My friend Lyn invited me and twenty-five other close friends to a party over Memorial Day weekend. We were celebrating her daughter’s newly announced engagement. In the weeks leading up to the event, Lyn planned a lovely menu, crafted imaginative decorations, and created a magical setting in her backyard. Her ideas outnumbered her hours, but she wanted everything to be special and perfect.
The day before the party, I received an email from Lyn. “Well. The weather report calls for high winds Friday night! The outdoor tiki torches, badminton, fairy lights, waterfall thing might not happen! Plan B…an inside, elbow to elbow, really get-to-know-ya packed party! It’ll be fun, right?”
She was nervous, and I could sympathize. When entertaining, I also want everything to be just right. A caterer at heart, I often burn myself out on pre-party efforts and am ready for a nap by the time the doorbell rings. But the true spirit of entertaining isn’t about perfect, it’s about bringing together the people you love. My intention is to welcome my guests into my home with an easy graciousness and enjoy my own parties as much as they do, but how?
Prompted by Lyn’s email, I reminisced about parties I’ve attended, and examined the hostessing techniques of my various friends. As I did, I realized that they have much to teach me about how to become the Hostess with the Mostest.
Space Doesn’t Matter, Spirit Does
When my husband and I first moved to town, we rented an adorable yet teeny tiny house. It was painted robin’s egg blue and was approximately 400 square feet. Although our little house was all we needed at the time, while living there I never entertained.
“Our home is just too small,” I would tell people.
Then Jan invited us to a party at her place. When we pulled into the driveway, I was surprised to see that Jan and her husband lived in a renovated fifth wheel trailer. Their space was even smaller than ours, yet as they welcomed us and the other guests, they never apologized for the lack of chairs or the small dining room table insert that doubled as counter space. We all just made do–standing up to switch positions in the tiny living room when someone went to pour another glass of wine, and rubbing shoulders as we washed and dried the dishes in the little sink. The lack of space was part of the fun, and Jan enjoyed herself as much as everyone else because she loved to entertain. The spirit of her hostessing overrode the lack of space.
The Party Starts When the Doorbell Rings
Years ago, before I knew my friend Jara well, I showed up at her house one evening for a book club meeting. She answered the door with a wide smile, and welcomed me in as she finished fastening on an earring. I was the first to arrive, so she invited me into the kitchen where she offered me something to drink and an hors d’oeuvre. As we chatted, she deftly put the finishing touches on the meal and then pulled up a chair to join me. I was there a good twenty minutes before I realized, with acute embarrassment, that I had accidentally arrived a half an hour early.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” I exclaimed, mortified. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
She waved away my apology. “It’s fine. I’m glad. It gave us a chance to chat. No worries.”
The amazing thing is, if I hadn’t noticed my early arrival, Jara never would have said a word about it. Nor did my unexpected appearance fluster her. Once I rang that doorbell, the party officially started, and she assumed her hostess duties by welcoming me graciously. Even though I’m sure she had plenty of things left to do, she acted as if my early timing was just what she was hoping for, and that she was ready to start the party.
The Considerate Hostess
This past year I had to practice some dietary restrictions that turned me into a hostess’ nightmare. At practically every party, I’d have to turn down offers of food and drink. I began to dread going out because I felt so rude declining the lovely fare the hostesses had labored to create.
I expected a similar experience when I showed up for a gathering at my friend Carrie’s house. I knew that despite her heavy work schedule, she’d spent all weekend putting together a dinner for eight. I also knew that she is a fabulous cook. I regretted having to refuse her culinary efforts, but as it turned out, I didn’t have to. As Carrie led us to the table, she quietly explained to me that she’d done an Internet search and found a posole recipe that allowed for my dietary restrictions. Not only that, her beautiful table was full to the brim of little bowls of wonderful garnishes so each guests could adjust their Mexican soup to their exact liking.
The meal was a wonderful success. We had great fun passing the little dishes and seeing all the options. Everyone ate a bellyful, some asking for seconds and thirds. Carrie enjoyed the evening too. Her clever planning had met everyone’s needs, so she could relax once the posole was served. I was pleased to be able to eat with everyone else, and incredibly grateful for Carrie’s thoughtfulness and extra effort to be such an extraordinarily considerate hostess.
My Home Is Your Home
No one has more fun at her own parties than my friend Jillene. When you walk in her front door you are immediately swept into a whirlwind of activity. People call out greetings from other rooms, hugs are exchanged, and in short order you become part of the party process. Which means you might be selecting the music, helping fill drink orders, or chopping up ingredients for a salad. If you need something, Jillene points you in the right direction and says, “Help yourself. Use anything.” Soon people are rooting through cabinets, opening and closing the refrigerator, and checking to see what’s in the oven.
At Jillene’s house, you aren’t invited to the party, you ARE the party. And the more the merrier. Even though Jillene’s children are grown and live more miles away than she’d like, she and her husband bought a huge dining room table. It fills the whole room and easily seats twelve. And at every party, that table is full, with the hostess presiding at one end, happy, relaxed, and having the most fun of all.
All of these friends have mastered the art of hostessing, as has Lyn, whether she realizes it or not. Her party was a wonderful success even though the wind howled and the temperature was so unseasonably cold that at the last minute all the furniture was shoved into the den and tables were set up in the living room. This created a cozy and intimate atmosphere, which was great since the guest list was a mix of people who had never met. When I arrived five minutes early (habits are hard to break), Lyn welcomed me at the door and gave me a big squeeze, telling me how happy she was to have me there. As I expected, the decorating was clever and whimsical, and the food, contributed from guests and hostess alike, was homemade and delectable. As everyone buzzed around the kitchen helping and getting to know one another, my friend was the perfect hostess. Yes, she was a flutter, but mostly from excitement and emotion. Her beautiful daughter was all grown up and soon to be a bride, so of course Lyn was going to get a little teared up now and then. All in all, it was a lovely celebration, and I was pleased to see that the hostess enjoyed herself as well.