Southerners are known for their hospitality, but after six years of living here, I’m convinced that it’s friendliness—not hospitality–that is actually the way of life in the South. While a friendly and welcoming demeanor is certainly a valuable quality, it can be hard to get to know people on a deeper level: deeper than the surface-level wave to the neighbors or the other parents in carpool line.
One of the best ways to get to know people is to spend time in their homes. Quite frankly, I have been surprised by the relatively few instances my family has been invited to the homes of others since we moved here. But it could definitely be me. We have lots of loud kids, and I’m not good at small talk. Likewise, we haven’t been as faithful to invite others to our home as I would like to be.
Here’s my theory as to why many people (including myself) may be hesitant to invite others to their home: they think hosting means throwing a fancy or elaborate party. In the South, a dinner party conjures up images of fine china place settings atop tables draped in burlap. The mason jars filled with freshly squeezed lemonade must have cute little paper straws accompanying them, and gourmet cooking is a must. A quick glance through a popular Southern-based magazine suggests that hosting neighbors without an elaborate theme for the décor, food, and entertainment is shameful.
Skip the Fine China
I love to invite people over, but you won’t find any fine china over here. Instead, you’ll be welcomed in to eat pizza or hot dogs off paper plates. I’m not arguing that my way is better–it’s just more realistic for most people, especially those with young children at home. It’s fun to go to a fancy dinner party, but it’s only fun once in a while.
A casual gathering with old friends or new acquaintances, however, should be a regular event. I’ve certainly not mastered the art of hospitality, but I want to get better at welcoming others to my home. So Mamas, let’s practice hospitality but keep our expectations of one another low.
Suggestions for Hosting with Less Stress
Limit the Guests
Hosting one or two families or individuals is less stressful than hosting, say, five. As an added advantage, it’s easier to get to know your guests if there are fewer of them, and conversation can be more personal.
Serve Simple Food
Serve whatever is easy. Let me say it again: go easy on yourself! Everyone loves food they didn’t have to cook, so be encouraged by that. Order some pizza or grill some hot dogs and burgers. If you love to cook, by all means go for it, but serve whatever is going to stress you out the least. An unstressed hostess is more fun to be around.
Use Paper Plates
Use paper plates (and cups, spoons, and forks). I know, I know, it’s not environmentally friendly (so sorry, Earth). However, it sets the tone that the purpose of the evening is to spend time together. It places the emphasis on conversation, not food or entertainment. And as a bonus, have you seen how cute paper plates are these days?! You can find adorable ones for each and every occasion and season.
This is a fun trick for setting the tone to your guests-to-be that you are chill and casual. Send a text or email a couple of days before you want to host them. Explain that you’re sorry it’s so last minute, but you’d love to have them over for a sweet and simple gathering. You can mention that you’re serving, say, pizza on paper plates, so they can come as they are. Guests who know what they’re getting into tend to enjoy themselves more when there aren’t surprises.
Let the Guests Contribute
Most people will ask what they can bring, and the low-stress hostess should let them bring something! If they offer, let your guests bring dessert, something for the kids, or a side dish. People like to contribute, and it’s one less thing you have to think about. It’s a win-win.
Keep a List
I have a note on my phone with a list of about ten families that we want to invite to dinner. I had big plans for summer hosting until the pandemic hit, but eventually we will resume gatherings. It’s helpful to keep this list because I can send a quick last-minute invitation. If one family declines, I just invite someone else. I’m forgetful (or maybe just preoccupied!) like most moms of littles, so the list holds me accountable to actually invite people to our home.
Use Outdoor Space
Finally, I recommend using outdoor space as much as possible. Outdoor gatherings feel more laid back. If you have outdoor space and the weather cooperates, take advantage of it! You also don’t have to worry as much about a clean house if you’re outside, so stress levels tend to run lower. This is especially key if you have young kids. Let them run wild, and the parents may luck out with a few minutes of uninterrupted conversation!
How about you? What are your tips and tricks for laid-back entertaining in your home? I’d love to hear in the comments below!