Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hospitality for the Timid

Afternoon Tea 1914
by Paul Fischer, Denmark 1860-1934

     A conscientious homemaker has a heart for hospitality, but it can seem daunting if it is not a familiar activity. We read in the Bible that the elders of the church must be "given to hospitality." (1st Timothy 3:2) That can occur most easily if it is practiced. Very few women are instantly at ease or are expert in hospitality at first. The knowledge of it must be gained little by little, and so today I would like to offer a few ideas that other people have lent me, to enable hospitality.

     Start small.  Try one or two guests at a time, instead of a big crowd. The easiest thing to plan is a pot of hot tea with sandwiches. You do not even have to make the sandwiches. Arrange the sandwich supplies in an attractive way on a platter and allow your guest to help herself. Hot tea is the best cover for everything, I always say. If all you have is crackers and cheese, hot herbal, green or a high quality black tea (like Yorkshire Gold) makes it all taste wonderful. People pay a lot of money to go to tea rooms that serve such simple food. Your hospitality in this simple way will be greatly appreciated, and I suspect you'll receive a phone call or card  telling you in enthusiastic terms just how much.

     Make a list divided into several possible sections: food to buy, food to prepare, plates and table settings to get out, housework to be done, people to call, clothes to wear, invitations to send (or phone calls), favors to make (or gifts) and anything you can think of that will make preparations easier. Then check off your list as you fulfill each item. You can give some of these tasks to helpers if you like.

     Use the grocery store. The bakery and deli are good resources for foods you do not have to prepare yourself , and this convenience is tantamount to having good help, which is hard to find sometimes.  The frozen food supply at your local grocery store has tea foods in the form of individual serving sizes of savory foods. The produce department may have fresh fruits and vegetables already cut and arranged in a covered dish, but check the dates and be discerning about freshness.  Using your grocery store as your cook is a good idea if you are uncertain about showing hospitality. The point is not where the food came from, but that you are inviting someone into the warmth and cheerfulness of your own home and sharing your table with them.

If you want to do it yourself, this new special tea-time issue, which covers spring, summer, fall and winter,
has some ideas you could follow, and is available postage free from  and at Walmart magazine section for the same price. I've got a copy of it and decided it really is a classic like it says, and is worth keeping. The photos are from older editions of the original  Victoria issues and of course are lovely and will spark your interest in having tea. I have made the turkey-avocado tea sandwiches on page 54 and they were not difficult and tasted great.

If you are only inviting one or two people, the cost of two things at the bakery or small items at the deli, will not be so enormous. Getting things pre-made from the grocery store shows you for sure how things will "turn out."

Several shades of pink are available at dollar stores nationwide.
     Dollar stores are now selling the square paper plates in large and small, and silver looking forks, knives and spoons. So, you do not even have to worry about dishes if that is what is making you hesitate about entertaining. 

     Get everything ready the day before the event. Find a place to stack the dishes and cutlery you intend to use and get out the teapots, cups and the tea bags, tablecloth, napkins and serving dishes. Put the prepared food on plates in the refrigerator, covered. Find other things you'll need and assemble them, so that you do not have the awkwardness of digging for them when company arrives.

     Go to bed early and get enough sleep so that you'll wake up early and feel less stress the next day. Lay your clothes out so that you don't have to rifle through the closet and drawers looking for just the right outfit. Find a special apron just for that day.

     If you are just getting used to extending hospitality, start with one or two guests, and do not feel you have to serve them in the dining room. A table pulled up near a window in the living room might be just right and will not feel too formal.

     Create some kind of centerpiece that goes with the occasion. The simplest, which can also be bought at your dollar store or grocery store is a candle or fresh flowers, but for a simple tea, a special tea cup filled with flowers or some other creative thing will do. Centerpieces make the table setting seem more organized and orderly and give a pleasing spot where the eyes may rest.

     Get a co-hostess in your family to help you.  If you feel stressed about having someone over to share a tea or a meal, engage someone to help you. A sister or daughter can be a great help.  Children love to be chosen as door-men or coat-ladies to greet guests, and they can be a great asset when preparing a room in which to entertain.

     Do not be rushed  time-wise. Give a head start on the event so that you won't feel pressured and lose the enjoyment of it.

     Establish a time limit for guests by indicating on the invitation, or verbally, that you are hoping to have them take tea with you beginning at 1pm and possibly going until 3pm or whatever you are comfortable with. Keep in mind the needs of your family, what time dinner has to be prepared, and the schedules of your family members, but it is wise to give  yourself a limit, so that you do not wear them out or run out of things to talk about.

     Make at least one room presentable, whether it be the dining room or the living room. Guests need not tour the home or make themselves at home in every single area of your house. Sometimes hospitality gets put off because the homemaker is trying to get the entire house presentable, which could in some cases take years. I probably need to paint the walls and get the carpet replaced, and buy some new furniture, but if I wait for that to happen, I will be years before I can show hospitality to anyone.

     Make the front door area, both outside and inside as presentable as possible by sweeping the porch and getting rid trash or clutter that is not part of the decor. Hang a wreath on the door or put a pot of flowers on the porch, just to make it seem like you are expecting company.  You can even make a hand-written welcome sign or get someone in the family to do it.

     Remind your guests that you are expecting them and ask them if everything is working out for them to come. Guests these days are good at forgetting and not showing up at all. They do not realize that the hostess has prepared something for them and is waiting for them.  

     Make the best of things if no one comes, and use it as an opportunity to record your efforts. Take pictures and make notes in your homemaking journal.  In some old journals of relatives that I have read, the homemaker kept a record of everything she served to guests, every single time, so that she would not repeat the menu if she invited the same people. Sometimes they wrote about what they wore and what the guests shared in their conversation.  If no one shows up, you can go to your neighbor and ask her to come and have tea with you, or you can share it with your family, whom I know will love it best. 

The Hatch Family
by Eastman Johnson, American 1824-1906

Practice on your family or a few family members if you are still uncertain. That way, you'll be able to see problems that might come up or ways to better serve your guests.

     Practice makes perfect, and hospitality will not always make your nervous.  Those who do it with ease are those who are used to the routine and know what to expect. If you want to become good at it, you have to practice, and the best thing is to practice on family and close friends.

Other verses on hospitality:
Romans 12:13
Titus 1:8
1st Peter 4:9

Go here to print this lecture for your homemaking notebook.


Housewife59 said...

What helpful ideas Lydia. I have to say that, like many ladies, I find your blog such a source of simple, and inspirational ideas. Some other blogs, although they are awe inspiring, are intimidating for the humble home-maker.

Thank you so much

Anonymous said...

Great article. Hospitality is very tiring for me, but I force myself to do it for our kids, as a good example. I find that having a lot of people over twice a year works better for us than a few people all of the time. I've also learned that if I keep it the meal simple, I am less stressed. One pasta dish with enough for everyone, bread and salad, done. Oh yes, and Clorox Wipes can work wonders to spruce things up before people arrive : )

~ Ann

Kathleen in IL said...

Oh, Lady Lydia, I just loved this post. I've learned over the years "how" to have guests. So many of your points were right on. If you'd like, I'd be happy to post some ideas I've incorporated to make having guests, whether 1 or 15, much easier. If you'd prefer, I'd be happy to send them to you and you can choose which seem suitable.

I can't say I'm not nervous, but I've learned that so are my guests! :) Especially if this is our "first" visit.

And yes, if no one comes, by all means, enjoy your efforts, eat your refreshments yourself, and drink a "spot of tea" as is said. You've definitely earned it!


Anonymous said...

A very fine primer, Lady Lydia. when you talked about simple foods, unfussy accoutrements & so forth, I was reminded of my parents & how easily they seemed to welcome guests into their home. I will sometimes say to people, about my mother, that she could throw a party "with a pot of coffee & one salami sandwich." :o) Really, this is not far off the mark! Their guests would sit at the kitchen table, & somehow the food just...came. Such good memories for me.

I thank you for giving fine & straightforward instruction, & in an encouraging way. Many thanks!


Farrah said...

Thank you for your ideas on hospitality. I have been pretty much bed-ridden since December and as I am getting better I have been thinking of having some friends over here and there. I know I will soon! Have a very blessed day!

Ginger said...

Very nice post! I love having people over, but once upon a time, it was stressful and no fun at all. Your advice back then would have been wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I am enjoying seeing the new posts here. They have been a welcome reminder of the bright side of things. I especially like how you give ideas that can be done well on any budget. I never thought of taking notes and photographs. That concept could apply to homemaking in other areas as well, such as planning for holidays.

It would be fairly simple and inexpensive to sew a few things for tea with just two or three yards of fabric. A new one-yard apron, some fabric napkins and a matching runner would all be pretty accessories that even a beginner could make.

Lydia said...

...or put a piece of fabric, uncut and unhemmed, on the table for a temporary table cloth.

Lydia said...


Yes, DO comment on all you know. Please share!

Rightthinker said...

Your instruction is just wonderful!

I love your sage and feminine wisdom..and the pink decor! Beautiful!

Katrinka said...

This is such an excellent post... Sometimes people are reluctant to admit they find hospitality awkward or daunting. I do, too! I think even older women, who seem to be experienced in all areas, feel nervous in these days about extending hospitality. I always try to be a good guest ... I tell them that we eat ANYTHING (which is true) so not to worry about the menu; I offer to bring something, and usually bring a jar of homemade jam, pickles, etc..

When I'm new at inviting someone, I aim for someone who will be an easy guest ... a warmhearted older woman or a friendly, hungry for home cooking younger person. Or, if someone is exceptionally busy, perhaps preparing for a child's upcoming wedding or caring for a loved one, I extend an invitation and specifically tell them that I'm doing it just to give them a time away from the cares of cooking and cleaning up. To look at it as a night out for cook and family and they are to totally relax and enjoy being waited on ... then I prepare something very simple and homey and make much fuss about them not lifting a finger except to feed themselves!

My home is almost always a mess somewhere and below my own standards, but I can't wait for all that to fall into place. A sweet, wonderful lady I used to know lived in a ramshackle mobile home with holes in the floor in the bathroom and windows with no screens and flies buzzing in, making the best of a bad situation husband-wise, but she was so warm and calm and relaxed and soft spoken I admired and loved her for it and always felt very comfortable in her home.

Katie said...

I really like this post! I want to make it a point to show hospitality for people, even if it is in a simple form. I tend to get caught up in trying to do it all, but I think your perspective is fantastic and helpful Thanks!

Sarah R said...

This is something I really needed to read. My husband is quite the social butterfly, but I am not. We recently had some old friends stop by without notice (and I was in the middle of doing laundry, wearing a beat up skirt and tee shirt, no shoes, no make up...I looked like a hot mess!) but we managed to throw together a quick bbq, brewed a few gallons of sweet tea, and just sat outside on a glorious Florida winter day and caught up with each other. By the end of the evening, I was glad they had stopped by, even though at first I was irritated with the impromptu visit. (and also reminded me that this is why it's good to keep your house clean on a regular basis!)

Lisa said...

I was raised in a very dysfunctional home where I was taught to hide and fear someone at the door or even on the phone (long story). Our home was dark and dirty and my family was very depressed and unhappy. My grandmother on the other hand was very hospitable and had many friends and aquaintances. She could provide a great deal of warmth and pull food out of seemingly nowhere to accomodate unexpected guests. The key was always treating them as if they were exactly who she wanted to see just then. She also knew how to throw parties, big and small. Because of my early experiences, I have developed a phobia about having people over...but your suggestions have given me a very simple "game plan" for extending kindness to others through hospitality. I love your ideas and continue to enjoy your blog very much. Thank you :)

Anonymous said...

This post will make a very helpful addition to the homemaking notebook.

My husband and I were recently in a store which sells mostly Irish goods, along with a few British items, and we spotted boxes of Yorkshire Gold tea bags. It came to my mind how you had spoken favorably of it. We are mostly tea drinkers so we purchased a box. After brewing a cup at home we found it full of delicious flavor - and one bag goes a long way!

Thank you for sharing lovely tips and ideas~

Lydia said...

One bag makes a large, full pot of robust tea and has no acid taste, only a smooth pleasant taste. It works well to put one bag in an extra large pot.

A warning comes with this: if you drink Yorkshire Gold, there is a possiblity that it is the only kind that will "do" for you. Its a blend of Rwandan and Assam, that is beautiful to look at as well. Most people I know drink it acapella, as I say, without sugar or milk, and there are times I think I can taste milk in it!!

Elizabeth said...

We have always found that keeping things simple when hosting a gathering, makes for the most memories. Everyone feels at ease, and relaxes, which is kind of the reason for inviting people.I agree, that it is a good example for the children to see parents showing hospitality.

Anonymous said...

My sister taught me to go right into nature to pick a few things for decorating. A pretty branch with flowers or interesting foliage. I recently noticed a tree with red berries on it and cut a few for beside my kitchen sink. Also seed pods from trees are nice to lay in a wooden bowl or such. I also love tree bark and acorns so natural, beautiful, free. As far as flowers are concerned if you like it then it is not a weed.


Anonymous said...

When I read Lisa's comment (at 12:04PM), I thought I had written it myself. My Mom passed on this same phobia to me. I love being with people, and have no problem making the best of friends at other people's houses, but I hate calling them for social reasons (I would be bothering them), and am always afraid of having people over, that they won't want to come, or have a good time, or I won't be able to "pull it off", or they will talk about something in my home to others.
I was just thinking today that this is simply a learned behavior, and now that life is not dysfunctional, in my new family, I need to simply exercise this skill, and start very small until I gain confidence. I realize it will probably take quite a while, as this skill has been so unused in my life for so long. I also think it will stretch me and improve me as a person, and strengthen our whole family.
Timely article. You have given me courage and direction on so many things over the years, thank you!

fallenstar80 said...

Thank you for this article. I was finally able to get up the courage to ask one of the ladies at my church over for lunch. We had a lovely time. It was a simple lunch, but the fresh flowers and the cloth napkins made it feel decedant. Thank you again!

Lydia said...

Close doors to rooms that you do not want guests to see.Put a chair or a basket in front of the door if you are not sure they won't open the door. This only is necessary to preserve privacy, or if you have had to stash all your excess clutter in there temporarily. Guests need not go investigate your kitchen or back porch or your laundry room either.

A lot of the nervousness is not actually over the hostess ability to show hospitality, but over rude guests!