To cook or not to cook: When guests arrive

I greatly enjoy cooking for other people. I think a good meal has the ability to bring people together, tell a story, introduce new flavors, and can be a lot of fun. It’s my way of sharing a part of me with my friends and family.

Unfortunately, cooking for other people can be stressful if you are pressed for time and ideas. The demands of the task can especially feel overwhelming when a recipe goes awry or when trying to coordinate plates to come out at the same time. The first time I cook for someone also affects my nerves more so than the fifth or tenth time I’ve had someone to dinner.

I’m of the opinion that a host or hostess should be with guests during a dinner party instead of in the kitchen, tending to the stove. A gathering should be fun for everyone, not everyone except for the cook. So, before creating a menu, I ask myself questions such as:

  • Why are we having the party?
  • Can I make a meal that shares who I am with my guests?
  • Do these recipes work together, can I easily obtain the ingredients, have I made these items before, is this a menu everyone will enjoy?
  • Will I stress out so much that I won’t have a good time, too?
  • Will my guests be offended if I don’t make the meal?
  • Would a restaurant or carry out do a better job than I would in this specific situation?
  • What is my schedule like tomorrow? Can I stay up after guests have gone to clean up, or do I need to go to bed right away to get as much sleep as possible?

Most times I end up cooking the meal, but sometimes I let a restaurant take care of the heavy lifting. How do you decide if you will cook a meal or treat guests to dinner at a restaurant? I’m interested in reading your thoughts on this issue in the comments.

5 comments posted

  1. Posted by cng - 03/14/2011

    My husband’s three siblings live in the same city and we frequently get together with them and their significant others. Most of the time they converge at our house and I have found myself slaving in the kitchen. My solution to this situation is that we offer a meal of appetizers, fruit and veggie plates, cheese platter and a dessert. I make different combinations each time and get as much done ahead of time as I can. For a more formal get-together I might choose to make an actual meal but I’ve found that for frequent guests simple is better and noone ever leaves hungry. Plus it’s cheaper than treating everyone to a restaurant meal.

  2. Posted by Tricia - 03/14/2011

    I often invite people for dinner instead of eating at a restaurant because I can usually feed 6-8 people for less than the cost of the two of us to order meals and drinks. I usually keep it simple and many of the recipes I normally serve anyway can be easily adapted to feed a crowd. I prefer to serve something that bakes or slow-cooks in the crockpot. That way, I have prepared it ahead of time and it is scheduled to be done about 10-15 minutes after guests arrive. I also encourage guests to bring a salad or some bread or a drink – this means less for me to do and they usually like to help out if it is easy for them.

  3. Posted by Living the Balanced Life - 03/14/2011

    We have 4 young adult/adult children. One is married, 2 are engaged and there are 7 grandchildren. I try to have them all over once a month if we can swing the scheduling. It is cost prohibitive for us to go out to eat and we can’t really hang out and talk. I will do something very easy. And my odlest daughter is somewhat of a chef, but she has 6 of the grandkids so I hate to ask her to cook much! We usually will have an easy spaghetti or sometimes even order pizza!
    As a matter of fact, they are all coming this Sunday! Better come up with something!

  4. Posted by Karen - 03/15/2011

    When my in laws visit, they invariably offer to take us out to eat, and we usually have to convince them that we’d much rather host them at home, with us cooking (my mother in law cannot wrap her mind around the fact that I enjoy cooking). It’s easier on so many levels:

    1) No worrying over who is going to pay.

    2) We have three kids, and it’s not easy to relax when you’re eating out with kids. Plus, kids always want to leave the table when they’re done eating; they can’t do that in a restaurant, so little kids get antsy and fidgety. Not fun for them.

    3) It’s cheaper and the food is usually healthier!

    4) I have celiac disease and cooking at home helps me be sure that nothing I’m eating has hidden gluten in it.

    Even with these (I think) very good reasons, whenever we invite my in laws for the weekend, they always, always, ask to take us out to dinner. We usually compromise; if they’re going to be here for lunch and dinner, we’ll eat lunch out, because it’s a shorter meal.

    I usually make a casserole, and my mother in law offers to bring the salad and some rolls.

  5. Posted by Jasi - 03/24/2011

    i cook for my inlaws. they have very similar preference for very fresh, simple dishes and a light sweet treat. my parents are not quite so easy. dad loves meat, step-mom breads and salads, sister dessert. we go out when they visit so that everyone can have exactly what they like.

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