Sunday, October 16, 2011

31 days || sixteen: becoming a good host.

A friend once came over to my house for some type of gathering or another and proceeded to publicly grade my hostessing abilities. 

I got an A minus. (I forgot to put out the forks.)

While I know my friend was (mostly?) joking, I do think it's important to talk about what it means to be a good host, not necessarily in terms of etiquette, but in terms of grace.

1. Be there to open the door. I know it gets kind of hectic making last minute arrangements as the dog barks and the oven timer goes off. But I love the idea that a host or hostess can take a quick moment to greet his or her guests. It doesn't have to be a formal, over the top affair. Just a quick word and a kind smile to let them know you're really glad they came. 

2. Show interest. Whether you're in charge of a gathering of five or 50, it's easy to get wrapped up in the preparations, in checking the table to make sure food is replenished and dessert is ready. Of all the homes I've been, too, though, the ones where I felt most welcome weren't overly concerned with food or seating arrangements. Instead, the hostesses cared about their guests. They cared about me. In the end, I think I'd rather have to be gently reminded to put out the forks than give up conversation with those I've invited into my home. 

3. Let your guests help. I said this last week, but I think it's worth repeating. Some guests, of course, don't want to help, and that's absolutely fine! But often, a friend or family member will want to be put to good use, and I say: Let them. It puts them at ease and makes them feel like they're contributing to the welcoming atmosphere you've created. Being gracious means being able to receive grace as well as extend it. 

4. Sit down. Maybe I'm just not as old-fashioned as I think, but when I go over to someone's house, I hate to see a hostess that never sits down. They're flitting about the kitchen and the dining room like Martha Stewart, but they never sit down to eat or look their guests in the eye. It makes me nervous, and sometimes it makes me feel like I need to be up and doing something just to get the hostess to sit down. Please, people have come into your home to visit and enjoy YOU. Don't miss out on the meal because you're too busy being concerned about the lesser important things.  

5. Don't apologize. A few weeks ago, I served potatoes that I, personally, did not enjoy. I couldn't quite pinpoint what was wrong with them, but they were kind of dry, maybe a little bit flavorless. Anyway, I guess I could have apologized, but the truth is, probably nobody even noticed. Don't bring attention to your dirty carpet or your half-baked lasagna. No one cares.

6. Avoid false modesty. Again, part of being gracious is receiving grace. If someone compliments you on your home, just say "thank you." Don't point out how tiny it is, or talk about how it's really just a "half-way point" until you find something else. Accept compliments with humility, sure, but don't use the opportunity to be self-deprecating. That's annoying.

7. Put others' needs before your own. Be mindful of guests who have specific eating preferences, and offer up alternatives that suit their needs (diet soda for diabetics, meatless options for vegetarians). Turn the temperature down if poor Bob is sweating profusely in the corner. Have room for baby carriers, and turn down the music if someone asks. Be aware of what your guests need, and try to meet those needs to the best of your ability.

8. Don't do the dishes. I certainly don't think it's rude to do dishes in the presence of company; instead, I just think it distracts from the purpose of the gathering. It goes back to suggestion #4: Your guests are there to enjoy you and your home. If you're stuck in the kitchen, you're depriving them of that opportunity. Besides, some of my favorite times are after a party, when I'm standing in the kitchen, cleaning dishes with Jordan, grateful for the night we've just had and the friends we love. It's worth it to wait and do the dishes later.

9. Create a welcoming atmosphere. Whether it's my oldest and dearest friend or someone Jordan met at the office, I want people to feel like they're welcome in our home anytime. I don't know if I always succeed in that, and I'll admit: We don't necessarily live in a neighborhood or in a time period where that's a regular occurrence, but it's a goal. I remember how good it always feels to go to my parents' house, how there's something about it (besides just the fact that I grew up there) that makes me feel warm and welcome and loved. That's how I want my home to feel, regardless of the occasion.

10. Go easy on yourself. Last week, we talked about how dinner parties just don't happen very often anymore. As a result, all dinner parties are special and appreciated, even if they're just pizza shared during a football game. That means the pressure's off. You don't have to be June Cleaver to be a decent hostess. Take a deep breath, and remember that celebrating is supposed to be fun. If it's a burden, it's time to re-evaluate what celebration means to you.


What do you think a good host/hostess looks like? What does hospitality mean to you?


TefMarie said...

I think you've covered all the bases. Great reminders! I aim to make my guests feel comfortable and attended to, and it seems you do the same!

melissa said...

Great article and suggestions! Truly.