STEP 1: INVITE!
Step 1 is not cleaning your house, redecorating your dining room, or taking a cooking class. It is simply inviting one, two, or ten people to your home whom you’d like to know better. Preparing a place for loved ones at your table begins with being willing to let people see you, and your home “as is”. If you welcome people into a space that is genuine and offer a relationship that is real – rather than perfect – your guests will feel like they can be real and imperfect too. This is how meaningful connections begin. Creating a sense of belonging, not entertaining.
STEP 2: RESIST THE URGE TO MAKE YOUR HOME “COMPANY READY”
I don’t tidy my home any more when guests are coming for dinner than I do on a typical day for my family. Preparing a place of of belonging at our tables means inviting people to share life around the table, in all of it’s beauty and mess. When guests arrive for dinner, our home is a picture of what our life really looks like, not an image that has been photo shopped.
STEP 3: CREATE A SETTING THAT FEELS LIKE HOME
Use your everyday dishes, glasses, and flatware to set the table, even if they are chipped and mismatched. Also use cloth napkins if you have them, mine are faded and stained from a lot of use. And scatter unscented dinner candles across the table. There is something about cloth napkins (even stained ones) and flickering candles that adds to the feeling of settling in for a meaningful experience rather than a hurried meal.
STEP 4: COOK SIMPLE RECIPES
Prepare the same dishes that you prepare for a typical dinner in your home. Make a casserole, pasta dish, tacos, or soup – and then double, triple, or quadruple the recipe. I add a salad and/or bread when I want reassurance that there will be enough food. But if I’m short on time, the salad is mixed greens tossed with a simple vinaigrette, and the bread comes from the bakery section of the grocery store. Dessert is always optional, depending on my time and budget. For drinks I set several carafes of water on the table. If you don’t like to cook – take out, pizza, and Costco lasagna are great options too.
STEP 5: ASK FOR HELP
Ask your guests to set the table, toss the salad, fill drink pitchers, and wash dishes. Invite people to rummage through your drawers and your cupboards to find where things go. This is often when the best conversations happen. Because working together is a powerful way to connect your guests to your home and to each other. It’s the bridge that moves people from feeling like a guest to feeling like family.
STEP 6: SERVE THE MEAL FAMILY STYLE
I rarely serve a buffet. There is something bonding about bumping elbows and passing dishes that helps people feel more relaxed with each other and your home. As your guests are passing dishes, introduce people who are unfamiliar with each other. Share each guest’s name and how you know them.
STEP 7: LINGER AT THE TABLE
Refill drinks, share stories, let the candles burn down, and continue conversations that started over dinner. Be intentional about moving the conversation from discussing facts to sharing personal experiences.
STEP 8: ESTABLISH MEAL RITUALS.
Traditions will bond people to each other and your home. Everyone who shares a meal at our table signs the top of it (you can keep a guest book by your table as an alternative). And when someone who regularly shares meals with us moves away, they are given used a used fork & knife from my kitchen drawer wrapped in a cloth napkin with a note that says, “You will always have a place at our table”.