1. Accept offers from guests to contribute to the meal or to help in preparation or cleanup.
I learned this lesson from my dear, now far-removed friend Lisa, to whom God has given many extra dollops of wisdom. As she raised her four daughters, she always honored their request to help. You can hear a toddler’s voice, can’t you, saying, “Me help you Mommy!” Honestly, the best help Mommy needs is the removal of the sweet toddler into another room. But Lisa knew that she was training her daughters as well as putting on a fabulous meal for guests. She started them on folding napkins, carrying small salt and pepper shakers, and made a job for them to do if there honestly wasn’t anything left to do, i.e. straighten the forks.
My philosophy of hospitality is wanting our guests to feel more like a member of our family than a Distinguished Guest. When a guest offers to bring something I give her a choice: perhaps a salad, a bottle of wine, a vegetable, or a dessert. If I am aware of tight schedules or special circumstances, I might invite them just to bring themselves, but that is not my default response anymore. And, cough cough, sometimes when I invite a bachelor, I suggest (in a lighthearted manner) he bring an item to contribute, “Hey, Mike, would you bring two bottles of sparkling cider?” Some guys haven’t yet realized that they can be contributers as well as eaters.
Food prep and cleanup are so much more fun when done as a team. When guests arrive and we’ve taken their coats, there are usually final touches to the meal. If a guest offers to help, I put them to work: stirring a sauce, cutting bread, fetch a tomato from the garden, cutting crudités, pour water into glasses. I have had many occasions to learn from my guests (do you know how many ways one can cut up a bell pepper?) and a few opportunities to teach. One fifty-something guest asked to help; I had her set the table. Her setting was quite unorthodox (the knife and fork on the plate and the spoon to the left and the napkin who knows where) which I intended to politely leave as is. She, however, asked if her setting was correct and admitted that she had never set a table before. I showed her the Elizabeth Post way, and she was truly glad to know.
Hospitality is, at its core, opening your door. When a guest offers to help and you refuse, you are, in essence, shutting a door. The guest may not do things to your standard, and that’s just fine. Relax and enjoy your time together