Confessions of a Reluctant Host
I don’t know about you, but I love a good party. I am especially a fan of dinner parties, where everyone shares a meal and talks for hours and hours. And yet I find entertaining to be a stressful undertaking.
People are usually surprised when I mention that I am sometimes a reluctant host since I actually do it fairly regularly, but while I love having people in my house, it is not something I do lightly.
We reluctant entertainers have our reasons. Some may feel that their home is inadequate or too messy, some get nervous being the center of attention, others are daunted by the expense or the time involved in preparing for a party, or others, like me, fear that their cooking might not live up to expectations.
Because I run a business that is entirely focused on cooking and food I often worry that people are going to have high expectations and be let down by the food I cook. When my anxieties get the better of me I become concerned that guests will think I’m a fraud for passing myself off as a cook or they’ll go home disappointed and tell their friends that the food wasn’t all that great. I guess it’s a form of social anxiety.
In some ways, I think my worries about hosting can be harder on my husband than they are on me because the stress often starts days ahead of time and I have been known to take it out on him. I can get frantic about timing and making sure everything is perfect and sometimes nag him about his timing for the jobs he is taking care of in preparation for the arrival of our guests. It isn’t pretty.
Overcoming My Fear
Despite these fears, I truly enjoy having people in my home, so I decided to try to overcome my fear of entertaining by just doing it more often and trying not to put so much pressure on myself (and my husband) for everything to be just right. Through this process I learned a number of things that really helped to make the hosting less intimidating.
When we first started hosting more we focused on inviting people over who we feel very comfortable with so I could build up confidence with a friendly crowd. These were friends who I wouldn’t feel awkward cooking in front of if I was running behind or who could be asked to help if something wasn’t totally done. By starting in this way I began to understand that people not only were gracious, but they wanted to be helpful.
Start with Kids
I am a BIG fan of grown-ups only dinner parties. I love being able to be more adventurous with flavors and textures, but feeding whole families, rather than focusing on grown-ups only events helped me to overcome my fear of entertaining in three ways: 1) family dinners are more casual, which meant the pressure for everything to be perfect wasn’t there, 2) I could offer “kid-friendly” meals that I prepare frequently, which meant less anxiety over the actual dishes and more space for my husband and me to master the timing of hosting, and 3) I realized that people appreciate simple good food – fancy isn’t required.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
To this day, whenever I host my initial impulse is to go big and bold. I want to “wow” people. That used to mean I experimented with every course I was offering and served many different dishes. Overtime I have scaled that back and now I usually experiment with one course and then depend on tried-and-true favorites for the others. I also try limit myself in the number of different dishes I make.
People are Forgiving
I know this sounds silly and obvious, but it took me a while to realize that guests are grateful for the fact that you are hosting and will be incredibly gracious and forgiving if something doesn’t go as you planned, whether that is a mis-timed meal or a dud of a recipe (an over-salted frittata comes to mind, for instance). Once I really realized this, a lot of the pressure I had been feeling started to dissipate.
Prepare in Advance
One of the best tricks for entertaining that I have learned over time and that I try to put into practice every time we now host anything is to pick at least one recipe that can be made a day or two ahead of time. Doing this eases the time pressure and allows space for adjustments, should they be necessary. Good options for advanced preparation include stews (which always taste better with a day or two of time to sit), soups, and many types of casserole.
Some good options here include Classic Gazpacho with Diced Avocado, Chipotle Beef, Black Bean, and Sweet Potato Stew , and Stacked Pumpkin Enchiladas, all of which have been big hits with guests at my house.
Ask for Help
This is one that I am still struggling with since asking for help is not something that comes naturally to me, but increasingly I am learning to accept offers of assistance. If someone asks what they can bring, I’ll now usually make a suggestion. It may be something as simple as fruit or wine, but it saves me time and takes some of the pressure off.
It Doesn’t Have to be Dinner
If planning a whole dinner party is daunting, start with something different that makes you more comfortable or plays to your cooking strengths. Are you a whiz with eggs? Host a brunch! Love making appetizers? How about a casual happy hour with fun snacks! Love to grill? Welcome friends over for a cookout! The point is, if you feel at ease, not only will your guests feel more comfortable, but you’ll also have fun.
A Work in Progress
Do I still worry that people will judge me for my food? Definitely. Do I still over-analyze my menu? Yup. But I have also learned to embrace all that I can offer when I host – a welcoming and comfortable space, lively conversation, and, yes, good food.
Do you like to host or is it stressful for you? Have you overcome a fear of entertaining? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
And if you would like recipe ideas and inspiration for all your dinners, as well as your next gathering, sign up for a two-week free trial of The Scramble and explore our library of recipes, including a whole category of recipes that are perfect for entertaining.