Sunday, January 4, 2009

making guests at ease . . .

Before, and at the early part of our marriage, Ildi and I both worked in the restaurant business as service staff. Waiting tables and working with the public to meet their food and beverage needs. (it is a job that each person should experience for a least two years; compulsory service to one's country:) Ildi worked at both Mimi's Cafe and the Olive Garden, and I worked at the Olive Garden and the Claim Jumper. All places we worked ran differently as companies, and all prepared us to work hard and develop a sense of "hustle" while we worked. In fact, in several conversations we have had since our "slinging hash" days, we recognized that those experiences we had while serving in that business has helped prepare us for parenting, hosting, and for life. In many ways it has also helped me to see the larger picture and to work more efficiently in the classroom as well. In today's post, I want to share a practical practice at our home that has drawn on those experiences and has become a standard way of of providing for people who come to our home.

When you go to a restaurant, invariable you are greeted, seated, and for the most part, taken care of. The same thing should apply when people enter your home. I find it makes people at ease when you greet them, welcome them, and then TELL them what you want them to do. Most of the time people greet and welcome visitors alright, but then there is the awkward time of a few minutes while the guest navigates what he or she must do based on hints from the host. They stand, sit, or follow the host around getting clues along the way as to what to do with themselves. Instead, what we do is to explicitly tell our guest what we want them to do. The sooner the better. For example, if you are finished with all the work in preparation for your guests, say something like "let's go sit and talk for a bit" and then give them a choice of places to sit. "You can sit either here or there" pointing to the places you would like them to chose from. It might seem like you are bossing them around, but remember your visits and how comfortable it feels when the host tells you what to do. Nothing is left for you to navigate through. It's easy just to follow the directions. In addition, it is also good to get them something to drink right away. Not because they come to your house parched and are expecting to get refreshed by entering your home, but when they are thirsty, they will already have something waiting on them to drink. What we usually do is give them another choice. "Would you like coffee or water to drink?" as an example. We assume that they will have one or the other. We never ask them IF they want something to drink. Why? Because they always say "No" to be polite! So we just assume, and give them the choice. If they say they want nothing to drink, again being polite, we just give them a glass of water. Always.


Celt said...

I SOOOOOO resonate with this. My wife and I have the same kind of background experience. I bartended at a four-star restaurant. Then was a cook for another three years all at the same time of waiting tables. My wife spend a great deal of time in the industry as well.

Many people think this is being 'domineering' but when considering you are actually doing them a favor. People don't know what to do but they DEFINITELY want to avoid all forms of awkwardness and they will seriously appreciate not having to make decisions in someone elses house.

The art of entertaining is completely lost today. People do not know how to make guests feel 'at-ease'. Telling them what you want them to do takes all the pressure off your guests from having to decided how to broach certain subjects if we were to crawl into their heads you may hear something like;
"What do I do now? Do I sit? Do I stand? WHere do I sit and/or stand? Am I interesting, is my host bored? How should I hold my hands? Where do I go now? In the kitchen? Do I follow the host around? Do I offer to help now in the kitchen? What if they don't want my help? Hrmm, now what? Do I go outside and split wood, or feed the goats? Gosh I sure am thirsty? I wonder if they drink wine? I hope they have red, I really hate white." Etc, etc ad nauseum.

Great post!

Rob said...

Sorry, the above topic was posted by me, I keep forgetting I have my dumb 'blogger' account still.