Something that I’ve long known has come to the forefront of my attention lately, which is that I am a total disaster as a hostess. Am I friendly and inviting toward guests? Sure. But my skills stop there.
I simply cannot get my shit together to properly host womanly events, and I’m almost 40 years old, for goodness sake. Time to STEP IT UP.
This problem – my ineptitude when it comes to certain domestic expectations – first surfaced in my mid-twenties, when the type of college parties I was used to throwing were no longer acceptable. You know, once it was no longer the norm to buy a keg and huge plastic tarps for the floor and call it a day.
I was good at those kinds of parties, and good at finding ridiculous props and joke items to add flair to events. Kiddie swimming pool for the living room at a “spring break” party? Check! Sombreros from the dollar store? Check!
Serving platters for homemade appetizers? Uncheck.
The level of my problem became apparent circa 2003, when I was invited to a girls only TV night/dinner.
I understood the event to be a sort of “BYOF” deal (bring your own food). So, I picked up a steak bomb and threw 4 stray beers into a plastic bag and headed on over.
As soon as I arrived at the gathering I realized my error. All of the other girls had come bearing lasagnas, quiches, salads to share and the like. Nobody else had loose Bud Light cans in a plastic bag. Certainly nobody else had a personally sized steak bomb.
When did this social seismic shift happen? Well, at least a decade ago, apparently. I just missed it.
But all that is going to change.
Why is it going to change now, a decade after first recognizing my problem?
Because in the last few weeks I’ve twice attempted to host small scale events, and both times I was in a panic, paralyzed by my inability to put together even a basic spread. Also, I have CHILDREN now, good Lord. For the sake of my babies and our future as a normal family, something’s got to give.
I had a few local mom friends and their babies over a few weeks ago at 11:00 a.m. on a weekday.
Some people might say to themselves, in that situation, maybe I will pick up some orange juice and bagels! Perhaps some fresh fruit.
I picked up three $2 bottles of wine at Trader Joe’s (which, can I just say – what a deal!), and some spaghetti. I got one jar of sauce and reheated some eggplant parmesan that Brian had made 4 days earlier. Voila! A lovely (albeit heavy) mid-morning Italian spread.
I rationalized this menu with the thought that people with babies always show up late to events, and even though I invited people for 11:00 they would probably show up at noon, and noon is a fine time for a drink. Any earlier would just be tacky.
I also realized that I should clean up a bit for this event (note: my house is always neat. Neat and clean are different. It’s not always clean).
Anyway, I noticed that my rug had a lot of hair on it (which is common given the fact that Nolan and I are both part wolf), and there were going to be lots of little kids sitting on the floor.
So I considered vacuuming for a second, but I still have some trouble managing our vacuum cleaner with all its various functions. I ended up compromising by picking up stray hairs off the ground with my fingers. I didn’t feel totally great about this.
And then for the 4th of July I had an out of town friend visiting, so we had a few people over for a small BBQ. This was a low stakes event by all accounts. Just some grilling of hot dogs and hamburgers, which Brian was in charge of.
Thirty minutes before party time and it came to my attention that we had absolutely nothing ready for guests, and so I threw some chips in bowl and put a bunch of waters in a cooler.
Did I realize that beer should go in the cooler, not water? No.
Did I remember to set up any dips for the chips? No.
Did I have napkins ready? No.
Did I have anything ready whatsoever? No.
Do people like Doritos? Yes. They really do. But that isn’t enough.
My friend Ben texted me before the BBQ to ask what he could bring, and I said a pizza. He thought I was kidding. I wasn’t kidding. This is the level I’m at.
Furthermore, in the last few weeks I have twice gone to events held by my sister-in-law Melissa, who is an amazing and very crafty hostess, and the juxtaposition between my events and Melissa’s was really just too dramatic to ignore.
You would not believe the level of craftiness and organization that she aspires toward (and attains!). It’s very impressive and also kind of cripples me, as I will never achieve this kind of excellence. At least I can go to her events and steal her food though.
Here are some photos from a baby shower Melissa just hosted for her sister Sue. I think you will see what I’m talking about.
In light of all of the above information, I’ve decided that I’m going to rectify this situation. Well I’m going to try to rectify this situation.
This is my challenge. I will plan and execute, entirely on my own, a small dinner party. Here is what I will NOT do, that I normally WOULD do:
- Order pizzas
- Give guests paper towels instead of napkins
- Spend less than $4 on wine
- Rely on Brian to plan a menu and/or cook the main dishes
- Serve leftovers
Instead, I will do this:
- Cook the food I am serving (not to be confused with re-heating or defrosting)
- Place utensils appropriate to the meal out on the table before guests arrive
- Make at least 2 appetizers
- Spend between $6-$12 on wine (classy!)
- Have a non-alcoholic beverage on hand other than milk and tap water
I am going to plan my menu before I even invite any guests. That will ensure that I actually have food available for these guests, versus what I usually do which is invite people with no plan and then throw scraps of food at them.
Wish me luck. Dinner Party 2.0 will launch sometime in the next calendar year.
If you have any good tips for hosting that won’t cause me anxiety and/or distressed bowels as a result of anxiety please leave them in the comments section.
Liz, don’t be so hard on yourself. That 4th of July party was a success. And we did really enjoy the Doritos. Also, you can check off the “Have a non-alcoholic beverage on hand other than milk and tap water”. We left that 24-pack of Coca-Cola at your house 🙂 See, you’re already ahead!
Thanks Toni! And don’t think I won’t put those Cokes to good use. Those will be the gift that keeps on giving.
If it makes you feel any better, I’m 52 and learning how to be a good hostess is still on my “to do” list!
Actually, that does make me feel better. I keep telling myself I’m still so young! And then I re-check my birthdate and realize I’m not actually that young. I should probably know how to make a cupcake. Or at least remember to buy napkins.
Serve something that you can make 100% ahead of time, like lasagna or a casserole or something in the oven. That way all you have to do the day of is just cook it!
Here’s an easy recipe for pulled chicken. It tastes better the day after you make it!
Big salads are always a hit too 🙂
Awesome, thanks Jennifer! Also, my husband is portuguese, so if I make this recipe it will appear that I am honoring family roots!
Your photography skills serve you well. Your 11AM, “wine and leftovers party” looks quite elegant in the picture;)
Haha I actually did notice that in the photo it looks kind of like I had a nice spread, which I did not:) You must note that the eggplant had that half-eaten look even when I first served it, not just after the party, when that look is expected…
You need to keep in mind that everyone has a strong suit and your ability to organize a party may not be one of them but it will the funniest party ever. Remember the comment from a relative who is more on the sophisticated side and commented that your wedding was the most fun wedding ever! That was due to you and your ability to bring joy to all things. Just remember that toilet paper does not take the place of napkins…….just a thought.
Thanks mom! This is why people need moms. To be supportive and also to offer practical advice (i.e. don’t use toilet paper as a napkin). Which by the way I have done before.
I think a discussion about Scott’s toilet paper would be appropriate at this point. Does Ryan S. read this blog?
Courtney is referring to my love for Scott’s single ply toilet paper, which I find delightful but our friend Ryan refers to as “that communist shit you use.”
Oh my god! This is so me. Just had company and it was a disaster! My mother is an amazing hostess. Holidays are epic. I think looking at all the baking, cleaning/staging, food shopping and cooking she does for any gathering has crippled me. I’ll never be that….
And when she comes to my house and I present my menu, she inevitably changes it. That just shuts me down more. Or questions it like, oh, you don’t want to do “blah, blah blah…?” Makes me crazy and I hate having to host anyone. So sad. Great article. I’m taking your lead and taking charge of my house, my cooking and my evenuts.
Yes Mary! Reclaim your hosting! My mom is also an amazing host, there’s really no way I can imagine doing what she does. I’m setting a more moderate bar for myself. It’s the only choice, really. Let’s both of us just shoot for mediocrity and call it a day.
Here’s a trick I use often… If you make a salad, put goat cheese on it because goat cheese is FANCY so people will be impressed… It’s also great for moms with young kids because you can bond over the fact that “life just wasn’t the same” while you were pregnant and couldn’t eat soft cheeses! You can also spread the extra on some crackers as an appetizer which will also look, you guessed it, FANCY! Good luck!
Mer, this is great advice. I do associate goat cheese with class, so I can only assume my guests will as well. I’m going to go out and shop for goat cheese in bulk, and if I don’t make a salad I can at least just leave bins of it all around my house for guests to graze from.
But you are funny and fun to be with so none of this other Martha Stewart stuff matters. I always try to ‘casually’ have people over and it turns into something I spend way too much time and money on! I actually think you are doing it just right with the two buck chuck, steak bombs and left overs! Thanks for the great laughs with this post.
This really boosts my spirits. Martha Stewart is probably at home thinking how she wants to host more like ME! Thanks Katie!
I was born without the C7b4 hostess gene. I periodically like to rise to the challenge tho. I just hosted a family reunion Sat, with 10 people, and continue to recover physically and mentally. Liz, there is much more that can be written on this subject, including the dos and don’ts of hostess social graces. Almost to a person, it was clear that I liked to give longer hugs than my guests. They released their embrace before I was ready. I’d like to suggest that cooking and cleaning skills are overrated, but alas, the very fabric of a civilized society depends on them.
Lynda, I have a very funny friend who, as a joke, used to hug people for 3 seconds longer than the point at which she felt they wanted to let go. She would actually wait until they patted her on the back, which was a clear notification of the desire to be released, before she would let go. Amazing.
I buy my appetizers usually, and cheeses and olives in little bowls(don’t forget the crackers) are easy apps to have at the beginning, when guests just start trickling in. I love hostessing events- but my secret is to write it all down! I plan a shopping list including food as well as paper goods/ flowers. I have been known to not look at my menu on the actual day(every thanksgiving there is one item I forget to make!). Oh, and I only hostessed a gender reveal party for 6 while I was pregnant- and haven’t hostessed with baby yet- so I give you credit!
Christine, I don’t think you could all what I’ve done so far “hostessing”, although people have come over 🙂 I don’t know why I tend to overlook things like cheese and olives, since those items are well within my ability to put out for guests, seeing as they require no work. And they are delicious! I am making a mental note of this.