WHAT CAN WE DO DIFFERENTLY TO MAKE SURE WE HAVEN'T JUST OPENED OUR HOMES, BUT WE HAVE OPENED OUR HEARTS? (an extension of last week's post: how to become the right kind of hostess)
1. do things early
Do as much as you can the night before. I always try and cram too many tasks into a short amount of time, resulting in me becoming stressed and turning into a drill-sergeant as I bark orders to my family. Not my finest moment(s).
If you can't set the table early, at least stack your plates, serving dishes, napkins, and anything else you plan to use, on your buffet that morning, or the night before.
Use your crockpot! Even if you're making something which you may not typically use the slow cooker for (taco meat, for example), decide if it can be made early in the day and tossed into the crockpot to keep warm until dinnertime.
2. semi-homemade is fine!
I've given up on the idea that I can do everything on my own and from scratch. As much as I'd love to be Martha Stewart, even Martha isn't Martha! She has a TEAM to help her!
So it's MORE than ok to purchase something yummy in the deli or grocery store and transfer it to a favorite dish before folks arrive. Typically no one is the wiser, and even if they are...rarely do they care.
In fact, just last night I had ladies over for Petra (our prayer group). I set out wine, and a few little munchie-type snacks. Halfway through the night, a friend asked about the recipe for the cookies and guac.
My answer? "Haha weeeeell, the cookies are store bought dough I just slid into the oven before you arrived, and I added three extra avocados to the store bought guacamole...because the kids got into it and suddenly didn't look to be enough."
She looked at me relieved and said she was glad she asked, because she was feeling bad about her own hosting abilities. Uhhhh no, I assured her. I've had to give up on homemade everything a long time ago.
I do what I can, but a busy day and an afternoon full of kids, sports, and homework means pretty plates or bowls will have to make up for store bought anything.
3. be prepared
Keep a drawer or shelf with easy to grab items for when company stops by without much warning, or when your day goes awry and you don't have the time to prepare like you'd hoped!
In it, you could have a clean tablecloth (just toss it over the sticky, crumb covered table), fun napkins or a couple candlesticks and matches (so you don't have spend precious moments searching).
Try and always have some San Pellegrino or sparkling juice chilling in the fridge. And a cute glass or straw (most of my glasses are from Goodwill and straws are from Target).
And psst...I totally use bedsheets for tablecloths and wrapping paper for a table runner much of the time. Don't feel you need to spend money on a gorgeous table cloth.
Greet your guests. Personally. Don't just yell, "Come on in! I'm in the kitchen!"
Take their coats and purses and either get them a drink, or show your guests where you've set out lemonade, wine, or whatever beverages you're serving.
Invite them into the space where everyone is gathering or where you're cooking so they can begin enjoying the evening, rather than being unsure where they should be.
5. leave it
Leave the dishes. Leave the mess...until AFTER everyone has gone. Where you spend your time while they're visiting is showing everyone what is actually of the most importance.
Feel free and clear the dishes when folks are finished eating and still chatting around the table, but drop them in the kitchen and come straight back.
Which is most important...a clean kitchen and full dishwasher...or the people sitting across the table from you?
6. accept help
Do #5 unless this happens. If someone asks to help...say YES!
If your guests want to assist as you finish preparing the meal or help you clean the kitchen afterward, don't be afraid to take them up on it!
Many hands make light work, right? You're not leaving your guests in the next room. Instead, you're engaging with them and having conversation while you complete your tasks and allow them to serve you as you had just served them.