Of Pots and People - How I Learned to Be a Better Host

We just hosted a dozen friends last evening and it was a lot of fun. What got these folks to come to our place on a weeknight? The expectation of spending time with us and the other people we invited. OK, the invitation also included the promise of chili.

That’s it. And that's why it was great.

I used to think that hosting involved getting everything perfect: the meal, the decorations, the home, the elegant table setting, everything. I was wrong. 

My husband knew I was misguided, but he also knew that in order for me to host, I had be in my comfort zone, which was to get everything right—well, my definition of “right”. He’s usually pretty perceptive about these things.

What took me years to notice is that the trouble a host goes to in preparing for and hosting any given evening is never for the guests. It’s for the host to feel good about him or herself.

It’s the same drive that gets us to buy a car or a home based on what people will think as opposed to what we’ll enjoy the most—what would be most comfortable in our daily lives. It’s the misguided desire to focus on extrinsic motivators as opposed to what we know deep down will make us happier.

Sharing the Experience

Complexity, expensive accoutrements and incessant doting usually make people uncomfortable and creates a barrier between the host and the guests. It’s similar to formalities in business. They’re there to create distance, to keep us properly categorized. It’s the opposite of what we all want: to connect, to be loved. 

Consider this: when you think of being, cozy, comfortable, at ease, do you think of evening wear? Fine china? Being served a five-course meal? Ornate flower arrangements? Fancy linens? Unlikely. And that goes for just about any anyone*.

The true value of sharing a meal is not the meal. The meal is incidental. It’s like saying that the primary value of work is the paycheque. (Hopefully that’s not the case for you!)

The value of a shared experience is the sharing itself. It’s the connection with the other person or people. Why else would “going for coffee” be so popular? It’s not because there’s such a deep desire for a hot beverage—I don’t think the taste of it even registers with me when I’m deep in conversation. 

Note: If we're going to a restaurant to experience the food, then the shared experience revolves around the food, the atmosphere, etc. The difference here is that no member of the dining party is playing host (apart maybe from paying the bill). Everyone is wrapped up in the experience and a great deal of the conversation revolves around this experience (food, setting, special event that we might be celebrating). Most of the details are not our concern, which is why it works, even if it's a fancy pants meal.

They Came To See You

When we remember that people are showing up for the conversation, for a chance to connect in a meaningful way, it shifts how we think about our role as hosts. The less fuss in the kitchen during the meal, the better because that means you can be truly present—in mind and body—for those you cared enough about to invite in the first place.

Our role is to facilitate the conversation, not hinder it with details and mental to do lists. That means that a buffet-style set up, a crockpot meal, a potluck, or getting together for nothing more than dessert or coffee should be the go-to options**.

That’s what happened last night. Setting out the chili*** and other fixin’s took less than ten minutes. The food was self-serve style and there was nothing for us all to do but enjoy each others'  company and get lost in conversation. And, based on this morning’s emails and texts, everyone had a great time.

Our basic at-home hosting guidelines:

  • The food & beverage choices are simple.
  • The food is tasty, not fussy.
  • Guests have what they need to help themselves.
  • There’s enough for seconds…or thirds.

The list above means the two kitchen appliances that are used the most when hosting are our crockpots and our coffee pot. They’re the two tools that help us get the desired result as effectively as possible when the weather/event calls for hot food and bevvies.

*Of course, in some cases, you want a bit of formality, such as when you’re hosting your boss or a potential business partner; but usually, even in those circumstances, simplicity is better for everyone.

**Holiday meals excluded. Tradition wins out for most of us, and that means we spend more time making and serving those we love :). 

***Here’s the chili recipe, if you’re interested/curious. Want to see other stuff we make with our crockpot? Check it out here.

Ingredients for 2 crockpots of chili:

  • 1 club pack of ground beef (pre-cooked in large skillet) 
  • 3 cans of kidney beans
  • 3 large cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 3 med cans of tomato paste
  • 2 green peppers
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 large onions
  • 3 cans sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tsp garlic
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • Cayenne to taste (I split the recipe into 2 crockpots and made one mild and one hot.)

Simmer on low for 5-6 hrs. Enjoy!