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
Shared on the following Blog Hops:
The Nourishing Gourmet Pennywise Platter Thursday
Real Food Whole Health Fresh Bites Friday
Real Food Forager
Hearth & Soul Hop
Great info. Lucky me I discovered your site by accident (stumbleupon).
I have book-marked it for later!
Mary @ beyondjelly says
Yes! I’m getting better and better at entertaining because I’m more and more willing to let people see the house as it is… And prepare as much food in advance as I can. Great advice!
This was a fun read Judy! I love the story of the bathroom. 🙂 Actually the part of your post about the house reminded me of what my mother always said “Friends are coming over to see me, not my house; therefore, it doesn’t have to be spotless.” Some excellent suggestions!
Nazneen| Coffee and Crumpets says
I love to entertain and you are so right about having a back up plan. Fortunately, I’ve never had to order in food, but my issues arise if I get a RA flare up! Which has happened on a party day and I had to guide my husband through cooking while I sat there immobile due to pain in my arms.
I try to keep it simple, but it never works. Eastern cultures pride themselves on hospitality and a gazillion dishes! I don’t go so far but still have to live up to my Eastern roots!
Lovely article on entertaining and spot on!!
Judy Purcell says
Hi Nazneen, thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind comment. What a terrific husband to ‘stand-in’ for you, he sounds like a terrific part of your back-up plan. 🙂 You most certainly do have to live up to your Eastern roots ~ that is sharing something wholly you!
Thanks for this great post, Judy. This really resonates with me, and reminds me to shift the from impressing guests to having great relationships with guests (which sadly often takes a back seat in our obsession on being a perfect host). I feel like organizing a spontaneous buy-it and bring-it night next weekend already!
Judy Purcell says
Hi Stephanie, thanks for visiting Savoring Today and taking time to comment. Yes, relationship always takes a back seat to perfectionism, you are right. So glad to hear you’re inspired to gather friends for a but-it and bring-it night ~ hope you are rewarded with great conversation and a fun evening. 🙂
What a great post, Judy, full of sound advice. I think we tend to put too much pressure on ourselves to have the perfect dinner party when, in reality, most often our guests are more interested in spending time together. And having a back-up plan is such a good idea. One never knows what may happen. Thanks for taking the time to write and post this.
Judy Purcell says
Thanks John, it is sharing life around food that stirs me most, if posting something like this encourages someone to gather more people around their table, I am happy.
This is such fantastic advice. We put so much pressure on ourselves to perform. It is much better to share life together with friends than to struggle alone. I’ll be referring back to this post for sure!
Judy Purcell says
Thanks Julia, and thanks for commenting. I so agree — life is better shared. 🙂
I’ve never had to resort to takeout pizza or Chinese, but that option has always been in the back of my mind should I screw up royally in preparing dinner! Or should the electricity go out. We’ve become much more casual about cleaning in the last few years – things certainly are clean, but nowhere near spotless (and won’t be – sorry). Although we always do make an effort with the guest bathroom! Good post – thanks for some great ideas!
Judy Purcell says
Thanks, John. I’m with you, we make an effort in specific places. I remember the day of doing “the tour” when new guest would come over — I don’t even know why we did that, it’s not like we had anything special to show off. Just glad those days are behind us and we can just enjoy our guests. 🙂
Maureen | Orgasmic Chef says
I really enjoy entertaining but work takes up so much time that there’s never enough time for a spit and polish so I hestitate more often than not. I just heard about flylady so I hope she can work with my 15 minutes a day schedule. 🙂
Judy Purcell says
With Flylady, 15 minutes should be enough — it was following her that learned emptying the dishwasher only took 4 minutes, which helped me get over my avoidance of doing it if I only had a few minutes. Good luck!
Yes! I have recently been starting the dishwasher at bedtime and emptying it in the morning while I wait for the coffee to brew…and it really only takes that long. (More like 8 minutes than 4–maybe my dish storage is more complex than yours?–but still not a long time.) It gives me a nice sense of accomplishment to start the day.
Great article! I think your advice is excellent; unfortunately all my friends believe most of the time that THEY don’t have time to accept invitations, so I’ve gotten kind of burned out on trying to organize…but I should keep trying.
Judy Purcell says
Hi Becca! You are so right about the dishwasher, it is a subtle thing, but makes a big difference in the flow of the day–having it empty in the morning means dirty dishes aren’t hanging out in the sink.
Thanks so much for your comment, you really must know you are not alone in the ‘people don’t show up’ experience. That was another reason folks noted for not hosting and the frustration with cancellations, which we will be talking about later in the series. 🙂