Thursday, March 10, 2011

Entertaining vs. Hospitality by Sheila Wray Gregoire

Reprinted with permission from author Sheila Wray Gregoire.

I received a book to review a few months ago that I was actually pretty excited about. It was talking about entertaining for people who didn't really like to entertain or didn't feel like they knew how. And I thought, that's for me!

I'm not a detail person. I find it hard to put on a party, because when people come I get so caught up in talking to them I forget about little things like oven timers and when food has to be turned on.

So I thought: this can help organize me!

Instead it just depressed me. It was all about how to make your home beautiful, and how to do gorgeous place settings, and how to make canapes. I'm never going to make canapes.

Now maybe you have the gift of entertaining, and you find this sort of thing fun. But what I find fun is having a pile of people over, serving something easy like chicken fajitas with lots of fixings, and then eating wherever you can find a chair while you talk nonstop, and then playing board games afterwards while the kids scatter.

In fact, after reading this book, I began to think that maybe I'd never actually thrown a dinner party in my life! I've had tons of people over for dinner, but I've never thrown a dinner party! I've only ever "had people over". I had thought I had thrown dinner parties, but my table never looked anything like the tables in that book.

Please understand; I am not saying there's anything wrong with that kind of entertaining. But I just don't know if I have the time to put in that kind of work in order to have people over. The author of this book gets her kids involved, and it's a family affair, and that's wonderful. But I'm not that kind of person. I'm a lot more laid back. I like a lot of laughter, not quiet music playing in the background. I like big debates, not tame conversation. So I'm not a dinner party gal.

I worry that if we expect that anytime we have people over for dinner it has to be a big production, that we will stop inviting people over. One of the best things you can do to encourage friendships for your children (and yourself) is to have people over. Invite other families over. Talk. Instead of watching TV tonight, talk to friends! Share food. Have people bring something and contribute. Let's function more like a community.

But will we do that if we think that we must have elaborate place settings for people? Or we must plan a menu to reflect the seasons, or the fall colours, or the summer bounty? What if I just want to clear out my freezer?

I'm not saying I don't put any effort in; I guess it's just that I see a difference between hospitality and entertaining. Hospitality says, "come and share my life". Entertaining says, "I will do something out of the ordinary and extraordinary for you". Hospitality says, "I'm not really making extra effort; I just value you and so I want to include you in what we're doing because you make it better by being here." Entertaining says, "I went out of my way for you."

One isn't wrong and one right, it's just a different philosophy. I would rather just share my life, and so I don't do the whole "posh" thing. But some people are very good at posh, and it comes naturally. So by all means, go ahead!

But let's not think that in order to have people over we have to be posh. No, you don't. Do you know how rare a home cooked meal is today, even if it's just spaghetti? Anything you do is probably impressive. So don't be afraid to share, even the little you do have. Remember the five small barley loaves and two small fish? They weren't much, but they fed a ton of people and everyone had a big party. You can take the little you have and give people a memory.

I figure that what people remember is the feeling of community and the interaction. Others who focus more on entertaining may feel they remember the beauty, and the grace, and the effort. Both are fine. But that beauty and grace and effort, while lovely, is not necessary.

Don't let fears that you can't entertain stop you from having people in. Just share who you are, and laugh, and talk, and play, and have fun, and people will remember, even if it's not a traditional dinner party. And if we all got back to inviting people in once a week, rather than hibernating in our own homes watching TV, we'd be a much healthier society.

Is there a difference between hospitality and entertaining? Is your hospitality style dinner parties or just having people over?


Sheila Wray Gregoire is "a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences".

You can read more from Sheila at her blog, To Love, Honor, and Vacuum or on her Facebook page.


  1. I LOVED THIS POST. Thank you for sharing, Sheila!

    We rarely have friends over...every couple of months (though we also have overnight company at least that often). However, to prepare for company I clean the house (trust me, it's still comfortable...but friends do motivate to put things away and clean up) and prepare a comfortable meal. I have learned that doing something like a roast chicken is not ideal because that means it needs to be carved and gravy made...while friends are there. Instead we keep it much more simple. The last time we had friends over we had salad, ordered pizza, had homemade cheesecake. Then we just enjoyed each other!

    I am all about having friends over...not a formal dinner party. I am also more comfortable at someone's home when it is informal. (I don't know if I have been to a real dinner party...)

  2. I like both, actually. I think dinner parties can be fun and special and if you invite the right people (crafting a guest list can be just about as important as planning the menu!) then it can go over VERY well and be an exciting time.

    Then there are days when you just want to say, "My house isn't clean, but do you want to come over anyway?" And then you order that take-out pizza and just relax in the living room.

    I definitely think there is a place for both. I do think the idea of a "dinner party" (said in the formal sense) can be intimidating. At the same time, I think a lot of that has to do with the guest list.

  3. I like both as well. Usually if more kids are coming over or we're hosting a large group we keep it informal. But we've done more formal parties when having just a few people over.
    Thanks for sharing Sheila!

  4. I love this post and I agree.
    There is definitely a place for both; I prefer being hospitable because I am more relaxed that way.
    Entertaining is good too but I always feel like I'm not quite being honest with people when I entertain, everything is sparkling and perfect and there is not a sock of laundry or child's toy to be seen. I answer the door in my heels and apron, my sweat and ratty sweatpants have been washed or thrown in the laundry bin.
    I think I will definitely entertain more when the kids are older and I am not playing 'round up the savages' as I prepare for guests.

    I take this in mind when I have people over for the first time, which impression do I want them to walk away with?
    I usually opt for the simple one. People are more comfortable and feel relaxed.
    HOWEVER, I will say that when I do "put on the Ritz" I have received compliments from the guests about feeling relaxed and pampered! Which is very gratifying when it has taken so much time and planning and recovery!

    I do have "party nights" this is when we get out all the lovely lace and crystal and special silver and we eat dinner as usual but with all the fancy trimmings. We do this for no reason in particular, just celebration of LIFE!

    We have candlelight almost every night. It's amazing how special candles make the moment. And I use blowing them out for eating incentive! Even the two year old girl will eat a couple extra bites with her candle waiting to be snuffed!

    Hebrews 13:1-2; "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." When practicing Hospitality and Entertaining, it is important to have the right foundation; LOVE, not pride nor obligation but the Love that comes from God, because He first loved us and bids us to make peace with all. (Hebrews 12:14)

  5. I loved coming back to read comments of others! Great thoughts, ladies!

    Carrie's comment about the guest list for a dinner party really hit the spot!

  6. Thank you, Sheila, for this guest article. I love how you say it's ok to be entertainers or "come on over" people. Neither is right or wrong. It's when we let our standards of perfection paralyze us from either that we have a problem.

    I confess, since having my 4th child we've had very few people over. Partly because our table barely holds my family. There's simply no place at the table for anyone else. This requires creativity - especially if I'm inviting a family with children! In my fantasy life I would "entertain" on a regular basis with a beautiful table setting and delicious food. In my real life I'm more of a "keep it simple" kind of girl.

    I tried Sky's idea of candles on the table at Valentine's. My kids were fascinated and could barely eat. Not to mention almost knocking over the candles. I'll try again once my dreams of a bigger table materialize and my children are a little older.

  7. Interesting article! Thanks!

    After some thought, I think I fall somewhere in the middle. Often we invite people over just to share in whatever we might be doing or eating. In these cases, there is no special trip to the store or weeks of planning...just an "I value you and want to spend time with you." We've never had a fancy dinner party--and not sure we ever will! It's just not our style!

    On the other hand, I do try to make each guest in our home feel not only comfortable, but known and pampered. So, when I'm out and see a special treat or gift for a good price I generally pick it up. One example, I keep half and half in my fridge. Our family doesn't use it, but I have a few friends who like it in their coffee/ tea. Since I have it, I'm prepared for their visits--and they know I've thought about them! Same with little activities for kids. There are plenty of toys around here, but something new or different, no matter how small, hopefully communicates: You're worth going out of my way for! I thought about you before I even knew you were coming!

    So, I think I'm someplace in between...nothing fancy, but wanting to be prepared and make my guests feel special while at the same time, we often say, "Come on over!"

  8. I loved this article. I have thrown a dinner party, but nothing too formal and I find it's nice here and there; however, I'm with Sheila on the community aspect being much more hearty & full than canapes & tea parties. How can we mingle the two together with our hearts always looking at the bigger picture? I find hospitality a bit more messy & unpredictable, but I'm okay with that.