Somehow, in our culture we have learned that it is unacceptable to ask or allow our guests to bring food to our gatherings. While we’re not telling you to bring your favorite potato salad to a formal gala, we will be sharing how to navigate this conversation in the context of everyday hospitality. In this episode, we break down four main reasons why you should let your guests contribute food, and how to ask and organize that as well.
So many of us wonder how we can spend more time with guests. This is by far the most common hospitality frustration we hear. While there are many ways to see this turn into reality, the most practical way is to share responsibility. No one at your table expects you to take full responsibility for the gathering. By accepting your guests’ offers to contribute, it helps you get to the table sooner!
I also share in this episode how we have had some pretty trying financial seasons. We seem to believe that if we aren’t able to offer a full spread, then we shouldn’t host at all. Often what it looks like for me in these situations is “Hey, I’d love to have you all over. I’ll provide (whatever it is you’re able to provide.) If everyone could bring an appetizer to share, that would be great!.” Often the thought of this makes hosts cringe; however, every time I’ve done this, it has been met with the excitement of friends sharing new recipes, zero pushback, and always a really fun spread!
Hosts often think that they have to serve, serve, serve. While serving is beautiful and has its place, we also don’t want our guests to feel like they are a slave to their chair. If you picture a situation where your guest doesn’t know what’s on the menu, where to get a cup of water, or where the bathroom is, for example, a gathering can start to feel daunting. Food is one of those elements of a gathering that encourages connection. Allowing your guests to bring food will help them feel like they are a part of the gathering and they will know a little bit about what to expect. In this episode, we talk about Priya Parker’s wonderful book called The Art of Gathering, that discusses this scenario in more depth. However, one of the easiest ways to make your guests feel like a part of the gathering is to let them bring…something.
It is inevitable that at your table you will host guests with special dietary needs. Oftentimes I have found myself in situations where I ask if I can bring something; the host is being kind and says no, but then I find there is nothing being served that I can eat. In circumstances like this, by allowing your guests with dietary needs to bring something they know they can eat, it allows them to rest a little easier, knowing that at least what they brought is “safe.”
This also goes for families with young kids or picky eaters. Sometimes, even though a host may have a wonderful menu planned, kids especially can have many food aversions. Allowing parents to bring food their kids will eat can add a whole new level of peace for them at the table, knowing they won’t have to fight with their kids.
Many times, those at our table don’t share the same cultural background. Cultures identify very closely with food; in many ways food tells their story. Different food traditions at our table, or even flavors, can cause disconnect in new settings. I tell the story in this episode about how we had native Thai friends over for dinner when we lived abroad. They asked if they could bring something and I said no. I decided to cook a traditional American meal of Pasta Alfredo with broccoli. They took one bite and all the flavors were so vastly different that I think they kept the one bite in their cheek all night. They hated it! I later imagined how much more comfortable they would have been to have a familiar dish to grab from. This is the case across the board.
5. How to figure out what you need when someone says, “What can I bring?”
a. I recommend mapping out your dinner. For example, if you know that you are making Chicken Piccata, you could identify…’I would like a potato side dish and a fresh salad.’ Then you could tell your guests that if they are comfortable with it, one of these types of sides would be helpful! That way you know that everything is cohesive, but gives freedom for your guests to pick as well!
b. The second option is also common. You can make a list for more of a pot-luck style menu saying, “We need three main dishes, three side dishes, and three desserts.” That way people can sign up to make the dish they are most comfortable with, but you wont end up with fifty of the same thing.
It’s normal to want control over the menu, especially if you are someone who loves food, menu planning, and hospitality. In this episode, you will find the perfect compromise that will allow you to maintain the joy of planning, while also making sure your guests feel that they belong.
Join us as we tackle one of hospitality’s biggest misconceptions and look at it in a new light.