At first glance, Sandy Coughlin’s THE RELUCTANT ENTERTAINER appears to be an unusual release for recessionary times. A book about gracious hospitality and entertaining others in your home (and elsewhere) hardly seems appropriate when so many people are struggling financially. But Coughlin’s emphasis on simple, casual get-togethers and the need for deep and meaningful relationships is exactly what makes hers a timely and relevant message.
Though she’s an accomplished and experienced hostess, Coughlin fully understands those women to whom hospitality does not come naturally and why they’re such reluctant entertainers. Her approach to hospitality is found in the slogan “Real Entertaining for Real People,” and she holds true to that principle throughout the book. She’s no Martha Stewart, nor does she expect you to be one. In fact, the photo of a “crystal” goblet she uses on her website (www.reluctantentertainer.com) and in the book symbolizes her belief that entertaining needn’t be costly or impressive; the goblet is one of many she bought at a dollar store.
Her solutions are deceptively simple. Think you don’t cook well enough? Order takeout or have a couple of pizzas delivered. Kids underfoot? Let them help, even if they make a mess. House isn’t perfectly furnished or decorated? Who cares? You should be focusing on your guests anyway, not your house. Too busy? Who isn’t? All the more reason to make time for others. Simple, maybe, but Coughlin understands how difficult it can be to let go of long-held misconceptions about entertaining. Her conversational writing style is never critical and always encouraging. She writes as if she’s taking this journey with you, this transformation from reluctant entertainer to gracious hostess, all the while cheering you on and easing your fears.
Coughlin also offers her “Ten Commandments of Hospitality” (Number 4, “Avoid perfectionism…”; Number 7, “Don’t apologize. It’s okay to make mistakes…”); describes the “joy busters” that make guests uncomfortable; provides 10 tips for “courageous hospitality”; and even gives ideas for becoming a better conversationalist --- as well as solutions until you succeed at that, like making sure at least one of your guests is better at conversation than you are. And she offers ideas for alternatives to the typical dinner party, like an informal comfort-food meal, a relaxing brunch, or a dessert, coffee and hot chocolate bar.
Another unusual aspect of THE RELUCTANT ENTERTAINER, given the downturn in publishing, is how gorgeous it is. This is a high-quality book, with beautiful photos and graphics, and 40 or so recipes that most women would actually make, with “normal” ingredients and simple instructions. Most can be made in advance, freeing you up to take time before your guests arrive to relax instead of rushing around worried about last-minute food preparations.
Despite the title, Coughlin’s book is an excellent resource for women who are already the most gracious of hostesses, as well as those for whom the book is primarily intended, women who think they could never have good friends over for a meal, let alone become an official “entertainer.” The former will still get some great ideas, and the latter will likely never look at hospitality in the same way again. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on August 1, 2010