I get asked on occasion if there are cardinal rules to hospitality. The answer is: Yes! And no.
Hospitality is a gift. But it’s a learned gift. My hospitality skills started in childhood, improved in young adulthood, and are constantly evolving in mid-life. (See my early-June blogpost “Let those candles burn” for a one-time, legendary C grade in hosting.)
The basic starting point for successful hospitality simply involves friendliness, generosity and an inviting environment for letting the good times roll. After that, we’re just tweaking! Read on for my personal rules to make any guest feel special and any gathering successful.
Rule #1: Get yourself ready looooong before there’s even a chance your first guest will arrive. No one wants to ring your doorbell and be greeted by silence because you’re blow drying your hair upstairs. You can still be prepping in the kitchen, but you must personally be dressed and ready.
Rule #2: If you’re not extremely confident in your cooking (i.e., you don’t cater meals or people don’t rave about your kitchen skills), stick to one of your best main dishes. Ask your guests to bring sides. In fact, when guests say, “What can I bring?” …be ready with suggestions.
Rule #3: Have an appetizer standing by for guests who trickle in. In the mid-South, nothing starts on time. In fact, a starting time is just a “suggestion.” My go-to appetizer is a plate of olives, cheese and crackers—simple!—served with a pre-dinner cocktail. Add in lovely cocktail napkins for extra pizazz.
Rule #4: Dial down the spices. Your family may think “the hotter the better!” …but nothing will stop a party in its tracks like choking guests. Follow the recipe’s spice guidelines and have hotter spices at the table for individual tastes. You can always add spice later, but you cannot take it away.
Rule #5: Unless you’re hosting an outdoor picnic or gathering around the fire pit, use real dishes, silverware and glassware. I cannot stress this rule enough. I had to stop myself just now from using all caps and type-shouting it. Almost 70% of homes in America have a dishwasher—and I’d wager you’re living in one of them. Load it up and let it run!
Rule #6: And while I’m ranting… Use placemats or a tablecloth, and napkins that are not paper towels. Yes—even if your guests will be sitting at the kitchen counter. Yes—even if you’re moving the party to the deck. These affordable items are everywhere—estate/garage sales, discount stores, groceries. And repeat after me: Paper towels are not napkins. Say it again! Paper towels are not napkins. Chant it. Live it.
Rule #7: Unless you want your guests to clear out so you can go to bed, resist the urge to start cleaning up in the midst of the party. This is a tough one for me, but my husband Jimmy is great at reminding me to sit down and enjoy our guests. The dishes will still be there when our company leaves.
So there you have it: 7 basic hospitality rules. I have other, pickier rules—but those are specific to the type of party and guest and season. I guarantee if you follow these rules, every gathering you host will at least start out as a success. I mean, no one can predict what your crazy uncle might blurt out during dinner…am I right?