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Are you a Reluctant Host? Overcoming My Fear of Entertaining

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Hosting can be a stressful undertaking. Here is how I have learned to overcome my fear of entertaining and enjoy having people over for meals.

Overcoming fear of entertaining

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 worry that people will have high expectations and be let down by the food I prepare.

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 are 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.

Set table for entertaining

How to Overcome a Fear of Entertaining

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 not to putting 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.

Start Safe

When we first started hosting more we focused on inviting people we felt 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. They were people I could ask 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.

Include kids

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
  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.

Overcome fear of entertaining

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. Because of this, they 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 realized this, a lot of the pressure I had been feeling started to dissipate.

Classic Gazpacho with Diced Avocado (Cold Vegetable Soup)

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 host is to pick at least one recipe to make 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 great recipe options 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 doesn’t come naturally to me. Increasingly, though, 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.

Veggie-Packed Breakfast Burritos

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 The Scramble’s family-friendly meal plans and explore our library of recipes, including a whole category of recipes that are perfect for entertaining.

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Veronica Houwer

Saturday 27th of July 2019

I love cooking, own tons of cooking books, always googling for new recipes. But I always end up cooking for my kids and husband. I am soo scared of hosting that I have only hosted very few dinners. I totally relate to this article. I live in Uruguay South America. People don’t usually cook, they have maids to do that. And the few times I’ve cooked things for people,,they do like it (everyone says I am great cook). BUT they always come with the “you should not go through such extent to cook” Its soooo disheartening!!! I love cooking for people put my heart and soul into it. It gives me a great pleasure ; but when I get comments like that makes me feel guilty and then don’t dare invite people over....

Jessica Braider

Saturday 27th of July 2019

I am so sorry that people have made you feel guilty, Veronica! Cultural norms can be so hard to go up against, but if you love cooking for people, then you should absolutely do it! It is a way that you show your love for people and that has so much value. Keep on cooking! :)

Janet Stockwell

Sunday 28th of October 2018

Like you, I have always really disliked having people over for dinner. I realize that there is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment afterwards and I have just kept pushing through and doing it. However I don't like the burdened feeling and the dread as I realize I must do it again soon.

In reading the feelings of others I realize that the part I dislike the most is the stress right at serving time as I'm trying to get everything out to serve, keeping it hot, and trying to appear calm and in control. I ask myself, how can a person pour water (adding ice is just too much for me!), get the white wine out of the fridge and uncorked and the red wine on the table, get 3 or 4 dishes out of the oven or from the stovetop simultaneously (all in serving dishes), heat the buns so that they're not hard or soggy, and remain calm?! I am 69 years old, have been married for 48 years to a husband who is hopeless at helping, have raised a family and am now a grandmother, and maybe, just maybe, I'm beginning to see a glimmer of light as I sort out this problem.

I used to prepare TOO early, resulting in weeks, yes weeks, of making lists, getting out serving dishes and tableware, etc. Now I start on the Monday before the event and refuse to even think about it before that (except maybe to think about a menu - but only mentally). Also, I'm determined to stay away from dishes that just seem too complicated or that involve too much at the last minute, no matter how wonderful they would be if done correctly. I vow to stick to my tried and true favourites and leave the others to someone else. Often I don't even heat the buns at all anymore.

I know too that the work involved in preparing for the day is taxing. I resolve to space it out that week as I get ready, taking lots of breaks so that it is not so exhausting. I will focus on the VISIT coming up and picture the fun we will have talking. After all, I like these people and we do enjoy our time together. I will try to enjoy the process of getting ready as I think of it as getting ready for a stimulating, even exciting day/evening. I will tell myself again that nervousness is just another word for excitement, so enjoy!

Jessica

Sunday 28th of October 2018

Love this approach and I couldn't agree more with your focus on what it is all about--spending time with people we love!

Jean

Wednesday 19th of October 2016

ditch the selfish husband, first. How inconsiderate!

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