In 2015, at the ripe old age of 39, I have a fancy new stove, a pretty little kitchen, and grown up dinner plates to match. When I have people over for dinner, I try to make the most of those things. But it hasn’t always been this way.
The first two years I lived in my house, I cooked dinner for 20-plus people every week in a kitchen that bore more than a passing resemblance to a crack den. The walls were nothing but bare, unpainted, crumbling concrete. The floor was covered in filth that I couldn’t wash off. Only one side of the sink worked. And from there, it got worse.
Here are some not so pretty detail shots for you.
As for the meals, they were good, but simple. I mean, you try cooking fancy food for 20 people on a decades-old range with only three working burners and an absolute inability to reach an internal temperature higher than 350 degrees. Not surprisingly, we ate mostly soup and pasta.
If Pinterest were to be believed, not a single person should have shown up for those dinner parties. There were no quail eggs laced with truffle oil. People didn’t dine off china plates that I hand-painted myself. No crafty mason jar chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Mostly, there was just construction dust. And a lot of it.
Yet those 20-plus people kept coming back week after week. They didn’t care that the city probably should have condemned my kitchen. Or that none of my silverware and plates matched. All they cared about was that at my home they felt known and loved. The food helped…but really, it was just an excuse to bring people together. It was the means. It wasn’t the end.
Although, admittedly, it was a pretty tasty means.
Most of us know this. We know this because we’ve experienced it. We experienced it as children when the best house in the neighborhood was the house with the big crazy family and a yard strewn with toys. And we experience it still, every time a person opens up their house to us and spends the evening talking with us rather than laboring over the meal and dishes in the kitchen.
Unfortunately, for all that knowing and experiencing, we still forget. We get caught up in the madness of Pinterest Perfect Entertaining—making ourselves miserable in the process—or we don’t issue any dinner invitations at all. We keep our own company and leave the rest of the world to fend for itself, in the process losing out on opportunities to form and foster lasting friendships.
Well, because of cookbooks like the one I bought last week, which proudly announced on the back cover, “With this book you will always end up with something beautiful that will impress friends and family.” And because of Pinterest, Martha Stewart, and the Pottery Barn catalogue, which all communicate one message—that entertaining is about us; that it’s about our culinary skills, our decorating abilities, our photo ready home; that it’s about showing off, impressing others, and announcing to the world how absolutely fabulous we are.
Which, of course, most of us know we aren’t. We know we have dirty dishes perpetually in the sink, a broken window in the dining room, and a growing dust bunny farm in our bedroom. So, we take a pass on issuing dinner invitations, leaving such things to those more “fabulous” than we are.
But here’s the thing: Pinterest has it all wrong. Entertaining isn’t about us; it’s about the people we invite into our homes. Nor is entertaining about impressing people; rather, it’s about loving people.
In other words, the reason we invite friends and coworkers over for dinner isn’t to show off our immaculate baseboards and crystal wine glasses. It’s to laugh with them, tell stories with them, and get to know them better. It’s to strengthen old friendships and forge new ones. It is, ultimately, to show people that they matter, that they’re important, and that they’re worthy of being known and loved.
As Christians, doing that kind of entertaining isn’t optional. It’s called hospitality, and it’s something God expects all His children to do. He expects us to open the doors of our homes and invite people in so that through our love they can experience just a hint of His Love.
Doing that doesn’t demand throwing grand dinner parties in Pinterest inspired homes. In fact, it often demands just the opposite. It demands treating the people who come to us as if they’re part of our family—letting them see the mess, the chaos, and the reality of us.
Hospitality demands that because if we don’t let people see us—who we really are—there can be no real friendship. There can be no real intimacy. Intimacy requires knowledge. It flows from seeing the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. It goes part and parcel with the dust bunnies, the chipped dishes, and the toddler decorating the dining room with Macaroni & Cheese.
Right now, there is a neighbor, coworker, or friend of yours eating dinner alone. There’s also a newly married couple or newly arrived family in your parish feeling lost and overwhelmed. Or maybe it’s you eating alone, you waiting for the dinner invitation to come.
Stop waiting. Invite someone. It doesn’t have to be 20 people. It can be just one. Start small. Keep it simple. So what if your walls are covered with little kids’ handprints, your furniture dates back to the Carter Administration, or the best dinner you can muster up is spaghetti served on paper plates. That’s okay. What matters is simply you—your love, your attentiveness, your desire to make your guests part of your life, even for just a little while.
All that being said, there’s nothing wrong with handmade mason jar chandeliers. If you like making that stuff, that’s great. Go for it. If quail eggs in truffle oil are your specialty, that’s fine too. Serve them up. Heck, use the silver while you’re at it, if that makes you happy. It certainly does me.
And yes, it’s good to tidy up the house a bit before guests arrive…at least clearing the bills off the dining room table and the laundry off the living room couch. A place for guests to sit is kind of a must.
But as you do all that, don’t make the mistake of thinking those details are the essence of entertaining or hospitality. They’re not. The essence is love, kindness, and respect. The essence is simply giving people a space where they can come to know others and be known by others. That’s what makes for a successful dinner party and allows community to grow.
That’s what gives people a foretaste of the Supper to which we’re all invited: the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
(And by the way, my kitchen is much more sanitary now.)
11 thoughts on “Pinterest Lies: The Secret to Successful Entertaining”
Emily, YES!!!! I have been saying this for years when Martha Stewart came on the scene (I’m almost a decade older than you). She shifted the focus from caring for your guests, (an act of charity) to making it all about the hostess. Reaching perfection will give you pride and everyone will marvel at your amazing talents. It was no longer about love and nurturing but personal pride.
I love the creative ideas, but it is more important to make our guests feel at home and loved rather than being distracted about fussy details. When I have people over, it’s about the food first, and making our guests feel at home. The other embellishments might fall in place, but I cannot get frantic and put myself and my abilities on display to the detriment of my guests.
I had planned to blog about it, but I’ll mention it here while I’m here writing my epistle. On Epiphany I hosted 37 members of my family and a dear priest friend for our annual Epiphany party and house blessing. I wanted the adults to have a special meal with real plates and silverware and crystal. The silverware didn’t match, nor did the crystal. The tablecloths had spots and my centerpieces were very simple. I squeezed two tables into the dining room so that we could all converse together. Everyone was a little cramped, but I think my goals for my guests were achieved. The children’s tables had tablecloths, but I kept paper plates and plastic silverware, but they felt very honored to have the fancy cloths. We all enjoyed our time, and the fact that I could sit and converse and enjoy the company meant it wasn’t all about me. I was Martha before, but could be Mary during the dinner.
And I think about how Martha Stewart would cringe when Father came into the house and felt so at home that he “licked the pot.” (He took bread and scraped the sides of the pot of red sauce.) But to me, that was perfect.
Love your new blog, Emily. I’m a single person, turning 50 this year and have lived alone for 25 years. I have never had friends to dinner and I honestly don’t know why. Family, yes; but never friends; we usually meet at a local pub. But now you have me reconsidering this and thinking maybe I can and should. And maybe, just maybe, I shouldn’t worry about the ugly dining room light, the kitchen that needs new countertops or the ugly peach bathroom…(I, too, purchased a “fixer-upper” two years ago).
Thank you for giving me “food for thought!”.
Yes! Inspirational! I think a lot of what you say also applies to weddings, in a time when Pinterest can make a bride feel utterly inadequate. Couples are pressured to have a fancy reception — so expensive that young families aren’t able to attend as families. If a bride and groom want to invite people they love and appreciate, how is it loving them to not welcome their whole family?
From a family of 12 children, my mother always entertained guest at our big old 12 leaf table , saying” there’s always room for one more”, best of times and we always had fun too …as kids doing all the dishes by hand after..dinner could of been simple as pasta or homemade pizza ..fun fun
what a wonderful post and a shout out to all the other replies – you all have great words of wisdom 🙂
What a beautiful post. God has recently laid it on my heart to open my home to friends and family, but I have been worried that my house isn’t good enough or that people will judge me. I will be linking back to this article in a soon to be blog post. Thanks again!
Gosh, I love this post so much! Hosting friends and family just fills me. I love seeing everyone enjoy each other, chat, share, love, all the while being filled with foods I made for them. It makes me happy and always pray it does them too. We host for bible study on a rotation and are trying to be better about having a family over once every couple weeks. Love everything you shared. Thank you. And your new kitchen looks all kinds of wonderful!
That is all so true and yet our pride makes it so hard to embrace sometimes. I am taking heed though and this weekend will extend an invitation I have been reluctant to extend.
This article had inspired me so much and I greatly appreciate you for it. I’m guilty of wanting to have everything picture perfect before having guests over. 9 times out of 10, they really don’t care about the details that I care about. They just like being in a place where there’s love and good food. Thanks again for putting things in perspective.
OK I KNOW this post is old, but my question is: what if you invite and people don’t come?
I’m always offering to make dinner for my friends. I’d love to have them over. But whenever I try to nail down a date, it’s always, oh, I don’t know…..or, well, I’m on a special diet…….and any attempts at hospitality are rebuffed.
Any ideas on how to fix this?
Sorry for the delayed response. It’s been a week. I guess, I would just keep inviting until they can come, but at the same time, keep reaching out to other people, even people you don’t know well. Chris and I invite all sorts over, not just our good friends. We invite his co-workers, people we just met from the parish, neighbors, old and new acquaintances. I’ve never not had someone end up coming when I want to feed someone. Maybe this is just God’s way of pushing you out of your comfort zone with hospitality or nudging you to invite someone over who needs it more, but who you might not initially have thought to invite?