This post is the fourth in a series on hospitality. Begin the series here.
You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to know how to host guests for a meal. You don’t need to create signature cocktails or craft individual place cards! Giving your guests a polished product is not the real goal of hospitality.
That being said, I do believe there is a certain art to gracious hospitality. It’s one that my mother taught me, and it’s something that I’m trying to practice now that I have my own home. Here are a few things about hospitality that I’ve learned from the gracious men and women who have extended it to me:
1. Get yourself ready
A good hostess will forget herself and focus on her guests. But sometimes to do that you need to spend some time on yourself, first. Half an hour before you expect your guests to arrive, pause your preparations and get yourself ready. Change your clothes, brush your hair, pour yourself a glass of iced tea–whatever you need to do to be refreshed and ready to receive people.
2. Be creative with invitations
Supper or Sunday dinner are obvious choices for hospitality, but there are lots of other options. If you’re on a tight budget, keep it simple with a dessert night or ice cream social. If you want something super casual, make pizza and have a game night. Or pick a more unusual time of day, like brunch or tea time. One of my favorite invitations was to someone’s house for breakfast! They made lingonberry crepes and fresh coffee, and I was in heaven.
3. Anticipate your guests’ needs
Before your guests arrive, ask if they have food allergies. Find out if they’re okay with pets. After they arrive, give them directions so they won’t feel awkward asking. Tell them where the bathroom is. Tell a nursing mother where she can nurse the baby. Show the kids where the toys/books are.
4. Create an inviting atmosphere
You don’t need to sew new sofa cushions, but a few aesthetic details can make your home feel more restful and welcoming. If the weather is nice, open the windows to let in the breeze. If it’s evening, light candles on an end table or in the dining room. Put on some background music to fit the mood of your gathering. Do some quick straightening. I find that stacking dirty dishes, dusting surfaces at eye level, vacuuming, and folding up blankets and throws have the most visual impact if you’re pressed for time.
5. Set a good table
Make the table inviting with a simple centerpiece (just flowers in a vase is perfect!), a full complement of silverware, and cloth napkins. Offer a couple of drink options, even if it’s just water or iced tea. After the main meal is finished, clear the table before serving dessert and coffee.
6. Facilitate conversation
Talking may not come easily to you, but conversation improves with practice. You might need a few go-to conversation topics, and that’s fine! Growing up, whenever we had a couple over my parents always asked them how they met. We heard some very unusual and fun stories this way! You can also talk about seasonal stuff, like whether they’re starting a garden, who they’re visiting for Christmas, etc. Talk about the commonality that brought you together in the first place. For instance, if they’re a member of your church, ask them how they found it or what their church background is like.
7. Add something special
Here’s where you throw in a little Martha Stewart if you want to! Pick just one or two things you can do to make the visit extra special. Choose a craft from Pinterest that you’ve needed an excuse to try, or make a fancy dessert. Nothing too ambitious, nothing that will stress you out, just something extra to pamper your guests and expand your repertoire as a hostess.
Posts in this series:
Part 1: What My Mother Taught Me About Hospitality
Part 2: Why Practice Hospitality?
Part 3: 7 People Who Need Your Hospitality
Part 4: How to Host Guests for a Meal
Part 5: Company Menus for Any Occasion
Part 6: How to Make an Overnight Guest Feel At Home
Part 7: Learn to Say Thank You: How to Accept Gifts Graciously
Other resources on hospitality:
My Hospitality Pinterest board
The Joy of Hospitality series @ Young Wife’s Guide
Hospitality posts @ Intentional By Grace
You will find a whole chapter devoted to hospitality in my cookbook, Real Food for the Real Homemaker!