Company. Hospitality. Entertaining. Fellowship. Guests.
Whether you’re planning a birthday party, a family holiday dinner, hosting a Bible study, or inviting the new neighbors or co-workers over for a backyard barbecue, those words will usually strike either fear or joy into a person. Some people love the process of planning a meal and others hate it. Regardless of your initial emotional response, the more frequently you have people over – the easier it gets. Entire books and websites are dedicated to this one act of sharing a meal with others. While by no means an all-encompassing list of tips, the following five points will help make a smoother and more relaxing meal time for everyone.
First, you need to realize it’s not about you, your decorating skills, your cleaning skills or your cooking skills.
This automatically takes the stress and pressure off performing for others and shifts the focus onto serving others. Perfectionism has no place in hospitality. No one lives in a Pinterest-perfect home, or in a magazine shoot where all the day to day items of actual living are missing. This can be really hard, but it is very freeing. While you want to make things as nice as you can, don’t try to make them perfect. The motive of hospitality should be to be a blessing to others and to either encourage them in their walk with the Lord or to give a witness for the gospel of Christ.
This by no means excuses us from the task of maintaining a clean home or providing an edible meal, but it should not be our focus. Hand in hand with this is to never, ever, apologize for the clutter you didn’t have time to clean or the fact dinner is a little salty. This one can be really hard and is actually reverse pride. By pointing out areas that you see as negatives, you are actually trying to get others to offer an encouraging or kind rebuttal. You might also draw their attention to something they never even noticed! Make a mental note of what you felt didn’t work out quite right and try again next time.
Second, in order to be a blessing to your guests, it’s helpful to take into consideration some information about them before they arrive.
This is especially helpful if you have never met them and know little more than their name, such as a traveling missionary. Try to ask a few simple questions and learn if they have any special food allergies or dietary restrictions when you invite them to your home. You would feel horrible to prepare a meal only to learn they are vegetarian, gluten free, or are allergic to eggs! Double check to see if they have kids, and what ages they are. That way you can prepare at least one item that is kid-friendly, and have some toys or coloring books for them to occupy themselves with.
The date and time are set, now what do you do? Third is to work ahead.
It can be challenging to figure out how to clean and cook all at the same time. There are several cleaning areas that can be done ahead of time, possibly even a few days beforehand. If you deep clean the bathroom, or scrub the floors, you will only need to do a quick wipe down the morning of the day your company arrives. Spend a few minutes thinking about your home and what areas you could clean ahead of time. This same concept applies to food. Making a salad, a dessert, a side-dish or even the main course the day before will free you up to take care of other last minute details.
Fourth, plan your meal.
There is no right or wrong food to provide, but some basic thoughts might help give you some direction. Keep it simple! There is no rule that you need to provide five side dishes or three desserts. There is also no rule that you have to cook from scratch. Remember, this is about your guests, not you. Choose which part of the meal you want to focus on and go from there. If you want to make your favorite chicken dish, keep the side dishes simple. A bag of frozen broccoli or a vegetable platter is perfectly fine! Along with this, don’t try out new recipes on your guests. While I’ve done this myself, there is a lot of risk involved! Stick to what you know, or have a backup plan. It’s also important to not double book your oven. Choose which food item you really want in the oven and use the stove top, the slow-cooker, bread machine, or grill for your other items. You can always pick them up pre-made at the store as well.
It is helpful to take into account what kind of gathering you are having and who your company is. Some foods are messy and awkward to juggle on your plate or eat with people you are unfamiliar with. Foods such as corn on the cob, hamburgers, tacos, and others that you pick up with your hands can make your company feel uncomfortable due to the mess factor. They also require a large amount of condiments that you might not have table space for. If you are having an outdoor picnic, these items are much easier to deal with buffet style than at the table. The fewer dishes to prepare, serve, and pass the better!
If you want to take the meal one step further, think about how it would look visually on your plate and ask yourself some questions. Is it all a similar color? Is it all a similar texture? While everything may taste great, it may leave you feeling like something is missing if you are serving mashed potatoes, corn and chicken. Try choosing green beans instead or even sprinkling some dried parsley or diced red pepper on the corn to provide a pop of color. If everything has the same soft texture, try adding in a crunchy salad.
Most guests will offer to bring something to help with the meal when you extend an invitation. Don’t turn them down! A dessert or a side dish are great things to transport and will help to ease your stress load. This is especially helpful if there is a food allergy involved that can be overwhelming to you.
The house is as clean as possible, the meal is served on the table – now what?
Sometimes carrying on a conversation can be even more stressful than cleaning the house, or making a meal. If this area is one that makes you cringe, think ahead of time of things to talk about. The best way to do this is to ask questions. Whether it’s family or new acquaintances, asking questions shows that you care and are interested in them. Make sure to be a good listener if you ask a question!
While most of the above thoughts focus on serving a meal, you don’t actually have to prepare a full course meal in order to extend hospitality to others. You could just order pizza! An invitation to share a cup of coffee or a cup of tea can also be meaningful. You could invite someone for dessert or snacks and a board game. The potential scenarios to reach out to others are only limited by the restrictions we place on ourselves. Entertaining and having a guests is a growing process, start small and work you way up. Even then, no matter how well you prepare, there will still be times that the meal was a failure or the house fell apart. It’s okay! Remember your are not striving to be perfect, your reaching out to be a blessing to others.
Though she grew up in a Christian home, Allison did not realize her need of being born again until she was 21 years old, when she repented of her sin and put her faith in Jesus Christ alone. She is thrilled to be a member of a vibrant church where the gospel is preached clearly and unashamedly!
Allison is wife to Roland, who is the senior pastor at LVBC. She is also mother to five children. She enjoys reading, sewing, and experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen.