/mop floors, fold linens, wipe tables, set up chairs, etc. That being said, I highly recommend a written or pictorial check list of what you expect rather than relying on verbal instruction, which also helps you keep track of what needs to be done.
Lastly, if you suffer from CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) and you simply don’t know where to start, I highly recommend learning to “fly” with FlyLady.net. Back in the day when our kids were still little and days were swallowed by Laundry Mountain or torpedoed by toys, FlyLady’s baby steps relieved my overwhelm. If you feel the condition of your home is a real stumbling block to inviting people over, she can help.
What’s so special about your table?
Tight schedules, no energy, extra shopping—there are certainly times to skip the house cleaning, cooking, and child bribing for reservations at a restaurant. However, it is our dining table worn from school projects or blistered from hot pots, which is unique to us. I know you see imperfection, but that is the evidence of life lived in the central place of your home bearing witness to all of life.
Its legs offer more than a flat surface to hold scattered plates off the floor. Stacks of half opened mail, nourishing food, round-robin conversations, bags of groceries, collected thoughts of the day, silent solace, languished homework, and adolescent tantrums are all part of its versatility.
Linger there, in this intimate place; share a piece of yourself that is wholly you. In a world of brief status updates, we must take time for the stone upon stone building of authentic relationship, which surely includes some part of our inner spaces. Your table is special in this way. Cover it with a cloth or set matching plates you must, but invite people to it.
“When we do the hard, intimate work of friendship, we bring a little more of the divine into daily life.”
― Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life