Cultivating Hospitality

This post was inspired by a friend of mine who recently got married. She sent me a text suggesting that I write on hospitality, and the thought process I put into preparing a meal for guests. I absolutely loved her suggestion because a.) She helped me come up with a topic for a blog post - which is something that isn't always easy, and b.) I remember when I was in her shoes, newly married and so overwhelmed at the thought of hosting people in our home. So without further ado, Kaylie, this is for you.

One of the things I discovered about my husband after we were married was his love of people.

Okay, let me start over... I knew he loved people and valued relationships, but what I don't think I fully realized was how much he loved hosting people. In our home. For dinner.

If you know me, you most likely know that I don't enjoy cooking. I know how to cook, I learned young; I was 9 years old when my youngest brother was born. My mom had a hard labor and delivery, and needed a lot of time to recover. So from her reclining chair in the living room she taught me about meal preparation and laundry and other domestic responsibilities, and for years after that I kept helping out with those things regularly. 

But I cook simple meals. Meals that I didn't think were good enough to serve to dinner guests, and 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 in the process I probably stressed myself out more than necessary, and truthfully, those meals were rather bland.  

If there is one thing I want you to take to heart and never forget from this post it is this: The thing most people will remember about sitting at your table and eating a meal with you isn't the delectable flavor of the food with its beautiful presentation or the moist, richness of the cake you spent all afternoon preparing. 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 are a stressed and tense hostess your guests will notice it. Which brings me to my very first, and probably most important tip:

• Pick one or two main dishes that are full of flavor but easy to prepare, and make them several times, learning them well before you invite your guests for dinner. 
These will be your go-to options for whenever you are hosting, at least until you feel comfortable enough with the process to branch out more.

Often I will ask my husband to grill steak or chicken or fish, and I will prepare a fresh salad and my signature rice + bean -- an ethinic dish I learned to make while living in Jamaica, which I serve with artisan bread from a local bakery. Depending on who our guests are we will serve a local wine, however, if they aren't comfortable with alcohol I like to serve water infused with lemon, lime, and berries, or make iced tea. 

When my husband isn't able to grill, I make pizza. I've made this so many times I no longer need to pull out a recipe book. I like to switch up sauces and toppings for new flavors, sprinkle goat or feta cheese on top of the mozzarella for an unexpected twist, and if I have them on hand I always caramelize a few onions, because it adds rich flavor and a gourmet touch to a dish that's so easy to prepare. I will serve a fresh salad, and sometimes I like to serve these smokey roasted sweet potatoes as well. As before our beverage will be wine, fruit infused water, or iced tea, depending on who is at our table.

I don't often make dessert, but we always serve coffee, and if I have cookies or biscotti or dark chocolate on hand I will set that out as well.

Now that we've covered the basics of food prep, let's move on...

I like to prepare as much as I can before hand so that I don't feel rushed as I'm making the meal. A few things I've learn over the years are:

Don't worry about cleaning your entire house before guests arrive.
There is no need to wash everything from top to bottom, but I do recommend you give your bathrooms a good cleaning, vacuum the floors and burn a fresh scented candle. Your house will feel inviting even if it's not spic and span if you do these three steps.

• Make sure you have time to get yourself presentable.
In other words, don't meet your guests at the door wrapped in a bath towel.

• 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. Black cloth napkins and a sprig of fresh herbs - say lavender or rosemary - at each plate can make a simple, elegant statement. However, if I am serving over 6 people I typically use paper napkins and skip the sprigs of greenery, and if there are more than 12 people at my table I find no shame in using paper plate and cups and plastic utensils. Remember, the point of hosting is about cultivating and growing relationships, it is not about being Martha Stewart!

And finally...

Meet your guests at the door
Welcome them in, and if there is any last minute things you could use help with, such as filling glasses with water or dishing food or stirring soup, ask them! In her book Bread & Wine, Shauna Niequist states that she will purposefully leave things undone so that she can ask guests for help. This is a great way to get everyone feeling comfortable and involved, especially in settings were guests might not know each other well. (If you need even more great tips on hosting, I would recommend you read the book... It's excellent.)

Another way of hosting, one Herm and I do several times over the course of the summer, is to plan a Bring Your Own Meat, Bring Your Own Beverage party. I will send out an invitation letting guests know that we are firing up the grill and they are welcome to join us. I ask that they each bring a few servings of their favorite meat or veggies to grill and a beverage to share. We provide the paper-ware and I typically make a side or two to serve as well. As people arrive the food is thrown on the grill and Herm works his magic, then we serve it buffet style. I have a galvanized metal tub with ice for the bottles of whatever drinks are brought along, and of course, we always end the evening with coffee and usually desserts that others bring. We've had over 30 people for these events, but since everything is outside, and every one is chipping in with food it is so easy and affordable, and so much fun.

Like I said earlier, remind yourself that hosting is about growing and cultivating relationships. And while it is nice to have a beautiful table setting and delicious, gourmet food, that is not the most important part! If it takes a pizza delivery and premade salad for you to begin feeling comfortable with hosting, that is perfectly fine. Just make it happen! There is so much that can be learned from life around the table... it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.

I'm sure many of you have great tips of your own when it comes to hosting and hospitality. If you do, would you please leave a comment for me and Kaylie and anyone else who might feel unsure about this process as well? 


  1. Great ideas! Chet is an extrovert and sounds like Herm. It has caused much frustration for this introvert 😋 I loved your tips!! All so true! And my motto is this, people pry won't remember how clean my house was or wasn't or even the food they've been served, however they will remember how we made them feel while they were at our house! I want to love well! I strive to serve well to but often think of the verse that says (in my own words)that people will know we are followers of Jesus if we have love for each other!

  2. What a good reminder. Matt and I enjoy hosting friends and family and I have learned along the way to NOT stress those small details that no-one else notices. Also, I would be in a tizzy trying to serve everyone that I didn't focus on relationships. I now prepare a lot more beforehand and as with anything, the more you do something, the easier it becomes.
    I like the B.Y.O.M or Drinks idea for a summer grill out!
    Good read : )

  3. Love this, Sarah! You mentioned so many good tips. A big Mexican Stack bar is our go-to, and we like to serve buffet style alot, since we are a big clan.:)