Hospitality Hacks

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Nothing says welcome like warm bread.

To say we value hospitality may be an understatement. Between Monday and Thursday last week, I welcomed 59 guests into my home during 6 different functions (27 adults and 32 children, some were repeat visitors). This volume of people passing through is pretty typical for us. We’ve made hospitality a habit. How do I host 60 people a week, offer them all something to eat and drink, and stick to my weekly grocery budget of $75 for a family of four?

Just like anything, you could spend hundreds every time you host, or you can do it the Pretend to Be Poor way. We’re happy to spend extra on hospitality since we place a high value on friendship. But we don’t want cost to prohibit our ability to welcome others frequently. Here I share my philosophy and tips for food, drink, cleaning, and the secret to making visitors feel like guests of honor.

Hospitality vs. Entertaining

Some people associate hospitality with gourmet cheese alongside fine wine. I hope they don’t come to my house. I’m liable to give guests a cup of coffee and a peanut butter sandwich.

And yet, the people keep coming. Let me assure you that it isn’t my stunning home décor, either. My living room looks like I’m about to move out. A recent guest (and good friend) described my decorating style as “sparse.” Granted, the place got quite a face-lift when Neil upgraded all our furniture for less than $400 while I was in India. And Neil also did an awesome remodeling job on our kitchen before we moved in. I like my house, but there’s nothing Good Housekeeping about it.

And then there’s the coffee. It’s not that great either. ALDI’s cheapest. Maybe the people will stop coming now that the secret’s out.

But I don’t think so.

I was inspired to write about our hospitality hacks and habits by the post “Start where you are…Entertaining on a tight budget with no skills” on Unplanned Finance. I really liked her suggestion to get started simply by purchasing two cartons of ice cream and inviting people for dessert.

This gets at the core of my beliefs about hospitality: you have to invite people over. You should offer them something. And you ought to enjoy your time with them rather than being caught up with trying to mimic Martha Stewart. I heard a distinction drawn between hospitality and entertaining: hospitality is focused on the people, while entertaining is more about impressing guests with your food, possessions, or surroundings. Most people don’t like feeling fussed over.

But you should offer something to eat. Here are my go-to recipes that seem impressive but require little time or skill.

Food

If you’re overwhelmed at the thought of feeding people, just offer one thing. Avoid torturing everyone involved by skipping routine pleasantries such as:

Host: “Can I get you something to eat?”

Guest: “No thanks, I’m fine.”

Host: “Are you sure? I don’t mind.”

Guest: “Nothing, I’m not really hungry.”

Put food in people’s face. Not literally in their face, of course, but very nearby. Make it easy for your guests to nibble something by setting out a snack. Help them feel that it’s no trouble to feed them by doing the work of serving food before they come. For example, setting out a fruit bowl, tray of cookies, or bowl of snacks is a silent way to communicate “help yourself; make yourself at home.” And it’s lower-maintenance on the host.

Extra points for serving homemade fare. I can’t tell you how many times this super-easy bread recipe has saved my hosting heinie.

Bread? You serve bread? What are you, a prison warden?

What could be more welcoming than the smell of fresh bread? If you have the dough on hand in the fridge you can have a loaf ready in a little over an hour, between rising and baking. And the hands-on time is less than five minutes. People think bread is hard to make but modern yeast is nearly foolproof. In fact, you don’t even have to proof it.

I often keep the spread simple by serving warm bread with butter or jam. Or I may whip up crostini using homemade pesto from the freezer. Around the holidays I may jazz up the dough by rolling pepperoni and cheese in before baking. And who doesn’t love garlic bread? (Actually, I don’t.) Rub a garlic clove on leftover bread slices and toast them. Revive yesterday’s loaf by making little pizzas in the oven or toaster oven. This bread also makes great French toast and grilled cheese sandwiches. The possibilities are almost endless when you have bread dough on hand.

For parties or larger crowds, my secret weapon is popcorn. I’m not talking about some nasty generic microwave bag of chemicals that cheap people serve. Please, no. We have a stovetop popper ($15) and make “movie theater-style” with coconut oil, butter, and salt, or our legendary kettle corn. It costs next to nothing compared to store-bought bagged snacks and is highly delicious because it’s freshly made.

Learning to bake simple goodies like brownies, cookies, and quick breads will also go a long way toward thrifty hosting. Who doesn’t love a chocolate chip cookie, or a warm slice of banana bread? Again, fresh bakery fills your home with a welcoming fragrance, and costs much less than stale store-bought desserts. Forget the candles or incense; bake something yummy. I bake treats like these regularly in the winter so that I always have something on hand to offer guests (and because my son loves baking with me).

These “playgroup” granola bars are always a hit with, you guessed it, playgroups. But parents display a clear affinity for them, too. I also keep bags of pretzels on hand because they’re cheap and essentially kid-crack. We went through 1.5 pounds of pretzels in 2 days here this week!

Serve what’s in season. If you come over at the end of summer, you’ll be eating garden-fresh salsa. Should you pass through this time of year, it’s all about apples. We eat in season and if you come over, you will too.

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Fresh from our apple tree.

We invite couples or families over for dinner often. It’s a great way to spend quality time with people without going out to dinner. Cooking dinner for others can be stressful. But you can please just about anyone on the planet with either pizza or curry. If you’re not sure what to make, these are perfect go-to dishes. For pizza crust, mix 3 cups flour, 1 cup warm water (105-110), 1 TB yeast, 1 TB sugar (optional), 1 TB salt, and 3-4 TB olive oil. Allow it to rise about 2 hours, then shape into two crusts, add toppings, and bake at 500 about 12-15 minutes.

People are always impressed with Thai curries. But take-out for 4 could easily cost $60-80. Instead take a field trip to an Asian grocery and buy a can of curry paste and a can of full-fat coconut milk. Add 1.5 pounds cut up chicken and a bag of frozen vegetables (such as stir-fry vegetables), make white rice, and you’ve got yourself a copycat recipe for less than $8. There directions on the can of curry, and the English translation is always entertaining.

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My favorite brand of Thai curry paste, and ALDI coconut milk. Total = $2.58.

Drink

It’s not hosting if you don’t give people something to spill on your carpet. Coffee, iced tea, and boxed wine are common cost-effective offerings at my house. Milk or juice for the kids. Waters for everyone. Which brings me to another topic:

Cleaning

How clean should your bathroom be to host other humans? Listen, I have a four-year-old boy who probably doesn’t drink enough water, and pisses all over the Greater Toilet Area, all day, every day. I am constantly wiping down the Greater Toilet Area, but that’s about the extent of me fussing over my restroom. If I can have 59 people over in four days, you can take the plunge and send out an invite.

In all honesty, the main reason I clean my house is because I’m expecting people. Sometimes I even wonder if I invite people over just to make myself clean.

My natural tendency is to make my house look like no one lives in it. I want every surface clear of all clutter. Unfortunately, I am the only person in my household who puts away anything of her own initiative. Ever. Thankfully I’m forced to drop my silly and rather weird ideal of looking like I’m about to move out, and lower my standards to something more like, “Let’s just get the power tools off the table before playgroup.” That’s more reasonable, practical, and in line with one of my chief insights from India: everything doesn’t have to be perfect. I reference the fact that my children are still alive as evidence that my house must be clean enough for visitors. Resist the urge to apologize for dirty or messy areas; those less cleanly than you could actually feel judged by this.

I base my cleaning efforts on the age of guests and type of event. For example, if I’m hosting a party of twenty, 20-somethings, I will not be cleaning my floor. I might sweep the mound of dried rice from under my kids’ seats (you can’t sweep it till it dries), but I will not be on hands and knees scrubbing just so people can track in mud and spill boxed wine. And I’ll be a much happier hostess if I’m watching you track mud and spill boxed wine on my already-dirty floor.

But if Crawlers are coming over, I will clean my floor. Because Crawlers will eat the dried rice off the floor. And the dried Play-Doh. And the Legos that are supposed to stay in the basement but always somehow make it upstairs and into the crawlers’ mouths. But I will definitely NOT wash my sliding door before a bunch of Crawlers and Cruisers and Toddlers descend upon it with their grimy little fingers.

One of my college professors shared a wonderful trick: two minutes before you’re expecting guests, pull out the vacuum and stage it in the middle of the room. When they arrive, smile and say, “Oh, I was just about to vacuum!” They’ll swear your floor is just fine, and you can procrastinate on that chore a little longer.

Conversation

I have some older friends who are rock-star hostesses. I’ve tried to analyze what they do to make me walk away feeling like I was a guest of honor. They drop what they’re doing, greet me warmly at the door, seem thrilled to see me, and make conversation as if they’d thought about me before I showed up at their door. Because they did. Such thoughtfulness doesn’t cost money, but is worth more than the finest feast. Even if all you serve is bread and water, if you genuinely care about people, they’ll keep coming back for more. There is honestly no other explanation for why 59 people came to my house this week, other than that I enjoy being friends with them and having them in my home.

In summary, here’s my hosting primer:

  1. Invite people. If you invite them, they will come.
  2. Give them a drink. They need something to spill.
  3. Set out food. People like to feel cared for, not fussed over.
  4. Ask people questions about themselves and listen carefully to their answers.

Happy hosting!

Do you like hosting? What are your tips & tricks?

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42 Responses to “Hospitality Hacks”

  1. Mrs SSC says :

    I love the idea of serving warm bread! Do you have any tips/tricks for overnight weekend guests – that is what blows our grocery budget, when people are here for days and days and we can’t just use our one or two quick and cheap meals.

    • Kalie says :

      Great question. We are okay with spending a bit extra to host overnight guests. That being said, having a well-stocked frugal pantry and go-to delicious and economical recipes goes a long way. I’ll get nicer coffee, buy beer, and maybe a special snack if people are here for the weekend, but I don’t feel the need to serve surf or turf!

  2. Hannah says :

    My biggest tip for cleaning is to close the shower curtain. Our bathroom looks so much better when we do that.

    Your hacks are really good- I’ll have to try the curry one this week. We’ve got a big group coming on Thursday and I realized that Chili won’t hack it because we don’t have sour cream, cheese, or bread on hand.

  3. Clarissa says :

    I love to host but often feel crazed. I always feel welcome at your home. Thanks for the tips!

  4. Amy says :

    This was fantastic – thank you! It’s a great reminder that the important part of having guests over is spending time with them.

    I, too, clean mainly in anticipation of guests, but over time I’ve become more and more relaxed about it. Life is too short, plus, I figure the people I want to have over are not likely to judge me for a little clutter.

  5. Bryan Bassett says :

    “Resist the urge to apologize for dirty or messy areas; those less cleanly than you could actually feel judged by this.”

    I have been on the receiving end of this so many times. I usually respond, “It’s not a problem at all”, but I’m thinking, “if you ever step into my house you may pass out immediately”.

    Also, the thought that those welcoming you into their home seem like they have been thinking about you, because they HAVE been thinking about you is a beautiful thought.

    • Kalie says :

      “You may pass out immediately”–hahaha! I’m glad I learned to stop apologizing for my messes–for years I never realized it could make people feel badly.

  6. Cat says :

    At first I thought I read it wrong when you said “give them something to spill” but now it makes more sense. I love fresh baked goods too, so that’s a great idea!

    • Kalie says :

      I’m just so much more relaxed if I’m mentally prepared for spills! I love baking and sharing it with others is a great way to not eat it all myself.

  7. Will says :

    I’m really digging this blog! Great post. I really pride myself on being hospitable. I think it makes someone else’s day so much better.

  8. Diana says :

    These are great ideas, thanks for sharing them! You really don’t understand how delicious this bread is until you try it! It’s so good!
    I am not naturally frugal or hospitable, but I want to be. The kettle corn recipe has been a big help because kids and grown ups love it!

    • Kalie says :

      The bread is delicious, and you don’t know easy it is to make until you try it, either. It really only takes about 5 minutes of hands-on time.

  9. Jackie says :

    Thank you, thank you for posting your recipes!! Just this morning I was thinking, hm I wish I had Kalie’s bread recipe on hand. I’d like to attempt bread-baking today. And here it is. I am so appreciative of your post on hospitality, not just for your recipes. I forget verbal tips, and while my family values hospitality, it can certainly be improved. That said, it is helpful to have a type-out on hand to refer to–especially from a credible source, a hospitible friend whose home I frequent.

    • Kalie says :

      You are on another level of hospitality, what with welcoming large groups into your home on a weekly basis! But I’m glad you can use the recipe.

  10. DC YAM says :

    Really great tips! I like your idea of having the food out before the guests come. I never would have thought of that, and now I’m thinking back to the times where snacks and food were already out at friend’s houses and it definitely makes it easier to “dig in” as a guest.

    • Kalie says :

      Sometimes I don’t get around to putting out food ahead of time, but I’ve noticed it’s helps guests feel welcome and me feel relaxed.

  11. Abigail says :

    Fresh bread (garlic or otherwise), homemade pesto and/or popcorn? You wouldn’t be able to get me to leave!

    We used to have game night every other week when we were broke. I made sure we had tortilla chips, salsa and sometimes $7 of Safeway cookies or something. We never spent more than $15. Meanwhile, people brought their alcohol, so ours rarely got touched. We stopped restocking ours.

    I agree that a small touch and some food they can choose at any time (chips, pretzels, M&Ms, whatever) is the perfect amount of hosting for most people.

    And can I just say how much I love this line? “It’s not hosting if you don’t give people something to spill on your carpet.”

    • Kalie says :

      Chips & salsa are another go-to for us. So easy and tasty. Our group of friends pretty much has an unspoken BYOB rule, which helps keep costs down.

  12. Tarynkay says :

    My husband always says that it’s a ministry to other people to invite them over even though the house is messy. We host a church group on Saturday mornings and we have friends and neighbors over pretty frequently. We are nowhere close to 59 guests a week, though!

    We also have an (almost) four year old boy and for real! The pee! So much pee! Thankfully, my husband has taught him to wipe down the general toilet area after he goes. It is so worth buying those packs of disinfect wipes for this purpose. I just feel much saner when my bathroom doesn’t smell like a urinal.

    • Kalie says :

      Hosting can definitely be a way to serve people, even if your house isn’t perfectly clean.

      Wow, your males are so civilized! I’ve tried having him clean up with toilet paper but it makes a bigger mess; disinfectant wipes are a good idea.

    • Tarynkay says :

      My husband has older twin sisters. I feel that his toilet manners are entirely owed to their considerable influence when he was growing up.

      Yes- toilet paper will clean up the liquid, but not the smell. If this is the only thing you use those wipes for, its really not so bad cost-wise. We tried with a spray bottle of vinegar and rags, but my four year old just cannot handle that level of excitement yet.

    • Kalie says :

      You’re a lucky woman! I come from a family of four girls so this whole boy thing is really foreign to me. I’m pretty sure my son would end up spraying his sister in the eye if I gave him access to vinegar spray.

  13. Jim Wang says :

    These are great ideas, it also brings it all back to being about the people and spending time together. I love the idea of warm bread though, we’ve never done that but I think I’d love it if someone offered me that.

  14. Laurie Frugalfarmer says :

    Awesome tips!! We love hosting too, Kalie. And homemade goodies are the best. One of my favorite childhood memories is going to great-grandma’s house unexpectedly on the weekends, when she’d fill her table with the leftovers of the week for all of the guests. It was so delicious because she’d made it with love, and that’s what counts. 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      What a great memory! I’ve definitely been known to put leftovers on the counter when my good friends are over, and let them choose what they want.

  15. Prudence Debtfree says :

    I really like the distinction you point out between hospitality and entertaining. I am truly amazed at how hospitable you are. So many guests in such a short period of time! I could use more or your relaxed and gracious attitude towards hosting. Great practical tips in here as well.

    • Kalie says :

      Believe me, I still get stressed out sometimes by hosting. But this philosophy has helped me a lot so I keep reminding myself of it.

  16. fehmeen says :

    I really love the distinction you made between hospitality and entertainment. One can be done on a budget, while the other can often result in an over-spill. I too am a fan of keeping things minimal, whether it’s food or anything else in life, and honestly, if the guest is really a friend, they are there to enjoy the company, even if the menu is limited or tastes icky – though I’m sure that freshly baked bread tastes divine!

    • Kalie says :

      I definitely don’t try as hard while hosting my closest friends, though we can hang out so long that sustenance is required at some point.

  17. Brian says :

    Great post! In fact, I’ll be sharing this on my new Facebook page 10/23/15 around noon EST because it fits right in with the theme of the page. Drop by and check it out.

  18. Dawn says :

    fantastic article! I love the focus on simplicity and not self.

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