7 ways to practice imperfect hospitality

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About Sandy

Sandy Coughlin is an author, blogger, wife, and mom to three children. She lives in Oregon and loves to develop recipes, cook, and host dinner parties. Read more at Reluctant Entertainer.

“Do what you’re good at and everything else will fall into place.” -Willnett Crockett

You don’t have to do something perfectly just because someone you know does it perfectly.

My friend, Krissy, is an amazing designer. Everything she touches with design turns to gold. My other friend, Michelle, knows how to throw a party. She adds the little touches, plans the menu effortlessly, and makes sure everyone has a good time. Another person in my life, Barb, was an incredible mom and homemaker who gardened, canned, cooked, farmed, and raised four kids who are now all fabulous adults. Jeannie, a diligent gardener; Annie, a talented artist. The list goes on and on with friends who inspire me.

I, on the other hand, many times feel like “a jack of all trades but a master of none.” Do you ever feel that way? When it comes to hospitality, however, I know where my heart is, what are my strengths and weaknesses, and I try to focus on what I’m good at: hosting dinner parties.

I finally learned not to compare myself with others because it became a robber of my energy and efforts. Keeping a simple frame of mind and not over-doing have kept me sane.

I’ve learned to cook up some really quick meals. I used to spend hours in the kitchen, trying new recipes and making really complicated dishes. I just can’t afford to spend my time this way anymore, so I’ve simplified. Who cares about “elaborate?”

Over at my blog, I really try to share ways to take the “elaborate” out of hospitality, and in turn, learn to practice imperfect hospitality.

Hospitality is an important piece of life that we should all savor, an art we should teach our kids.

A month ago, I hosted a small dinner party with seven adults when, just when I thought things were going “perfectly,” the fire alarm went off. You should have seen my husband and me rushing around, fanning the smoke detector, opening every window and door, yelling at the dog …yes! I let something burn in the oven. I looked up and saw my guests’ faces staring at me; it was rather humorous! We went on to enjoy an incredible evening, but I will admit, it did take me out of my “entertaining mode,” for a short amount of time.

7 Ways to Practice Imperfect Hospitality

1. Find a style that works for you.

Stick with it and know that it’s okay to use the same dishes every time you have guests into your home, or the same tablecloth, and that potluck is really easy. Learn not to compare yourself with others.

2. Don’t invite more people…

…than you are comfortable seating around your table. Don’t over-commit.

3. Cook and serve the same three recipes over and over.

Practice makes perfect!. You’ll eventually master and memorize the recipe.

4. Remember that when you invite people to your home, they are coming to see you.

Your guests want to meet your family and learn more about your traditions in your home and around your table. They don’t want to be impressed.

5. Don’t try to do it all.

Include the family in doing chores, setting the table, and setting a standard that is “good enough,” not necessarily perfect.

6. Be intentional.

Consider inviting people you want to introduce to one another, or who you want to get to know more yourself.

7. Lean into your fears.

Practice hospitality with courage.

Why do I call it imperfect hospitality? Because not every element of entertaining will ever be perfect.

Maybe your dishes won’t match perfectly, maybe a dish will end up under- or over-cooked, or maybe your smoke alarm will go off! Figure out what works for you personally when it comes to entertaining. I believe it has a lot to do with our personalities and what we can handle, so learn to stop doing the things that make you feel like a failure, and do the things that are simple and easy.

And if unexpected things happen, laugh—and your company will laugh along with you.

When it comes to hospitality, what are your strengths? Your weaknesses?

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Comments

  1. I love this post. I hardly ever have people over for dinner because I over analyze things way too much. This is a great reminder as I’m trying to be more intentional about practicing hospitality. Thanks
    Alia´s latest post: Hello Mornings, You stink. Sincerely, Alia

  2. I’ve been told that my strength is making people feel comfortable and spending time with them instead of rushing around doing stuff. Now, cooking great food…not so much! But I’m getting better at remembering to keep it simple.
    Martha´s latest post: p52 – Made With Love

  3. The image of you and your husband and the dog- very funny! {are you laughing yet?!} Hospitality is a natural strength for me- I enjoy it and it’s not overly stressful unless it’s more of an official function (and I’ve thankfully had very few I’ve had to host!). This can be a weakness if I let it be- I hate to have dirty preparation dishes/pots/pans in the kitchen where guests can see them.

  4. This is such an encouraging post. For a long time I did not open my home to others because of fear – fear that my house was too small, fear that I am not an elaborate cook, etc etc. I love your tips and encouragement. So important to focus on something you are good at but not over-think things to the point that it makes you stress out! Just the other day I made brownies for our Thursday night dinner group and guess what? They were burnt on top and soggy in the middle. Opps. We all got a good laugh. :)
    Brittnie (A Joy Renewed)´s latest post: Love Yourself Challenge . . . week 3

  5. My husband can make anyone feel at ease and I can cook but always feel so nervous the whole time that I clam up! Thanks for the encouragement.
    Amanda´s latest post: The Circle of Life

  6. #4 & #6 are my favorites! :)
    Heidi of Operation Organization´s latest post: WHO will WIN 4 HOURS of Organizing Services?? Add YOUR Vote!

  7. It is a great reminder – people are coming to see me – not my house. Funny how it always seems to creep in, those feelings of perfection and having to have the perfect table setting, food and setting. Thanks for refreshing my perspective Sandy!

  8. I think your 7 ways are great guidelines for doing just about anything: writing a blog, raising kids, giving gifts, loving your life partner. (Thinking of “home” and “recipes” metaphorically, of course.) Being real, and thoughtful, and simple, and courageous are the keys to so many things. Thanks for the great food for thought this morning.
    Rita@thissortaoldlife´s latest post: How to renovate a bathroom when you have more balls than brains

  9. I do 4 things that make it a little easier to invite people over.

    1. I keep coffee supplies on hand, at all times.
    2. When I bake cookies, I bake one half and freeze the other half. Then I can just toss the frozen ones on the cookies sheet and in 10 minutes have a snack to serve. I also always have a box of crackers, a box of cream cheese and some jelly.
    3. I wipe down the bathroom sink and toilet every morning. (Just don’t peak behind my shower curtain.)
    4. I breathe. And say yes.

    As a momma, I’ve always treasured the few minutes I can share a cup of coffee with another woman. I’ve found that she always has just what I needed for the day: a new perspective, a hug, a bit of encouragement.
    Salinda´s latest post: The 2nd week of 2012

  10. Love the list. we love having people over but as soon as people walk in the door I talk and can’t focus. My husband has learned to let me cook till the first person comes and then finish for me. We make a good team.
    Lorilee @ Loving Simple Living.com´s latest post: Comment on Don’t Mess With Me by Lorilee

  11. Sandy, what a nice post. It makes me realize what our family may be missing out on–enriching relationships–and teaching our children the importance of these relationships. When I was a single girl in my 20′s, I would be invited to an older colleague’s home for dinner, and often times it was a different mix (many times culturally) of people. I still have fond memories of those days, as well as lasting friendships, as a result. Thank you for this post–you’ve inspired me to “be” that family now to others!

  12. I’ve learned that entertaining with kids is generally imperfect. Understanding this keeps me balanced when we have a crowd over. I also plan meals that allow me to hang out with people, so I use my slow cooker or pressure cooker for easy dinners that look elaborate ;)
    Emily @ random recycling´s latest post: Why I Say No to Rainbow Colored Sprinkles

  13. I used to do a lot of entertaining until one time we had my in-laws over and I had smoke billowing out of the oven – I guess the turkey caught on fire. Since that incident, I have been really leery in terms of having anyone over for a meal. I guess I still have some fear that I might burn some food again and be embarrassed – maybe someday I will have the courage to try again.
    Jane´s latest post: Why Do I Sweat So Much?

  14. Thanks for this. You said you make the same 3 recipes. Can you share them? I find that I have a good, easy main dish, but the sides are too time consuming or vice versa. Thanks!

  15. Inviting new people is one of the best part of a hospitality.It helps alot in networking.

  16. As a major introvert having people over can be difficult. While I’m not shy per se and can usually enjoy having others over, I derive my energy from alone time. So the day after a get together I find myself wiped out. The less I know people the more energy it takes out of me. Since we recently moved to another state for my husband to take a job as a pastor, we’re doing a lot of meeting new people! I find that if I purposefully plan a down day after having people over it makes everything much easier.
    Steph´s latest post: The Importance of Words

    • I am definitely the same way. I enjoy company, but it always seemed I need more alone time than most people. I find that about once a month or so, I will take a “me break” where I don’t bring others into our home or activities for a couple days. Sometimes I even time it when my husband is gone for work, whether the whole time or just a couple long shifts in a row. I always come out rejuvenated! I like the idea of making sure hostessing is accompanied by some down time.

  17. I so appreciate this post, and may try suggestion #3 (same three recipes). I don’t really use recipes, so I’m always a little uptight about how the food’s actually going to turn out when guests arrive. stick to tSo sticking to three menus sounds good.

    My strength: flexibility when things go wrong, guests arrive early or late, guests don’t show, guests come with friends. (I live in the Middle East, so I’ve learned it in 10 years.)
    My weakness: constantly criticizing my own food!

  18. Mess ups can make an event fun and memorable! Our family enjoys reminiscing about the funny things that have happened when we’ve had people over. We could either cringe over them, or see it as something that made our guests feel more at home, knowing that we aren’t perfect.

  19. I need to cut this out and post it on my fridge :)
    Dana @ Cooking At Cafe D´s latest post: Sausage Gravy Recipe – Biscuits Anyone?

  20. #2, 3, and 6 speak loud and clear to me! Thank you for such a beautiful post!
    Andrea @ Frugally Sustainable´s latest post: Day 13: Growing Your Own Herbs

  21. One of the first things I tell my guests is “We aren’t very formal around here.” If I try to be formal I get nervous, mess everything up, and just generally don’t have any fun. I enjoy it more when I de-stress by giving up formality, and when I’m having fun I can help my guests have more fun. That’s my style, and there’s nothing wrong with it even though I’d love to be able to host people in fancy-dancy style. Maybe with lots of practice the informal way I’ll get comfortable enough to be more formal.

  22. Love this post! A few years ago I was sorry that we didn’t get to see family members and friends very much, with everyone’s busy schedules… However, I learned how to make pizza dough from scratch, in order to cut our food budget (underemployment big time) and it was so much fun, it’s become a weekly party… people drop in when it’s convenient, bring toppings or wine (!) as they can, and we just relax and enjoy. I make the dough in the late afternoon, and usually the first pizza. After that, it’s a participatory event! (Actually several people have learned to knead the dough, discovering it to be a lot of fun.) The house is NEVER cleaned for this; it’s just “as is.” :)

  23. Your post made me remember how extremely stressed out I used to get before hosting a family gathering. Now, I’m so much more comfortable. I have gotten some practice at my favorite dishes, but more importantly, I quit trying to make everything look perfect. Thanks for sharing! :)
    Cori´s latest post: God Speaks

  24. Thanks so much for this post! It seems to be the lesson that is being pounded into my brain from every angle this year. God wants me to use my home, more specifically my table, to share life together with people who are far from Him, and I’ve always struggled with crazy perfectionism. I’m learning my strengths and also how to drop the act and really focus on *seeing* the people at my table. It’s about them, not me!!
    Mandy´s latest post: Today

  25. I love having people over! Why stress about things that can (and do) happen to everyone? These are PEOPLE, people we LIKE, people with families and kids and dogs and schedules and craziness JUST LIKE OURS. I figure a crazy, imperfect, laughable dinner at our house is probably no different (just louder) than the dinner they would be having at home!

    Another tip is: DON’T KEEP SCORE. Don’t try to track who you had over last, or who has reciprocated the invite, or what dish you made for each event. Just invite, engage, and enjoy. I like how Salinda said “I breathe. And say yes.” Lovely.
    Alissa´s latest post: One More Mustache

  26. I have stopped trying to “go all fancy” and have decided that I am a better hostess when everything can be made ahead. I recently wrote up my timeline + recipes for a Mexican-themed dinner party (http://www.fullplatecookinglessons.blogspot.com/2012/01/throw-party-and-enjoy-it-too-do-ahead.html). It’s one of my go-to’s, and always a crowd pleaser. The food is festive & delicious…and I am totally relaxed as a hostess. Win-win for everyone!!
    eila´s latest post: serving less food

  27. When I plan a dinner party I am great at preparing a variety of foods that even the most picky eater can enjoy. My problem lies in knowing when to stop. If anyone shows up late or I have any free time on my hands, there may be an extra meal or two on the dinner table. Loved this one!
    Lisa-The Domestic Life Stylist´s latest post: SentrySafe Giveaway: How Safe Are Your Valuables?

  28. I love to make soup so three or four times a year we host “Soup, Salad, & Sundaes” on Sunday afternoons. It’s a quick easy meal (and I can do most of the prep the day before). People like to sample different kinds of soup.
    Amy´s latest post: Three things I want to learn

  29. We are lucky in our corner of the real and blog worlds to have a woman who started the idea of Wednesday Spaghetti. (http://wednesdayspaghetti.blogspot.com/)
    For her, it started pre-kids; she let her girlfriends know she’d be home at 4:30 on Wednesday with a pot of spaghetti on the stove and a jar of sauce heating on the side. Others could bring whatever–bread, salad, wine, meatballs, cheese, dessert, you name it. Or nothing. Just show up.
    It has branched out and other families have taken it on in their own ways, some with once-a-month, or even more haphazard scheduling.
    And it’s great. It’s the kind of thing where no one stays too late, because it’s a work night/school night, and other than boiling box after box of spaghetti, there’s not much else to do. It is made clear, this is not a fancy, I-redecorated-my-house-for-you party; it’s community building. And it’s awesome.
    My new year’s resolution is to host one for my street. We have a July 4 picnic but nothing for everyone in winter and I want to change that. It might be a Tuesday Wednesday Spaghetti, but I’m game to make it happen. Good luck & courage to all reluctant entertainers out there!
    MemeGRL´s latest post: MPM–Resolute

  30. I love to entertain, but I get so stressed out about everything being perfect! I know that most people could care less, but I like to have all the little details, even if I am up at 4am putting them together :-) I wish that I was able to have more “spur of the moment” get togethers. Just inviting some friends over for a potluck would be nice instead of having a huge dinner party.
    Heather´s latest post: Inspired Deals Review and giveaway!

  31. Finding your own style and being yourself is the BEST advice that you could ever give. Taking it to heart right now. Perhaps we’ll have some dinner guests this weekend! Thanks for the post!
    Keya´s latest post: Quotes From The Book Of The Month

  32. Love this! Trying to practice imperfect “everything” with a toddler and newborn at home, so I don’t drive myself crazy trying to make everything perfect.

  33. Love the “lean into your fears” part. I hardly ever have folks over, but there’s a family at church that we want to know better and they’re coming for dinner tomorrow. It’s time I get over this hosting phobia.

  34. Very excited to subscribe to your blog! Something I have always wanted was an open home and to practice hospitality. I grew up in a closed home, and had to learn hospitality by watching others’ parents and friends of mine. Thank you for starting this blog and reintroducing something not only biblical, but something not valued in our American culture.
    Becca´s latest post: Snow Makes You Slow

  35. Sandy,
    I love this post and I have always enjoyed your site. I have a very difficult time opening up my home to others. My parents NEVER entertained at all, and it is hard for me to do so, even after 30 years of marriage. We actually used to entertain more when we were younger and the kids were younger, not so much now that they are all grown and gone.
    Thank you!
    Bernice
    Living the Balanced Life´s latest post: Why are we SO hard on ourselves?

  36. Sandy,
    Thank you for this list. I really like #3. Practice the recipes you are familiar with. My strength is I have a chef for a husband. I realize that really isn’t my strength, just a personal bonus. His profession is also a weakness. I used to think that each meal needed to be different in order to have that wow factor. He can “whip up” a meal with his eyes closed.

    What I realize now is that it’s a wow if the meal is good…again and again. And I won’t be able to make a wow meal until I have the confidence to make that meal, again and again. So thank you for giving us a list of things to focus on. One being it’s OK to serve the same thing. Just get good at a cooking few things and the stress of hosting a dinner for friends will go down.

    Thanks
    Christa@thecookingblock´s latest post: Common Cooking Oils For Your Pantry

  37. Love this. The theme of my life these days is “it’s not what I planned, but it’s perfect anyway” — in the spirit of embracing the imperfection in my life.

    I love to have people over, but often obsess over the details. Glad to have these pointers!
    Kimberly at Rubber Chicken Madness´s latest post: This Family…

  38. My favorite thing to make for company is Vegetable Lasagna. It can be made ahead of time and I can just enjoy the company.

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