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How to up your Southern hospitality game

Ramona King

Pro tip: Ask your guests what their favorite drinks are and stock up


5 ways to take Southern hospitality to the next level

In the series The New Southern Hospitality, Editor-in-Chief Ashley Twist Cole explores the old and new traditions of Southern hospitality, what qualities and behaviors make us unique and, of course, tips and ideas on how to be the ultimate hospitable Southern host or hostess.

In much of the country, hospitality is about being warm and welcoming to guests in your home, but in the South, it's so much more. Hospitality informs the unspoken guidelines we follow, such as men opening doors for ladies, the fact that we never showing up empty-handed at someone’s home, and the importance of food as a mechanism of fellowship, comfort and community

In this week’s The New Southern Hospitality, I’m sharing a handful of tips I’ve learned over the years to one-up your Southern hospitality game. These five little things can make a big difference, and I hope these ideas inspire you to continue to embody the spirit of Southern hospitality as we enter the busiest and often most-stressful time of year. 

Company coming? Stock up on their favorite drinks and/or snacks
I learned this one from my mom; she knows what each of her friends likes to eat and drink, so she specifically buys their favorites for them to make them feel at home. When Aunt Di and Uncle Jim come, they know she has Diet Pepsi (gasp!), Jameson whisky and Ruffles potato chips waiting for them. She does this even for dinner parties — Sheri gets champagne and Amy drinks whiskey. It’s such a simple act that really shows your company that you have considered their preferences. If you don’t know what a guest likes, ask them before they arrive. They’ll be touched by your thoughtfulness.

Say please and thank you… a lot
It’s almost impossible to over-thank someone, especially in the South. I realized this the other day when I was ordering a sandwich, and the sandwich maker told me how much he likes that people say please and thank you at every step of the ordering process (Wheat bread, please. Thank you. Tomatoes and lettuce, please. Thank you.) If someone is doing something for you — whether they’re paid or not — your manners matter. So I challenge you to toe the line of please and thank you overuse.

Instead of offering to help, just do it
When you ask any Southern host, “What can I do to help?” you’ll likely get the reply, “Nothing at all!” Meanwhile he or she is frantically refilling glasses and plates and ushering dirty dishes to the kitchen. Instead of offering to help, just help. You know that the dishes need to be cleaned, rinsed and put in the dishwasher (unless they’re China, of course). You know that empty wine glasses need to be refilled. It’s nice to pitch in without being asked, and your host will thank you for being so helpful. You’d want your guests to do the same, right?

Always set the table
There’s almost nothing better than a beautifully set table. It’s one of those things, like making the bed, that takes only a few minutes but makes a world of difference in the way your home comes together. A well-set table makes a room feel complete and conveys the mood for any dinner party. Your table setting indicates the formality, vibe and theme of a dinner, and your guests will respond accordingly. There’s a lot of opportunity to let your personality shine through in your tablescape. Don’t know where to start? We have your guide to setting a proper and beautiful Southern table.

Bring someone food when they don’t expect it
It’s always nice to bring food when there’s an occasion — new neighbors, new parents, birthday, funeral, you name it. In the South, the practice of bringing food is almost religious … and expected. Here’s an idea: next time you bake pecan pie bars or make a big pot of chili, share with a friend or neighbor. It’s really special to share food “just because,” and in my case, it’s always good to get rid of the extra pecan pie bars so I’m not the one eating them all!

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What are some other ways you go above and beyond in your Southern hospitality? Email me at editor@southernkitchen.com or share with us on Facebook.

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Ashley Twist Cole is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also an on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. Ashley rarely makes the same recipe twice and loves to experiment in the kitchen. After graduating from UGA, she spent several years working in digital strategy for brands including Chick-fil-A, Nike and Coca-Cola. Prior to joining Southern Kitchen, she was the manager of AccessAtlanta, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s things to do and entertainment brand, where she fell in love with Atlanta’s dining scene. Ashley will travel almost anywhere for a good meal and great cocktail, but her favorite place to be is in her own kitchen with her husband Josh and son Whit, trying new recipes and mixing up cocktails.