Taking the heat out of hospitality

Having family and friends round for a meal can be a blessing, so why do many of us feel apprehensive about doing it?  A new book by blogger and author Sandy Coughlin helps reluctant entertainers to face their fears!

Feelings of inadequacy, unrealistic expectations, fear of failure and a lack of time are the main reasons why some of us rarely get round to opening our homes and sharing fellowship with others. So says Sandy Coughlin, the American creator of the popular blog Reluctant Entertainer, which she began in 2006 to help women get past issues such as perfectionism, that were holding them back from extending hospitality to others.

Now comes the book, The Reluctant Entertainer, which shows that you don’t have to cook like Delia, have a perfect house or a large budget to make your guests feel welcome.  Rather, it’s about an open door and an open heart – and using the gifts God has given us to reach out in love.

Tackle the ‘joy busters’

Sandy highlights some of the most common fears that stop us from opening our homes to others:
Whom to invite
Some people don’t practise hospitality because they fear rejection.  My husband and I were invited to a young couple’s home. We had never met them before. They knew who we were through mutual friends, from our websites, and from [my husband] Paul’s writing and speaking.  We were glad to take the invitation, but initially we were a little uncomfortable. Today Fiona, the brave hostess who reached out to us, has become one of my dearest friends and greatest gifts in life.

I don’t know how to cook
Almost everyone knows how to cook something. Maybe you don’t know how to cook as well as you’d like.  That’s OK because you can always order a takeaway. Your lack of culinary skills shouldn’t stop you from reaping the blessings of inviting people into your life.

My food never turns out well
We had friends over for dinner. When one of my guests asked if she could contribute, I willingly agreed that she should bring some pies. When all the guests arrived, I was surprised to see that she had a completely different dessert in her hands. This was fine with me, but we learnt later that she had ever so slightly burned her pies and thrown them away. Our family would simply have added ice cream if a dessert was a bit toasty and we would have devoured the pie anyway.

My house isn’t up to scratch
My mother’s childhood friend Vinnie finally came to the realisation that in order to overcome the nagging worries about her house being clean, she had to just let go and focus on her guests and a quick, easy meal. Those two aspects freed her to reach out to others.

I’m too busy
Our world seems to get more and more impersonal, everyone rushing around, crazily living their lives – my family included.  I find this proverb from Henri Nouwen extremely helpful: “Hospitality asks for the creation of an empty space where the guest can find his own soul.”

We can’t afford it
A simple get-together can be potluck. We have to put our pride away and stop thinking that we have to do it all.  I’ve hunkered down this last year, trying to keep the menu within my price range and letting my guests participate in the meal. It’s taken the pressure off my time and my cheque book, and has allowed me to continue to entertain.

It’s too hard with kids
If we could put away the image of perfect dinner parties, then we wouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. Entertaining kids can be as simple as cutting up a bowl of fruit or letting them munch on the adults’ bread.  My goal has always been to feed the kids first and then let them play or watch a movie, and have their own fun while adults enjoy adult time.

I can’t do it alone
It can be scary entertaining alone, but if you keep it simple and have a plan, a gathering really can come together when you have only two hands to do all the work.  I think of my friend Jenny who, in her single years, would ask each guest to bring a part of the menu. These get-togethers helped her to make it through a challenging time, and they gave her friends another opportunity to be there with her and for her.

My husband isn’t interested in entertaining
If there’s one thing my blog has told me, it’s that wives want to entertain more than husbands. Men are social beings, but not in the way most women are. My view is that the guy wants things simple: good food, easy conversation and relaxation.  We women sometimes make things too complicated.  Early on in my marriage I was too pushy with what I wanted (plan the perfect meal, set the perfect table, etc). It took me a few years to discover what true hospitality was all about and forge a new path for my husband and me, a path we both enjoy today.


When Sandy started her blog, she put together the ‘ten commandments of hospitality’ that have since proved to be an encouragement to many women:

1    Hospitality is not about you. It’s about making others feel warm and welcome.
2    Plan ahead, be organised and know your recipe. Learn to delegate.
3    Set the mood. Keep ambience and the five senses in mind.
4    Avoid perfectionism. Put fear aside – it’s a robber of anything good.
5    Share conversation. Foster friendships by keeping things real.
6    Demonstrate thriftiness. Buying things at cost or learning to pinch pennies makes    entertaining attainable on a budget.
7    Don’t apologise. It’s OK to make mistakes. Learn not to bring them to light in front of your guests; it robs them of relaxation.
8    Be creative. Use what you have. Keep things simple.
9    Learn from others. Find mentors and learn to find a healthy balance.
10    Life impact is everything. Experience intimacy and meaning in sharing a meal and gleaning from others’ lives.

The Reluctant Entertainer: Every Woman’s Guide to Simple and Gracious Hospitality by Sandy Coughlin is published by Bethany House (distributed by Lion Hudson), £10.99. Sandy’s blog is at