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Top Ten Tips For Hosting People

July 14th, 2013 by Alison · 26 Comments · community, entertainment, food & drink, home & garden, relationships

Our relationships with others are central to our happiness, much more central than wealth or possessions. A large body of research has proven this (see this post on the peak of happiness in the U.S.), and it is foundational to the diamond-cut life I’ve been chasing and writing about since 2007. My husband and I love to experience community and nurture our relationships by having people over for dinner, parties, dinner parties and things as simple as hanging out on the front porch with our neighbors. Here is some of what I’ve learned about hosting.

1.) Let go of perfectionism. The house or apartment or yard does not need to be big, or nicely decorated, or even super clean. Picking things up is good, and if people coming over inspires us to put pictures up on the walls that have been sitting around for years, so much the better. But our focus needs to be on the folks, not on our stuff.

2. ) Don’t assume that hosting means spending a lot of money. I admit that entertaining can be expensive, especially if you’re having a lot of people over, and if you’re serving alcohol or meat. But host in a way that’s affordable, including inviting the number of people that’s right for you. Consider my cheapest, tastiest dinner menu. Or don’t do a meal at all, but just beverages and some simple snacks.

3.) Consider a potluck. That way, the cooking and food/beverage costs can be shared. My experience is that here in Portland, Oregon, all ages and income levels of people embrace potluck meals. (They’re not just for church socials or college students.) Potlucks also make sense in light of the fact that the hosts are doing the work of organizing the event, preparing their home for it and cleaning up afterward.

4.) Ask your guests about themselves. Most people are hungry to be listened to. Relationships and community thrive on active listening. “How is your job search going?”  ”I remember your mom had been in the hospital; how is she doing now?”  ”Where did you find that beautiful dress?” “How is that new song you were writing coming along?”  Such questions mean a lot to people. The news of our lives are the threads that weave our social fabric together. Being a weaver and having a social fabric means asking interested questions.

5. ) Consider name-tags. These may involve an icebreaker. I realize name-tags may remind us of grade school or professional conferences. But again and again I find that they help people speak up and meet each other (the host cannot make every introduction). Besides names, name-tags can include answers to questions like: how did you meet the hosts? What is your current passion? Your pet peeve? Your pet’s name?

6.) Serve food that is tried and true for you. Don’t create stress by trying a complicated new recipe for company. We had my lifelong friend Cindy over for dinner last Wednesday night, a work-night, but the only night she’d be in town. Excited to see and host her, I made an enchilada casserole   ahead of time, the dish I’ve been making ever since Libby and I took Mrs. Stoltz’s cooking class in 7th grade. Cindy loved it, as a lot of guests have for four decades. (I’ve improved this dish from the original recipe. And I have to say Mrs. Stoltz failed to understand the sociable nature of cooking. Libby and I still feel indignant that she marked our four-girl kitchen down from an A to a B on a project just because we drank a toast with our plastic water glasses. So misguided of her.)

But I digress. I do think it’s great to be creative and try new foods, drinks and recipes. I’m just suggesting it’s best to do those for guests after, not before, we’ve gained confidence in how the new items will turn out.

7.) If a person is shy or just new to the group, ask him or her for help with a specific task. This creates involvement and connection without having to make small talk, which is not everyone’s strong suit.

8.) Don’t worry overmuch about head-counts and whether or not people can come. When we first started doing our annual Christmas party in 2003, I earnestly counted every RSVP as it came in, thinking the exact number of attendees was terribly important. I got frustrated by the many people who didn’t RSVP at all. Over time I realized we usually have about 26 attendees in any event, and I planned on that basis, and stopped worrying about the numbers.

On the more informal side, a couple of weeks ago, a colleague from Southern Oregon let me know he was coming up to Portland for the Blues Festival. I like him (OK, I admit I like most people, maybe that’s why I’m such a frequent hostess) so I emailed him: maybe he and his fiancee could drop over for a drink. Just a thought, I wrote. He thanked me repeatedly for the invite, and even though coming over didn’t work out, the connection with him got strengthened through the offer of hospitality. Our next work meeting was more productive than ever.

9.) Consider a short survey to find out what your guests would like to eat and do. My brother Jeff, his girlfriend Jen and her 13 year old daughter Michelle are arriving this afternoon from out of state for their first visit ever. My brother Mick, a fairly frequent visitor, is also here, and I wanted to plan meals and outings everyone would enjoy. I used Survey Monkey, which is free. If you’re interested, here is the survey I sent them. The answers quickly showed me lots of common ground, and helped me do grocery shopping and plan some activities. 

10. ) I’d love to hear from you: What is your best tip for hosting people? Or, what means the most to you as a guest when you go over to someone else’s house?

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26 Comments so far ↓

  • Libby

    Pleased to hear that Cindy enjoyed the good old enchilada casserole! It truly seems to get better with time…
    Have fun with brothers Jeff and Mick! Say hello for me. And, by the way, we always love having you as a house guest. I cherish our early morning coffee and talks. Come and visit soon!

    • Alison

      Libby, we’ve got the next So. Calif. visit figured out. It’ll be in late September, to celebrate Dad’s 90th birthday. Eager to see you then!!

  • Ami

    Great post! Very nice. Love the creative idea of the survey, very insightful. (I, personally, would certainly have checked the box for the basil lavender infusion.) :)

    • Alison

      Ami, glad you got something from the post, and that my lavender-infused vodka appeals to you. I love when you visit and comment here at DCL.

  • Patricia Weber

    I’d bet ya you are highly extroverted with all these tips? I’m an introvert, married to an extrovert and we TOO love entertaining and follow some of your tips.

    But a survey isn’t necessary for us. We do regular dinner parties with people who we’ve known for years. We know what they like and what they don’t. And we’re familiar enough they don’t hesitate to call me and ask what we are having anyway.

    One thing we do that everyone seems to enjoy is have background music playing through the rooms we are in. Just loud enough for people to enjoy hearing it.

    Loved your idea for the shy (not me) which also works for the introvert.

  • NeoshaGEE (@NeoshaLatrice)

    Awesome post and hosting tips!!! I agree that they all make for a great shin-dig.

    –Visiting from BHB Linkedin Group

  • Susan Cooper

    What great tips for organizing a get together. I often host friends and have found many of these tips a life saver. :-)

    • Alison

      Susan, I sense that you’re an extrovert, like me.

      • Susan Cooper

        Actually I am an introvert that loves small group events. Surprised? Every now and then I good friend of mine will host a very large event on my patio. I still love it all. :-)

        • Alison

          Susan, I’m not totally surprised. I know lots of introverts who love sociability; they just also need some time to themselves to recharge their batteries. Thanks for clarifying your true identity!

  • Krystyna Lagowski

    Very sensible advice! Too often we feel pressured to have the perfect dinner party or event. Recently I hosted an informal get-together for a few friends, and even though people got lost, the chocolates melted in the sun, and broccoli went limp – we had a great time!

    • Alison

      Naturally you had a great time, Krystyna. What are melted chocolate and limp broccoli, among friends? :)
      Friendship has got to be one of the most potent, powerful forces in the universe.

  • Cassi

    #7 What do you do when you’re the shy one?

    • Alison

      Cassi, The instances when I have felt shy (my first year of college comes to mind, back in 1978) I felt much more comfortable asking the host or hostess what I could do to help. Also, I suggest that when a person new to us makes eye contact, the technique of smiling, extending one’s hand and saying, “I haven’t met you yet. I’m Alison (or you would say Cassi).” The person almost always responds with their name and some friendly words. If I don’t know many people at the gathering, I tell them that, and ask them to introduce me to anyone they might know. People are generally happy to do that.

  • Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer)

    Great article. I’m a Baby Boomer and I feel like I’m just now not feeling like a poser when we have fairly accomplished people over for dinner. I also have two “go to” company meals that I know I can pull off — even if some guests show up an hour early as happened for our last dinner.

    I love the idea about name-tags for events with a larger number of people. I wish we had them for our son’s wedding in May. Name and how you know the bride and/or groom would have been great.
    (Found this on BHB ;-)

    • Alison

      Suzanne, I’m a boomer, too. About having accomplished people over for dinner — I had to grow into that, too. Now I’m truly comfortable, but earlier in my life when I hadn’t yet found myself and my path, it wouldn’t have worked. Things can really change, can’t they?

  • Debra Yearwood

    Great tips. I love entertaining but used to make myself nuts when we hosted, but finally realized that trying to do everything perfectly was making me NOT want to host. One thing I do like to do, is get as much done in advance as I can. The less I have to do on the day of the event, the more likely I am to actually enjoy it.

  • Mick Wiley

    I agree…it”s not about money or things. Keep it simple and enjoy the people. Thanks for being such a kind and generous host.

  • Jeri

    Hmmm, my best tip for hosting people is to have a great hubby who can cook good food since I’m not much of a cook. He’s so good that way ;)

  • Arleen

    As I am getting older I less and less people over. I basically just have the family over and we all join in the cooking and cleaning. With that said I do think you have given some great tips.

  • Mary Slagel@Shape Daily

    I absolutely love hosting parties and get togethers. I have quite the problem of over doing it for dinners however. Unfortunately Easter was probably the last time I had a large amount of people over for dinner (I have about 6 people over every Sunday for grilling and dinner) and I made more food than I could possible remember. I was so excited when everything turned out. Like you suggested, I stuck with tried and tested dishes which helped a lot.

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