Interview with Rebecca Lang

Entertaining expert Rebecca Lang discusses how to plan a truly successful get-together, offers tips for summer soirees, and shares recipes from her latest book, Y’all Come Over.

Who influenced you about proper manners, etiquette, and planning?

One person is my grandmother, who was a florist and had a gift for making everyone feel welcome without looking like she went to any extra effort. The other person was Becky Rollins, who lived next door to us. She was on top of it anytime anybody needed anything. For example, in the South, when people pass away, you immediately figure out who’s bringing the food, flowers, and so on. She did all of that and loved doing it.

Do parties need to be perfect?

If you’re trying to make everything perfect, you’re not going to have any fun at your party. When people have guests over, they usually focus on things like “Is my house clean enough?” Nobody cares about that stuff. The only exception to this is the powder room, which should be spotless because people pay more attention to it. A dirty powder room is a pet peeve of mine.

Do you have any other pet peeves you’d like to share?

Certainly, high up on the list is an unclear invitation. The worst thing for a guest is to be confused about any aspect of the get-together. This happened to me a few years ago.

I had elaborately decorated the front door at our house for a party, but the back door was a lot easier to get to. We had the outside lights on at both doors, so everyone came through the back door, which led them through our laundry room. Live and learn.

Is planning an outdoor get-together easier in some respects?

It depends on where you live, and it depends on what part of summer. If I were having an outside party in August in Georgia, everybody would be suffering. In general, though, with an outdoor party, there’s a lot less stress. It’s outside, it’s fun, it’s festive, and, because of COVID,

everybody is used to hanging out by the grill or on the front porch just to stay in fresh air. For these events, I love putting a little bowl of individual insect-repellent wipes near the grill or bar and little pretty white washcloths in a cooler with some ice to refresh guests.

Tell us what preparation means to a successful get-together:

That’s a great question. Everything should be prepared ahead of time so you can focus solely on your guests once they arrive. Grilling is the one exception: it’s a very social cooking method.

Is it good etiquette for guests to help clean up?

When you come to our house, my husband and I want you to relax and have a nice time. If people try to start cleaning, we respectfully say, “No, we’ve got it.” Ideally, you should have an empty dishwasher when you start your party to make cleanup easier. Besides, everybody has their own way of washing things and putting things away.

Some consider preparing food to be a chore. How can they make it more enjoyable?

There are times that it’s a chore. We all face that—nobody likes scrambling to dig stuff out of the refrigerator and turn it into something somewhat impressive for a nightly dinner. But when you’re having a party, cooking becomes part of the festivities. Knowing that what I’m cooking is going to be enjoyed by other people is always fun. My mindset is I’m creating a memorable experience when people come over and giving a gift to them.

Do you feel that having an “others-first” mindset is essential to not only hosting but also having a better society?

During COVID, I feel like we’ve lost a little bit of thoughtfulness. And being thoughtful is one of the greatest attributes of a human being. It can be anything from sending a text or a card in the mail on a bad day to holding open a door to saying “Thank you” and smiling at people working in the grocery store. It’s something anyone can work on wherever they live. Hopefully, when we look back on all this, it makes us better friends, neighbors, and family members.

Can you put into words the joy that get-togethers provide?

I think that it’s one of the greatest blessings we have as human beings. No matter where we live, what we do for a living, or who’s at the table, sitting and sharing a meal with others gives you a sense of community with them. This has been taken away from us to different degrees during COVID, so to be able to do this again is vital. Humans are social animals; we need to be around people.

Cooking is also comforting for me—if it’s an awesome time, it’s fun to cook; if it’s a sad time, it brings me comfort to cook. But, overall, there’s nothing like sitting at a table knowing you’ve put forth the effort to cook for the people seated there and they’re enjoying your food and you’re enjoying their company. It’s such a simple pleasure, and I feel like it makes us all better people at the end of the day.

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