Because when you invite someone over, you’re not just sitting back, waiting for friends to come to you. You’re being proactive. You’re taking charge. You’re extending an invitation — not just to dinner — but to friendship. You’re saying, Come into my home, sit with my family, eat my food, and let’s get to know each other.
But how do you actually build friendships with dinner guests, in a practical sense? What does it look like?
Today I’m going to share with you six basic things you can do to begin building friendships through meals in your home.
1) Be intentional about who you invite.
If you’re want to make new friends, it helps to do some intentional thinking about who you want to get to know. It always surprises me when someone tells me that they don’t know who they should invite over. I think sometimes, we make it more complicated than it has to be. Pull out a piece of paper and start writing people down.
Brainstorm all areas of your life. Write down coworkers, neighbors, people from your place of worship. If you’ve connected well with someone through a moms’ group, a club, or a hobby, write them down as well.
Think beyond just your regular circle of acquaintances. Are there people on the fringes of your social circles that you’d like to get to know? Maybe the wives of your husband’s coworkers. Or the moms of your daughter’s friends at preschool.
Look for overlap. Think about people who fit into more than one category of your life. Are there families who both live nearby and whose kids are on the same sports teams as yours? Or people whose kids go to the same preschool and go to your church?
The more of those people you invite into your home — the ones who overlap with multiple parts of your life — the more community you build for your family. Not only do you have more people to talk to at sports events or church, you’re also likely to run into them in your neighborhood or at the store. Your paths will cross twice as much as others who you have only one thing in common with.
2) Write a hosting goal down on paper.
Now that you have a whole list of people that you’d like to get to know better, you need to make a goal that helps you follow through on your intentions. You can’t build friendships without prioritizing them, and we all know what happens when you perpetually say, “We should get together sometime!”
(It never happens.)
Research shows that just by writing a goal down, you are much more likely to achieve it than if you keep it in your head.
Do you want to make sure you follow through on inviting someone over? Get out a piece of paper and write down a goal that’s specific and realistic for you.
Here are some examples of goals you might set:
- I will invite one couple over for dinner once a month for a year.
- I will invite each family on our street over in the next 6 months.
- I will host a monthly get-together for my co-workers for the next 3 months.
3) Invite them over.
Next, it’s time to reach out to your potential dinner guests. If you’re nervous about actually making the invitation, just ask yourself, What’s the worst thing that can happen?
Remember that the people you invite will be honored that you want to spend time with them and to get to know them better. Extending an invitation to dinner is an offering of friendship, too.
If you’re keeping things casual (like I would encourage you to do!), you can invite your guests in person, on the phone, through email or FB, or even over a text.
To avoid that we-should-get-together-sometime problem, be specific about when you’re inviting them to come. Don’t just leave things open.
If you struggle with knowing what to say, you can word your invitation like this:
Hi, Stacy! Would you guys like to come over for dinner Friday, the 17th?
Hey, Mike. We’d love to have your family over for dinner. Is there a night in the next couple of weeks that you’re free?
Hi, Laura! Would you, Molly, and Sam like to come over for a playdate and lunch Monday or Tuesday of next week?
4) Focus on hospitality, not entertaining.
Entertaining can be exhausting. If you feel pressure to create a put-together house, cook incredible gourmet food, and decorate with beautiful place settings and centerpieces, it’s no wonder you’re afraid to invite anyone over — you’re afraid of “messing up.”
Entertaining focuses on impressing your guests and putting up an appearance of perfection.
Hospitality, on the other hand, just focuses on your guests. Making them feel welcome and comfortable in your home. Caring more about getting to know them and spending time with them than what they think about the meal or your decorations.
Your meal is just the reason to get together, and your house is just the place to gather for that meal. Your guests are there to spend time with you, and your focus should be on them instead of trying to seem perfect.
When friends see you as you are (complete with a few toys scattered on the basement floor or a pile of school papers in your kitchen), they know that they can be themselves, too.
Let go of the “entertaining” mindset and focus on your guests instead. How do you do that?
- Don’t kill yourself trying to make things “perfect.” Do a basic clean. Cook a basic meal. Skip the centerpieces.
- Make things easy on yourself. Cook a recipe you know well. Use your slow cooker. Serve dinner on paper plates if you want.
- Think about ways to make your guest feel welcome.
5) Show interest in your guests.
Did you know that you are more interesting to another person when you show interest in them? It’s true.
People like talking about themselves, and focusing on the other person in a conversation shows them that you care about who they are. They will think of you as someone who is really interested in getting to know them.
Here are a few tips for engaging with your guests in conversation:
Ask good questions. Instead of asking something that can be answered yes or no, think a little harder and ask questions that require more thought and more substantial answers. Instead of “Do you like your job?”, ask “What do you like about your job?” or “When did you know you wanted to be an engineer?”
Remember FORD: Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Dreams. These four topics are generally safe for conversation and give you information that you can expand upon over the evening.
Be an active listener.
- Give good eye contact and react to what they’re saying. (And please, put away your phone for the night.)
- Listen — really listen — to the details that your new friends throw out. Pay attention to their passions, the people who are important to them, the experiences that they share.
- Use those facts to ask deeper questions. If they share that their parents live states away, use that as a jumping point to ask about they like or dislike about living far from family. If they mention that they like camping, ask them about a favorite trip they’ve taken or what places are on their bucket list.
- Do your best to remember these details so that you can bring them up in the future. It means a lot to someone when you remember details from conversations you’ve had in the past.
6) Follow up.
Once the night is over, there are a few things you can do to build on the friendship that you’ve started.
Beat them to the thank you. Shoot them a text or a Facebook message and be specific about what you liked about the evening: “Thank you for coming over tonight. I really enjoyed hearing your camping stories!” And if you mean it, you can even add, “We should get together again sometime.”
Check back in. If you see something that reminds you of a conversation you had, send them a link or a text letting them know it made you think of them. Or if you know about something that’s coming up in their lives, give them a call or ask them about how it went the next time you see them.
Invite them again. An important part of friendship is the frequency that you spend time together. Be willing to follow up soon with another invitation if you feel like you clicked with your guests. Sometimes people need that reassurance that you really do want to hang out again. And you don’t always have to wait for the other person to reciprocate. We are a family of 6 and have made peace with the fact that we are more likely to invite people over than to be invited. We don’t take it personally — bigger families can be intimidating. Be willing to be an initiator!
If you’re wanting to build friendships with the people around you, inviting them over for dinner is a great way to start. It just takes some intentionality, some thoughtfulness, and a willingness to follow through.
Have you made friends with anyone you’ve invited over for dinner? Share in the comments!