Food is the means of hospitality and not the end for me. When people come into my home. I want them to feel cared for and valuable. A great meal is only a piece of that pie; setting a welcoming environment is just as important.
If you're like me, you're always running behind, and when guests come over, you're in the kitchen working on a masterpiece that still warrants most of your attention. At this point in my hosting/culinary life, I've given up on trying to have the meal ready by the time guests arrive. Instead, I make sure my kitchen is comfortable and inviting. Over the years, I've settled on four ways to make sure everyone feels at home in the kitchen. They take just a couple of seconds to set up or get going, and they make a world of difference for your party.
It sounds simple, but I like to keep a few candles in my kitchen. I think they communicate forethought, which is a huge key to hospitality. Anything that shows people that I was thinking about them before they got to my house speaks of valuing them and warmly anticipating their arrival. Make sure any candles you light are unscented. The aroma of a scented candle competes with the food you're working so hard on, with potentially disastrous results.
Start some music before the guests arrive. Better yet, cook with music playing. Better still, cook and dance with music. Have a system set up in your kitchen where you can quickly plug in your phone or iPod, and just press play. Make your own party playlist, or use Pandora to choose songs to fit your desired mood. If you're not a music fan, I recommend the Civil Wars (folk pop) or Miles Davis (cool jazz) stations. Turn it down pretty low, making music the texture for the room, and not the centerpiece.3. Plants or flowers
I'm not the best with indoor plants. They tend to die way too young in my house. If you've got a green thumb and magic touch, definitely keep some plants around. If you don't, bring in a small bouquet of flowers for the party. It takes some planning, but again, forethought is the key to hospitality. Flowers bring life to a dirty, overworked kitchen, and to your dinner party.
4. Cookbooks or magazines
If you're in the middle of a really focused part of the prep or plating, give your guests something to read. Not everyone's kitchen has enough room for a full cookbook collection. I keep a majority of mine on a shelf, and then pick a few that have a similar theme to the evening's meal to stack out on the counter. If you don't have cookbooks or your guests aren't foodies, just grab some magazines or interesting coffee table books. The key is to give your guests something to navigate any awkward silent moments, should they happen.
You've probably been to a party where you feel like a million bucks because the hosts seem to have thought of everything beforehand. I don't think you have to think of everything, and let's be honest, our budgets of time or money don't allow us to do that. But thinking of a few things that say "I'm glad you're here, I've been preparing and thinking about this evening all day" will speak value, love, and hospitality to your guests that they don't receive every day.
This post is part of BlogHer's Kitchen Entertainment editorial series, made possible by KitchenAid.
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