The Jewess: Up Your Host Game
Mazel tov – you’re hosting a Shabbat dinner! It is fun, exciting, and sometimes super scary.
When I first began hosting guests in 2012, I was nervous that they weren’t going to like my cooking, or maybe I’d accidentally give them food poisoning.
One time at my Shabbat dinner, when I didn’t make enough chicken, a guest asked me outright, “This is it? Is there more?” Another time, a guest pointed out that my chicken wasn’t cooked enough. Now, the chickens and I have made peace and I know how to cook the dang bird.
Sometimes my husband Danny and I invite random people off the street, and that has certainly led to a few interesting situations. We always go around our table and ask, “What was a great thing from your week?” and one woman proceeded to tell us how she could communicate with wolves.
However, we love it all and take it in stride. We enjoy feeding people a good meal and giving them a taste of the beauty of Shabbat.
To that effect, we’ve tweaked and improved our check-in etiquette over time. These are some of the things we’ve learned about what it takes to be good hosts.
- Ask guests if they have allergies
This is critical. I’ve hosted people who cannot have soy, which is in everything. It was a challenge that I accepted, and the food turned out great. When you invite someone over, see what allergies they have, and don’t embarrass them by bringing it up at the dinner table.
- Email your guests reminders
In Los Angeles, where I live, if you don’t triple confirm plans with someone, they don’t happen.
Just as a courtesy and to know how many people to expect, confirm with guests the night before your Shabbat dinner to ensure they are still coming. I’ve found that Facebook messages and texts are best, since my guests are usually millennials, like myself.
- See if they want to bring a companion
Since some of our guests are Orthodox, they will walk to our house on Friday night. If they are women they might want to bring a friend so that they feel safer walking at night by themselves. If your guest isn’t walking, maybe they simply want to bring a friend to feel more comfortable at a new Shabbat table. Always make sure you have an extra seat or two for your guests’ friends, and that you prepare a little more food just in case.
- Ask guests if they are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.
In my experience, most of my guests do not have dietary preferences and restrictions, but some do. They may not speak up and simply choose not to eat a certain dish. Since I always want my guests to feel comfortable, I preemptively ask if they have any dietary needs.
I always serve meat on Friday nights, so if guests are vegetarian/vegan, I buy the parve (non-dairy) veggie burgers or veggie chicken from Whole Foods. We have a gluten-free bakery here in LA called Breakaway Bakery, so I head on over there for delicious challah.
Remember: people have different standards of vegan – some eat honey and some do not, for example – and some gluten-free people will still take a small bite of challah for religious purposes. Just get as much information as possible beforehand to determine how you’ll go about preparing the special foods and making them feel comfortable.
- See if they can bring something
Asking your guests to contribute to the meal may be uncomfortable, at first. However, if your guest doesn’t offer to bring something (in my experience, most do), you may want to see if they are able to anyway.
I try to make it as easy on my guests as possible. If they are observant, I ask if they can bring a red or white wine. Kosher wine, fortunately, doesn’t cost a lot in LA. You can get a decent bottle for $6.99 at Trader Joe’s or Ralph’s.
If my guests are not observant, I give them the option to bring a kosher wine, some fruit like a small watermelon or grapes, or seltzer water. I know that a lot of people struggle with money, and I don’t want to put them in an uncomfortable position. And if they don’t uphold my level of kashrut (kosher observance), I don’t want to send them all over town looking for a gift.