My husband and I love to entertain. Our summer schedule is more laid back, so we take advantage of having a bit more time on our hands in order to open up our home to our friends and family. It is one of my favorite things about summer!
This past summer, I made it a personal goal to have a couple or family over once a week. These invitations weren’t always for dinner, and they weren’t always planned weeks in advance. While some weeks we hosted a family for a sit down meal, other times we simply extended an invitation for an impromptu dessert night with friends. Regardless of the specifics, our goal was simple: welcome as many people into our home as possible!
This past July, Mike completed his Master’s program and successfully passed his licensure test to become a principal. Yay! We didn’t find out his test results until August, however, but when they came back with the good news, we had to celebrate!
I invited some of Mike’s closest friends to help us celebrate his accomplishments. I served food, milkshakes, and provided a bunch of classic games to help everyone have fun. We had a blast munching on yummy snacks and playing games like Battleship, corn hole, and croquet.
The evening was a success! Everyone had fun. Mike felt celebrated. And we had the pleasure of hosting another group of people in our home.
The more we entertain, the more we learn. I feel like we’ve come a long way from the days when we would just invite a few people over to hang out and maybe order a pizza or two. Don’t get me wrong, that’s great too! I’m a firm believer that the most important thing about opening up your home to others is that you simply do it. You don’t have to have fancy food, an amazing looking house, or lots of activities planned. People just want an opportunity to get together! Providing a location and a date to do so is 99% of the battle.
But, with that said, there are plenty of “fine tuning” details to entertaining that I’ve learned over time. The way I entertain in my 30’s is a far cry from how I entertained when I was fresh out of college. Here are a few things I think every 30-something needs to know about entertaining:
- If you are hosting a group, send out invitations in the mail. I know, I know. This requires more work, a little bit extra money, and heaven forbid, you have to buy stamps. However, there is something so nice about receiving an invitation in the mail. It instantly creates a “feel” for the party, and sends the message that the host(s) genuinely want you at the event.
- Clearly communicate if children are invited. We’ve hosted a few larger parties where kids were invited and it went…ok. If you have a room full of kids under the age of 6, then you are also going to have a room full of stressed out mommas. When we invite friends over for dinner we typically include their kids (and ours). When we host groups of 10 or more people, we tend to make it “adult only,” so all the adults can enjoy themselves.
- Plan your menu around the time of the event. If you invite people over to your home around 6 PM, they are going to expect a full meal (And rightly so, it’s dinner time!). However, anything after 7:00/7:30 is generally safe to just serve appetizers and desserts. Either way, make sure you communicate to your guests what they can expect.
- Offer a variety of types of dishes. If I’m serving a sit down meal, I always try to incorporate a main protein, a carb, a vegetable, and a fruit. If I’m hosting a party, I serve a minimum of six dishes and again incorporate something from each food group. I do this for several reasons. One, it provides options for people regardless of their personal preferences or dietary restrictions. Plus, as my mom taught me, it guarantees that you will have food dishes represented in a variety of colors and textures. Yes, this is important. The more visually pleasing your spread, the better!
- Serve your food on festive dish ware. It just looks better.
- Provide your guests with real dish ware, glasses, and utensils. My rule of thumb is, if I’m hosting less than 10 people, no paper or plastic. We are grown ups now, people! However, if I’m hosting a group of more than 10 people, I break out the plastic plates and silverware, but usually still serve beverages in glassware.
- Play music that fits the mood of your event, but doesn’t overpower. Music is great to set the stage for a quiet dinner party, a fun game night, or just to hang out with friends and eat dessert. It adds a fullness to the room that makes things more comfortable, assuming that you didn’t go with dub-step or death metal.
- If you are hosting a party, greet everyone as they enter and introduce new people to others they don’t know yet. I’ve found that when you bring people together that don’t know each other, a simple introduction works wonders for cultivating a laid back event where people actually mingle rather than stay in small cliques.
- Make sure your home is clean and ready for guests, but don’t stress too much about what you weren’t able to get done. This is a big one for me! I would love to have a spotless home each and every time I entertained, but if I had to wait for that to happen then I would entertain much, much less! Clean countertops and freshly swept floors (They’re pulling in the driveway! Quick! Vacuum the dining room!) go a long way in making a home feel presentable. That, and a clean hand towel in the bathroom and you are all set. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do your best, but I am encouraging your to remember that the people you host are far more interested in your generosity than the neatness of your home.
- Always put out extra toilet paper in an obvious spot. Just saying…
- A table cloth, fresh flowers (even if they are just the wild flowers that grow in your back yard), and a candle or two go a long way in creating an elegant atmosphere. I’m not saying you have to do anything fancy, but any extra touches you can think of really do help make your efforts look “put together.”
- Accept people’s offer of bringing something. In the past, I usually turned down peoples’ offer to bring a dish Then I realized that a lot of my friends genuinely wanted to bring a side dish or dessert. Some of them even felt uncomfortable if they came empty handed! So if you are asked what someone can bring, think through your menu and suggest something that would compliment your meal, but wouldn’t bring the whole thing to a screeching halt if they end up not bringing it after all. (I learned this the hard way. Someone offered to bring a dish that was pretty important to the meal I was hosting and then totally bailed. They were supposed to bring quiche. They brought brownies. It was a brunch, for goodness sake. We really needed the quiche. Oh well! Lesson learned.)
- Just. Do. It. Seriously! We’ve had so many people tell us that they think we have the gift for entertaining, which is so nice, but not true. In reality, we just do it. A lot. And the more you do something the better you get at it. I think that opening up our homes to others is crucial for community building, for maintaining healthy relationships, and for exercising our generosity muscle. However, too often, we fill our schedule so full of other stuff that we don’t leave room to entertain. This is a shame. Gathering family and friends in our home and around our table shouldn’t be something we do at the holidays, it should be something we do on a regular basis.
- Keep a notebook about what works and what doesn’t. Many a successful recipe was lost to obscurity because I didn’t write it down. What’s more, it’s nice to have a record of who is allergic to what, what music playlists were fun background beats, and ideas you implemented that made your evening more successful.