What is real entertaining?
Sunday, December 31, 2017
Beginning a new year is a good time to ponder entertaining — especially after the holiday frenzy. We usually think of entertaining as providing diversion or pleasure to others, a notion that can overwhelm us. But we can choose to consider — or “entertain” — a different, simpler approach to fellowship. One sort of entertaining revolves around what we prepare and serve, while the other is centered more on what we open ourselves to receiving.
All entertaining is supposed to involve showing hospitality to others, but some argue that entertaining and hospitality are not at all the same thing and that entertaining often becomes hospitality’s evil twin.
Entertaining that aspires to perfection is stressful and exhausting. It seems to demand a large home that is suitably designed for entertaining, spotlessly clean and flawlessly maintained. It can tie us up in difficult, complicated preparation. It easily becomes a self-centered performance.
The whole process can become so intimidating and off-putting that we avoid entertaining altogether.
With a different attitude, though, hospitality can be more peaceful and satisfying. It can say, “We’re not perfect, and neither is our home, but please come over anyway. Let us ‘entertain’ what’s special about you.” Undertaken with this mindset, with no attempt at magazine-grade display, it can’t help being properly centered on others.
Thinking this way about entertaining has a practical side, too. If you want people to be most warmly disposed toward you, maybe you should let them think they are not only a slightly better housekeeper than you but also slightly more organized. Fighting the urge to make too much fuss is a good thing.
One of the best entertainers I ever met routinely served dinner guests take-out barbecue and hush puppies, with plain grits as a side dish. She never allowed preparations to divert her focus away from people, and she included all sorts in her gatherings without overthinking the choices. That opens up another important consideration: To whom might we consider opening our homes, and might we include a few more of those outside our normal circle?
I have some other favorite entertainers. Whenever someone they know takes a major trip, this couple invites the returned travelers to dinner so they can regale an assembled group with their adventures and even — you might groan here — show their travel slides. Talk about “other-focused” entertaining!
Allowing others into a bit of our clutter and showing more interest in them than in our preparations re-establishes the right priorities. Hospitality is best preserved when we’re most willing to entertain and honor others in the context of our real, imperfect homes and lives.
Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker.