It’s more about your smile than your side dish.
This post was written together, as the five of us sat around one table.
It was inspired when one sister-in-law told an older sister-in-law, “I learned so much from being at your table.”
“From me? What did you learn?”
“You’re so calm. It makes me want to be there. I want to be like that.”
Yes, while good food is important, your attitude and feeling towards hosting is really what creates the experience for your guests. So, we sat down, and start discussing all our thoughts on the topic (Baruch Hashem, we all have lots of hosting experience!), and this post is the result:
Never, ever talk about how hard you worked.
Everyone knows that hosting is work (they either do it also, or they feel daunted by it). But make believe you didn’t work so hard. You want everyone to feel like it was your utmost and absolute pleasure, i.e. “It wasn’t such a big deal, I put a bunch of things into the freezer last week.” or, if you don’t want to deny it when someone comments that you must have worked hard, you can say something like “Baruch Hashem, it was fun to prepare and I enjoy it so much.” Then, they will be happy to be there and happy to come again (rather than feeling guilty).
People feel when you want them or not.
They should never feel that they’re a bother (If you say how hard you worked or act overwhelmed, they naturally do feel like a bother.) Give off the calm feeling. Let them see that you’re enjoying yourself too and enjoying their company.
Lots of people around?
Kids making a mess in the family room? Stay calm. The crazier it gets, the calmer your voice has to be–even when those dishes start piling up on the counter (“No big deal, I’ll take care of it soon.). Move around quietly, not frantically. Make sure your voice and body language is now showing that overwhelmedness.
Be as prepared as possible in advance.
Avoid too many dishes that need to be prepared at the last minute. This is important to take into account when planning your menu–build it around things that can be prepped ahead or frozen. (Even if that meant no frying before a Chanukah party!). Yes, we know fried chicken is best when served freshly fried, but if you fried them earlier in the day and they’re room temperature, if you’re more calm, your guests’ overall experience will be better. Being prepared in advance can also mean chopping veggies and making dressings the day before (yes, it is possible to host without chopping a vegetable on the day of!). Being prepared can also mean knowing which platter will be used for what. It can also mean pre-scooping ice cream. There’s lots of ways to make a meal go more smoothly!
Once the party or meal begins, you are the host.
You are not the cleaning crew (that might come later, but not now). If you clean up on the side, silently here and there, that’s ok. But don’t be MIA because you’re cleaning. Sit at the table or spend time with your guests as much as possible.
It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter if you have 4 or 100 guests. It doesn’t take long to schmooze with them, sit back a bit, and look and feel relaxed. Don’t be at the edge of your seat. The way you speak to them makes a difference. Your body language will give the message, “I’m here.” It shouldn’t be with that shmatteh on your shoulder or while you’re carrying a stack of dishes.
Is a dish a little overdone? Is the house not as perfectly neat as you hoped? Don’t say “I’m sorry.” Did you forget salt in one dish? Don’t say you’re sorry for that either (just have the salt shakers handy! “This will be great with a little more salt.”) And if you forgot to serve something, don’t worry or mention it either.
A fresh tablecloth.
If you’re having guests that you haven’t seen in awhile and you want to spend extended time around the table (perhaps they’re sleep over company and aren’t rushing anywhere), this is a tip that worked well for one of us recently. It’s especially relevant for these long Friday nights during the winter. We served one dessert, then benched, and cleared the table, and put a fresh tablecloth. We then brought out the “tea room,” i.e. chocolates, nuts, candies, and popcorn (these kinds of things don’t get a tablecloth dirty). Everyone sat and schmoozed around the table for hours afterwards. It was more pleasurable for everyone to be sitting at a clean table, no one had to rush off the table, and the host didn’t have to start clearing/cleaning up at midnight.
Have hosting questions? Ask below!
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Excellent pointers and reminders. Please repost before Pesach 🙂
Small typo – Should be “Make sure your voice and body language is NOT showing that overwhelmedness.”
Chocolate can definitely make a tablecloth dirty. Put on a plastic – promotes calmness even more. Also, wherever needed, BUY. And don’t apologize for buying ready made food. Guests are there for the company.
How do I train myself to look away from the mess or from a toddler who will walk around eating a sticky nosh etc. It’s just against my nature and hard to ignore…
What about hosting another family that the kids wreck the place and touch all your stuff? You can’t be busy being a policeman or setting up rules when they arrive! Hard to sit calmly and shmooze with the adults when the kids nearby are dumping toy after toy after toy after toy! And having their parents help clean up after is hard too when all your things are organized and they just dump stuff in random empty containers…
It is so so hard, especially if you’re a tidy person and this goes against your nature. Lock the toy cabinets. This may seem strange and wrong, but it’s really the only way to keep your sanity. And even your friendship. Since it’s true that you can’t be (and don’t want to be) a policeman, just take out a few toys that you are ok with them dumping and mixing. Preferably not too breakable and not too many pieces, and not special for any of your children. Magnatiles and clics are good, little legos less so. You can try enlisting the parents’ help but often it won’t work so well. Good luck!
Those are awesome ideas Shira! To the original poster about guests w kids- I struugggle with this one a lot and enjoy myself more with adult only guests. I remind myself shabbos is for me too and I need to enjoy it as well. For this reason we have singles or couples. I may try the locking toys idea
Victoria Dwek says
Like the other commenters replied, definitely tape up the toy cabinet when there will be lots of company with kids. You can leave out a couple things that will keep them busy but be easy to clean up (ie the Clics).
I know exactly what you mean cuz I had such experiences myself. So after such experiences, the next time we were going to have guest I told my kids before that we’re going to choose a few toys to keep in the closet to play with and the rest of the containers are going out so they are not even an option to play with (and we took them upstairs). So when if they unpack the closet there aren’t that many. After guest left we took back down all the containers. This eliminated my stress, the fight to clean up with the kids, and the fight with parents to have their kids clean up
Another tip: when I was a guest recently my hostess kept telling her kids they can’t touch any of the baked goods on the counter. Well guess what neither were we. Now when I host I put out enough that I’m totally ok with my kids having and do not policeman over anything I want my guests to feel comfortable helping themselves to.
Also for all those reading this that are guests – if it’s your kids that are destroying the toy closet or leaving without cleaning up, or walking around with food, you’re not going to be wanted. We think 100 times before inviting you. Even if I still will my teens won’t let! Just to keep in mind…
All great ideas here and as a very neat person who loves to host I really identify here but what about when the kids are your grandchildren? In a perfect life this would never happen but not always do our kids discipline their kids the way we’d like and sometimes they’re just plain exhausted. But there the focus should be on our grandkids loving to come to us and building a relationship. What to do when this gets in the way?
I actually was talking about grandchildren 🙂 I for sure dont want to police them or my daughters/dils. At first I wanted to be the fun Bubby and let them enjoy all the toys and art supplies, and I spent a ton of time and frustration being on top of them and constantly cleaning and then getting upset when things got broken. Finally, I got locks for the closets. I felt bad, but really it’s the only way. I also learned and trained myself to look away and not make it my job to clean up everything. I was spending so much time cleaning (kitchen too) that I wasnt spending any time with the kiddies. It’s SOOOO hard for me but I force myself to do it. Kind of working on the midda of laziness, but backwards. Still not natural or easy but it’s worth it. In the end, the relationship is what matters – with the parents and with the kids. But yes it’s very overwhelming.
The hardest part for me is when the kids throw all the childrens books off the bookshelf and then step on or rip the books.
With toys I can choose what to keep out and put some away so it’s not overwhelming and a mess later.
Any suggestions on how to prevent this?
Can you put something in front of the bookshelf to block it? Like a couch or bed?
I host pretty often and there are some people I will not have back. Why? It’s the people that were more pain and less pleasure to have. Obviously I put a lot of work and time into hosting. The main thing that a guest needs to be is… present! I once had a guest who went upstairs immediately after ever meal and only returned right before the meal. I had that guest again and when the same story repeated itself, they were on my “no” list.
Another pointer, a guest doesn’t need to clean the entire time, offering to help though goes a long way! I know there are many hostesses who would rather do it all themselves, but who are we kidding? I for one, get resentful when I’m a slave.
I really love this article!! each point is spot on.
maybe make a post on how to be a great guest!