I first got a clue about entertaining when I was in my early twenties. My aunt was hosting a bridal shower and a few of our female relatives were asked to help prepare the food. Each was assigned a dish. “And be sure to bring a crystal bowl for the buffet table,” she’d said. “That way all the food can be served from crystal bowls.”
I thought the crystal bowl thing was a stroke of genius. I’d never considered serving food from matching dishes before! In fact, I knew nothing of what was entailed in real entertaining–that hostesses needed to consider not only food and beverage, but also serving bowls, plates, flatware, napkins, cups, table coverings, center pieces, etc. I simply had no idea how much forethought, organization and creativity went into a proper celebration!
I was intrigued and wanted to absorb this knowledge about beautiful presentations and hospitality. So I paid close attention and made mental notes. Some years later, I hosted a bridal shower for my soon-to-be sister-in-law complete with little crust-less finger sandwiches served on a three-tiered display that I’d picked up along the way.
But there was more to learn. After children came along and I stopped working outside the home for a while, coffee with other mothers became a thing. I remember so looking forward to the company. But I especially noticed that coffee was always served with some type of pastry or banana nut muffins or blueberry scones. Sometimes homemade. Other times, store bought. It didn’t seem to matter. But presentation seemed integral with floral patterned paper napkins and cream and sugar sets. I made more mental notes. But once when I offered to host coffee at my house, I was either too lazy or too busy to make or buy food. So I served only coffee. When the first of only two guests arrived, I apologized for not providing snacks and received a comment that kinda floored me. I expected to hear, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” Instead, she said, “It’s okay. You’ll learn.”
For a moment, I kinda wanted to rant just like my mother did when her sister asked her to bring food to a bridal shower in a crystal dish. But, what I’ve come to realize is that upping your game when it comes to hospitality is more than an added bonus for your guests. In some cases, it’s what’s proper. But in most cases, it’s about bringing out your best to bless your guests.
Okay, now I get it. Well, almost. This past year, I had a conversation with a friend about what’s appropriate to serve to any casual guest, whether formally invited or of the pop-in variety. She explained to me that her parents are of a certain age that they expect to be offered a beverage at the very least whenever they visit somebody’s home. So maybe it’s generational? I’ve tried to remember this, especially if we’re entertaining guests of a certain age. We had some over 70 pop-ins this past week. I right away offered ice water. They readily accepted. Whew. Didn’t blow it.
Then again, maybe it’s not generational. I once tried to save a buck by buying beer in cans for a smallish gathering of friends. One friend declined the beer with a comment along the lines of being too old to drink cheap beer. Got it. Beer in bottles and preferably of the micro-brewery variety labeled with kitchy names like swamp water or bathtub brew.
Another time, when I served dessert to a small group and asked if it was okay to top it with Cool-Whip instead of real whipped cream, I’m pretty sure somebody groaned. So now I only buy Cool-Whip for that church cookbook marshmallow fruit salad recipe that old folks and children on the tundra seem to love.
Now I’m not trying to overwhelm anyone with implied rules for entertaining. I am a firm believer in letting folks grab whatever they want right out of my fridge, especially any teenage friend of our children. Have at it.
And I’m fairly certain that my family and friends are not the pretentious prigs they may seem like in this post. It’s really not about crystal dishes or bottled beer. It’s about my learning to view everyone who enters our home as an honored guest. It’s about trying to make people feel special even if for just a little while. Cause life out there is hard. And when you come here, I want you to feel loved. I’ve learned the value of a little extra effort, that in most cases, it’s much appreciated. Although there was that one time when I hosted a dinner party and one guy said eating off anybody’s good china made him feel uncomfortable. I guess I can’t win. Good thing I’m not trying to “win”.
I’m no Martha Stewart or Pinterest professional. I’m just trying to learn from others so that I might be able to serve others as best I can. I want my door to always be open. I want company to always feel welcome at our dinner table. And I never want you to think you’re not worth the effort.
What do you think? Are there any rules to entertaining? How do you make guests feel special? Does it matter?