Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hosting, Hospitality, Hospitable

I have recently had the pleasure of “entertaining” a few brother-in-laws for movies, pizza, football games, and Leverage marathons. On both occasions that I speak of, the events were very impromptu and I was thoroughly unprepared. Now I know my brother-in-laws are used  to taking care of themselves and I feel certain that they were not uncomfortable by my lack of hospitality or care but these events combined with my desire to start a small book club/bible study has prompted me to search and study the subject of Hospitality.
pictures of a lovely rehearsal dinner my sister-in-law Katie catered

As I had hurriedly thrown laundry down the chute to the basement, dishes into the sink, gathered my baby’s toys, and replace the books in their rightful slots on the shelf, I felt that I was adequately preparing as a “host”. Later, however, as I watched my brother-in-law’s eat the chips they had brought, fetch their own mugs of water when I simply offered “there’s mugs in the kitchen if you’re thirsty”, and eat from the packaging our dinner of subs came wrapped in, I realized over and over I fail at hosting and I fail miserably. The redemption of the evening was the facts that had we not invited them they wouldn’t have even seen the football game at all, I did make them pop-corn and offer water and coffee, and as afore stated; they are guys who make themselves comfortable and weren’t offended by me (I assume with the uttermost hope).
Knowing I have failed as a host I began my search on Pinterest by looking up ‘how to host’. That search was disappointingly unsuccessful as I discovered ‘hosting’ has been lost to the idea and practice that to host one must have a specific event planned. I saw ‘how to host a bridal shower’, ‘8 tips to host the perfect tea-party’, and the like but nothing general, no ‘someone is at my house; how do I in fact act as the owner and “host” of this home?’
So I amended my search to ‘hospitality’ and was surprised to come up with only articles from Christian bloggers and sites on topics such as ‘What the Bible says about hospitality’. There were some good reads but really, is hospitality only a Christian’s duty? Or is it not something all housewives in all walks of life should strive for? All people for that matter?
I switched over to Google and continued my search and here, I will compile for you my conclusions on the subjects of hospitality and hosting.

From my initial searches it would seem that ‘hosting’ involves actively planning and feeding guests while ‘hospitality’ is defined more, in spirit, will you have it, and less in the physical needs of your guests. I am here to argue that ‘hosting’ and hospitality should in fact be considered one and the same. You simply cannot “win” at hosting by setting out food if you aren’t also playing host to the attentions and conversations at your gathering. It’s not all about providing good food or all about cultivating good fellowship; it is 100% about both.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary offers these definitions:
Definition of host
a :  one that receives or entertains guests socially, commercially, or officially
Definition of hospitable
1.  1a :  given to generous and cordial reception of guestsb :  promising or suggesting generous and cordial welcomec :  offering a pleasant or sustaining environment
2.  2:  readily receptive :  open <hospitable to new ideas>
Definition of hospitality           
·    : generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests : hospitable treatment
·    : the activity of providing food, drinks, etc. for people who are the guests or customers of an organization
These definitions, I believe, affirm what I was saying about being a host meaning you must provide both an environment of fellowship as well as providing refreshments for the guests.

From Emily Post we have this offering of etiquette on the subject of hosting:

"Even the most carefree parties demand guests and hosts alike meet certain expectations. The
host must plan and organize the party, and then attend to the assembled party-goers. Guests,
too, need to rise to the occasion, with the Party Animal toning it down at a reserved affair, the
Show-Off yielding the spotlight, and the Shrinking Violet making an effort to blossom.
 Six Ways to Be a Good Host
No matter the type of party you’re throwing, here are some things a host should consider, even before
the party starts:
1) Invite clearly. Include necessary information for your guests in the invitation: the date, the time, the
place, the occasion, the host(s) and when and how to respond “yes” or “no.” Add any special
information such as what to wear or what to bring, say, for a pot-luck.
2) Plan well. Take care creating your guest list. A great group of people will make any party a success,
even if it rains on the picnic or the food is a flop. Get everything ready—your meal prepped, the table
set, your party space tidy, refreshments ready—well before your guests arrive, so you’ll feel relaxed from
the very beginning.
3) Be welcoming and attentive. Make sure guests are greeted warmly, then made to feel welcome
throughout the party. Look after each guest as much as you can. If you notice a guest with an empty
glass or if there’s one person standing alone, take action and remedy the situation.
4) Be flexible and gracious. Your soufflé falls. Or one friend arrives with an unexpected guest. The
ruined dessert? Have a fallback. The uninvited guest? As discourteous as it is for someone to spring a
surprise on you, be gracious. No polite host would ever send an uninvited guest packing.
5) Be the leader and the spark. It’s your job to run the show and let your guests know when it’s time for
dinner, or dessert, or charades. Circulate among your guests, introduce newcomers, and stay with a
each group long enough to get a conversation going.
6) Be appreciative. Thank people for coming as you bid them good-bye. And don’t forget to thank
anyone who brought you a gift.  "

I think this sums it all up quite nicely but since this is my blog post I probably should use my own words.
As I see it, hosting can happen in two main ways; either you have planned an event, organized it, and prepared for it, OR someone stops in on short notice and hosting is thrust upon you unexpectedly. By both Emily Post’s definition of hosting and my own duty as a Christian to shine and offer my Savior’s example of love to those around me we are required to do the same; host to the best of our ability. This includes providing for our guests physical needs, their mental comfort, and being a gracious attentive host.
Three easy steps to assuring you make your guests comfortable are:
Offer a Place for Shoes & Coats
I prefer to have people take their shoes off upon entering my home. It is not a rude request to make, I have a baby who spends most of her day crawling around on my floors, my floors are wooden therefore the drippy snow, mud, and dirt doesn’t soak into carpet (I shudder to think that out of sight out of mind mentality makes it any better). So I am sure to ask guests to remove their shoes and have plenty of rug space or designated ground for the pile up of shoes.
Offer to take coats from your guests and set them on your bed, or wherever is convenient for you and return them when your guests are preparing to leave.
Offer Drinks and Refreshments
This seems to be a subject several other bloggers delicately tiptoed around. But where I come from (both my family and my husbands) food plays a big part. We do food. We may not do spotlessly clean decluttered houses or parties with itineraries but we do food and we do food big. We don’t question feeding people, it is just a must, so it was hard for me to unbiasedly filter through the information I was finding but in the end I am happy to say; my family(ies) were indeed correct.
There are sub points of this and I will try to be brief even though this was what most of my research time went into.
Feed your guests as the occasion dictates. If you can’t afford food for as many people as you’re inviting cut the guest list down or consider having a laid back affair that can be a pot luck. If it’s a small afternoon gathering don’t try and make it fancy, a platter of finger sandwiches isn’t hard or expensive but still fulfills your duty as host.
Be sure you let guests know where cups are or have them out with a pitcher of water. You drink out of the tap? You’re guests won’t mind just let them know it is okay to use. Drinks beyond water are optional, you decide!
If you are hosting an official party such as a graduation, birthday, or other such celebration you as the host are required to fund the food operation and it is in fact rude to assume or even ask guests to pitch in.
I will add an exception; if you have good friends that are practically family and someone who is just great at guac or makes the best cheese balls you are probably safe in asking them to contribute but still offer to reimburse them for their ingredients. Also, if friends offer to bring something feel free to take them up on that, you may assume that they are genuine in their offer and if they weren’t now is a good time for them to learn that to act in complete sincerity.
If you are planning a more laid gathering such as a BBQ, bonfire, or well, pot-luck, it is obviously well within the realm of “good hosting” to plan it as a pitch-in. Just let your guests know upon inviting them that it is a pitch-in and consider planning who should bring what so you don’t end up with five bowls of potato salad and lots of chips but nothing else.
Also worth noting, it is customary and deemed proper by most of the opinions I read on the issue for the host to provide the main dish. Having a hot dog roast? You supply hot dogs and condiments and have others bring sides and desserts. A BBQ? Be sure you provide enough grilled chicken for the invited. ETC.
If you are having a small group gathering such as a Bible study or book club (I really am doing my research on this one;) you must at least provide beverages for your guests, even if it is just a pitcher of water. Food doesn’t seem to be mandatory for these sorts of gatherings but most opinions I read (and that of my own) hint that if you do your guests will appreciate you for it. You don’t have to offer a full course meal; especially if the guests aren’t coming at dinner time, but it is really not that hard to mix up a bunt cake and sprinkle it with powdered sugar or put together a platter of crackers and cheese and it will make your gathering more, memorable will you have it, and folks more likely to want to return. Also, for such gatherings it seems perfectly acceptable to ask guests to bring something to pass around. A tray of cookies, a pan of brownies, a veggie tray, etc, small finger foods for all to enjoy. Or even if it is a monthly or bi-weekly ordeal (or what have you) it seems typical to switch up who brings food or at who’s house you meet.
You don’t have to be rich to host. I can serve tap water, coffee, tea, banana bread, and a veggie tray at little cost and sit back confident that I am meeting the needs of my guests and succeeding at hosting; don’t “sit back” too long lest I neglect the fellowship, personal investments of being an engaging host! *see the last point*
Engage Your Guests
First and foremost be sure to introduce guests who may not know one another. Encourage your more reserved friends to mix and mingle without making them uncomfortable. Find topics of conversation, mutual interests, start conversations.
I am not spending much time on this point because it seems to be the most accepted and understood/taught portion of hospitality.  You can, however, be throwing a beautiful tea party that had all the potential to be successful but your friends may leave disappointed by the lack of interaction if you sat in the corner texting your husband most of the time, watching your guests interact and not joining them. That would be a fail on you as host. So be sure to interact and cultivate conversation from those in your home; be it one friend who popped in or a houseful who received invites.

There you have it, my conclusions on hosting, hospitality, and being hospitable. I would LOVE to have some feedback on these topics. How have you always viewed your job as host? Could you work on it? Disagree with any of my views?
Please comment!
In Christ ~ Haley

siblings over for dinner - 2014


  1. I was once was told the most important aspect of hosting before anything else is good food. I didn't realize the truth in that until attending many events where it was lacking in one way or another. So if it's a planned event, you better step it up! But for impromptu gatherings, I usually have certain staples on hand that can serve dual purpose such as pickles, olives, cheese, crackers. But if it's really looking grim, you can just throw some oreos on a plate. Chances are 100% they'll get eaten since most people will pick at anything you throw in front of them, lol!

    1. Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting!
      I have been taught the same by my mother :) Thank you for the advice, I'll have to add a few things like that to my shopping list. I usually have popping corn on hand which works great, too because I don't mind popping it and butter and salt is great or quickly turning it into some sort of sweet kettle-style corn.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this lesson, Haley! All good thoughts and suggestions.
    I haven't had many opportunities to host so I get out of the habit. One area that I feel like I need to work on is having the house straightened up and things in their place. I tend to let those kind of things side because, "no one is going to see them." Well, when some does happen to pop in it is embarrassing to still have last night's dishes on the counter, the floor unswept, and a couple baskets of unfolded laundry on the couch. Not to mention the bathroom needs to be wiped down. Just the little things that take a few minutes can make a big difference.

    1. The little things get me, too. The bathroom is my biggest failing on the homefront. If I know someone is going to be over I always quickly wipe down the sink and toilet and ask myself "why don't I do this every few days? It just took a couple of minutes!"

  3. This was definitely a very thought-provoking post! I'm always terrible at remembering to ask people if they would like something to drink if they are just coming for a short visit - this inspires me to try harder!
    I've always believed that my grandma was wonderful at hospitality. Food was always very important, and the guest was more important than anything else. She almost always has things in the freezer that allows her to have something special for someone who drops by unexpectedly - frozen muffins, cookies, pie crusts, bread, lasagna. And she also has things in her pantry that are easy to help stretch a meal out - a can of beans for example. She takes care to use nice dishes, and she is horrified when we serve food in pots and pans :) These are all things I've appreciated and hope to do myself when I have my own home.
    Another thing I hope to do in my own home someday is have a list of recipes that are my "go to" when company comes - big recipes for big groups, healthy options for those who are more health conscious, etc. - and keep the ingredients that I need for those on hand.
    One last thought...After contemplating this post for a few days, I've been asking myself what truly makes me feel at home at someone else's home - what do those people who I consider very hospitable do, that other people don't do. The main thing that I can come up with is that their visitors are more important that anything else at that moment. More important than their home, their furniture, their carpet, their grocery budget, or their bedtimes. It doesn't mean that they can't serve frugal meals or that they don't set rules like "please take your shoes off", but it's done in a very gracious way that doesn't make the guest feel like an inconvenience. They love having you around and want you to truly enjoy yourself. And they are completely sincere about it. Someone can cook a great meal and have the house picked up and be interesting to converse with, but if it's not coming from the depths of their heart (if they are inwardly groaning about the extra work or the spill on the tablecloth), it's a poor substitute for real hospitality. And for someone who has seen the "real thing" it's easy to detect (even if it's done subconsciously) someone who is a fake. This doesn't mean that life stops though - I feel the most at home with people who invite me to partake of their lives, who are comfortable with me pitching in with dishes, choosing a game off the shelf, or making my needs known. If they have rules, they make them clear, and as long as I keep those rules, I know I'm welcome.

    Just a few of my thoughts!