The No-Excuses Guide to Entertaining

Posted on August 21, 2014 at 6:00 am

By Cara Strickland

The No-Excuses Guide to Entertaining | Spokane County Library District

I’ve always loved to have people over. While I enjoy meeting at a restaurant, coffee shop or wide open space, I like the personal nature of inviting someone into my home even better.

At least, I like the idea of having people over.

Sometimes, when it gets right down to it, I find that I have quite a few excuses for going out. I’ve spent the last few years trying to shoot down these excuses in my own life. I hope that you will find these solutions to be helpful, if you, like me, would like to have an (occasionally) happening home.

Excuse #1: I work full-time

This is a big one. From this simple statement, it is safe to assume that I do not clean quite as often as I would wish. My house is infrequently filled with the pleasing aroma of baking cookies. I have very little prep time between when I get home from work and when people might arrive at my house (if my gathering is on a weeknight). This is all worth consideration.

I recently read an article entitled “What An Organized Person Thinks When They Enter Your Home” on the Huffington Post. As somewhat of an organized person (organized enough to be disappointed when it doesn’t quite come off), I related to both parties in the piece. I began to think about how I am when I go to someone else’s home. It takes an awful lot of dirt for me to notice (and then, not always with judgment).

Also, usually I am more interested in having a drink than peeking around at the house. I find that it is a relief to be somewhere that my own laundry and dishes do not call to me (I sense no such calls from other people’s chores).

On another note, I find that I’m often tired after working a full day. When I do go home, even if I am entertaining, it is nice to stay in one place for the evening. After a delightful evening with friends (and a cocktail or two), I do not have to make my way home. I am already there.

Excuse #2: I am not a good cook (or, I don’t have time to cook)

I have used this excuse for a long time. I used it as though I did not have access to a full-service grocery store just down my block. I used it as though I did not own a microwave.

In some ways, it does feel insurmountable. I invite people over and I want to feed them. I don’t want anyone to leave with a growling stomach.

I’ve tried out several different ideas for this excuse over the years. Perhaps the most simple is this: avoid the dinner hour.

I have long had parties organized around an activity. These are game or movie nights (which sometimes serve as mere vehicles for conversation). There is no expectation of a full-meal at these gatherings. Often, I will have a supply of snacks and a selection of games on the table, no cooking required.

To make it even easier on yourself, I recommend putting your guests to work. Many people will ask what they can bring to a party (or you can spell it out when you invite them). The burden of providing food doesn’t seem so heavy when spread across several people.

If you’re looking to graduate to serving dinner (or any other meal), asking your guests is a great way to go. Most people have no problem whipping up dessert, or a salad (they are just happy to be eating a meal they didn’t have to prepare without their own dishes staring at them during or afterwards).

When I wanted to provide the entire thing, I have looked to a favorite bakery for a delicious (and reasonably priced) quiche, gotten take-out, or picked something up at Costco, to save myself from doing everything from scratch.

A related note: if you’re concerned about the cost of entertaining, asking friends to bring items is helpful as well. You don’t need to have a fully-stocked bar, ask each person to bring something they’d like to drink. And it never hurts to stock up on non-perishable party basics like soda or chips when they are on sale. You’ll be ready for your next party, and for the next time someone invites you to one of theirs.

Excuse #3: I don’t have a reason for a party

In a culture where we organize parties only around big events like birthdays and graduations, it can be hard to remember that people used to entertain all the time, seemingly for no reason at all. Instead of getting babysitters and going out (both tough to swing in that largely single-income world), people spent time in each other’s homes. A party might have been a grand affair, but having a few people over for dinner, for many people, happened all the time.

It might seem silly to invite people over for a game night on a Wednesday, but in our isolated world, it might be just the connection we need.

I’ve given parties for obscure holidays revolving around food and drink (including a blind wine tasting for International Grenache day). I’ve celebrated things that were important to me, but I’ve also used parties as just an opportunity to get together.

If you’re a fan of a specific author, you might want to find out their birthday, or the publication date of a favorite book and have a gathering around that (be sure to include a few readings).

And if you decide to say to your friends: “I’m having a few friends over, won’t you join us?” You just might be surprised at how few of them ask for a reason.

No More Excuses

At the end of the day, when I confronted some of these excuses, I realized that it was kind of nice to have a reason to tidy a bit, every once in a while. I like the challenge of trying to find a fun new appetizer that everyone will like (or one that we can laugh about if it flops).

Surprisingly, entertaining itself has made me more confident about entertaining. Somehow, people keep agreeing to come back. It must be all right.

Much like other things I want to do (but don’t always), it is easy to find an excuse. I put off going to the gym, or joining a group, or taking a class. But when I see my home, filled with people that I love, or like, or have recently met, I feel the same sense of satisfaction that I do when I finally go to that intimidating gym class or register for that conference. I can’t help but think that this was what my home was for, all along.

Cara Strickland

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  • Pamela

    This is marvelous, Cara. Thank you for sharing your journey into the world of entertaining. Somehow, your experience is less intimidating and more relatable than some notable hospitality mavens I have read. I hope the idea of more home get togethers catches on.

    • http://www.scld.org Cara Strickland

      Thanks so much for your comment, Pamela!
      I’ve always been intimidated by the sort of entertaining that those “mavens” talk about. It’s been helpful for me to take a deep breath and realize that I can entertain in a way that’s true to what my life is like right now.
      I hope that you’ll be able to throw some fun gatherings of your own (no stress required!).