Practical Tips for a Guest Ready Home
by Sarah Esh
One thing I discovered about my husband shortly after we were married was his love of people. To be fair, I knew that about him beforehand. I saw the way people easily connected with him, how he made them feel known and heard. He often invited folks in for a meal, even while he was a bachelor. Perhaps it was his love of hospitality that swept me off my feet, that and his blue-grey eyes (among other things, of course).
What took me by surprise though was how often he was suggesting we have people over for a meal, and how excited and eager he was to open our small, two bedroom home to friends and family who were visiting from out of town. What also took me by surprise was how completely flustered I felt at the very thought of welcoming guests.
As the oldest daughter in a family of five children, at a young age I already knew how to prepare an entire meal, how to clean, and do laundry. Yet even with those skill sets, I still felt overwhelmed and underqualified to host.
The meals I was use to cooking seemed too simple and ordinary to serve to guests, and not having a beautiful space to welcome people to rest made me feel inadequate.
So, in a tizzy those first few times, I tried to impress by cooking complicated, everything-from scratch meals I had never made before, and if we were hosting for the night, I worked hard the entire day to ensure my house was spic and span, wearying myself in the process. In that unattainable quest to create the perfect, magazine worthy atmosphere and beautifully plated meal, I found myself stressed and exhausted by the time guests arrived. Those first few times the food I had worked so diligently to prepare didn't taste right either because I wasn’t familiar
with the recipe.
If there is one thing I want you to take to heart and never forget when it comes to hosting it is this: The thing people will remember most about sitting around your table and partaking in food with you is not the delectable flavor or the beautiful presentation, and when staying for the night, it won't be the finely decorated guest room that leaves the lasting impression. What they will remember is how you made them feel. Did they feel welcomed and at home? Did they feel connection as conversation flowed?
If you’re a stressed and tense host, your guests will notice it. This brings me to my first tip:
•Pick one or two main dishes that are full of flavor but easy to prepare and learn the
These will be your go-to options when hosting, at least until you begin to feel more comfortable branching out. I like to marinate meat of some sort and keep it in the freezer. If we have guests coming over on short notice, I will ask my husband to grill that while I will prepare a simple salad and side dish, often rice or sweet potatoes, accompanied with artisan bread from a local bakery. Rarely do we eat dessert, but when we host guests for dinner we will always serve coffee and set out whatever is on hand, whether it’s cookies or biscotti or dark chocolate. For quick but gourmet snack keep nuts, dried fruits, crackers, smoked meat, and hard cheese on hand to make a Charcuterie Board
•Don't worry about cleaning your entire house before guests arrive.
There is no need to clean everything from top to bottom, simply tidy up, give your bathrooms a good scrubbing, vacuum or sweep the floors, and burn a fresh scented candle. Having a spare set of bed linens is helpful too, especially if you do not have a designated guestroom and might be giving up a bed that is regularly used. Fresh cut flowers and a few things of bottled water set on the dresser with a thoughtful note is a welcoming way to say, “We love you and are glad you're here”. Your home will feel inviting, even if it’s not immaculate by doing these simple things.
•Set the Table.
It doesn't always happen, but if I have time I like to set the table before our guests arrive so that I can add a few details to dress it up a bit. A black cloth napkin and sprig of fresh herbs -- say lavender or rosemary -- at each plate can make a simple, elegant statement. If I am serving over six, I typically use disposable napkins, and if there are twelve or more, I find no shame in using paper plate and cups too. Remember, the point of hosting is about cultivating and growing relationships, it's not about trying to outdo Martha Stewart!
•Meet Your Guests at the Door.
Welcome them in, and if there are any last minute things you need help with, such as filling glasses with water or dishing food, ask them! In her book, Bread & Wine, Shauna Niequist states that she will purposefully leave a few things undone so that she can ask guests for help. This is a great way to get everyone involved, especially in settings where guests might not know each other well. (If you would like more tips on hosting, this book is a great resource.)
Like I said earlier, remind yourself that hosting is about growing and cultivating relationships. While it is nice to have a beautiful table setting and delicious, home-cooked food, that is not the most important part! If it takes a pizza delivery and pre-made salad for you to feel comfortable enough to begin hosting, begin with that. But please, make it happen! There is so much that can be learned from doing life together, as we gather around a table, welcoming strangers and friends into our home. It doesn't have to be perfect in order to be perfectly beautiful.
Sarah Esh lives in the heart of the Finger Lakes region in New York State with her husband and two young children. When she isn't cleaning up spilled Cheerios or kissing yet another scraped knee, you might find her writing or running or perusing the local thrift store. One of her absolute favorite things to do is travel the world with her family; a close second is coming home. You can find more of her writings at sarahesh.com or follow on Instagram @saraheshblog.