Enjoy the benefits of hospitality

In one of his letters, George Washington wrote that he and Martha had not had dinner at home alone for twenty years. Every night for twenty years—7,300 days in a row—they had guests and visiting dignitaries to entertain. (from: A. J. Jacobs, My Life as an Experiment, page 15)

Granted, this anecdote is rather extreme. If I insisted on entertaining this frequently, I would live as a single adult.

But, I think Mary and I (and probably you, too) go to the other extreme: we don’t extend hospitality enough. 

There’s a Spanish word that expresses the joy and benefit of hospitality—sobremesa—the time spent around the table after lunch or dinner, talking to the people you shared the meal with; time to digest and savor both food and friendship.

There is something profoundly satisfying about sharing a meal with other people. Eating together is one of the oldest and most fundamental unifying human experiences. It can simultaneously fulfill physical, emotional, and relational needs.

It will help establish and deepen friendships

If I share my food with you it’s either because I love you a lot, or because it fell on the floor and I don’t want it. (That’s a joke.) Truly, I can’t think of another setting that’s better for solidifying friendships than gathering to eat. It slows down our pace, narrows our space, focuses our attention, and creates a relaxing ambience—all of which are beneficial for deepening friendships.

It’s good for business

Since humans first walked the earth, we’ve known that sharing a meal can be good for business. For instance, a recent study revealed that it doesn’t take much to get a doctor to prescribe a brand-name medication—just a free meal. The study found that U.S. doctors who received a single free meal from a drug company were more likely to prescribe the drug than doctors who received no such meals. Meals paid for by drug companies cost less than $20 on average [Even Cheap Meals Influence Doctors’ Drug Prescriptions, Study Suggests, Peter Loftus, WSJ, June 20, 2016].

I’ve never understood why some organizations are so stingy with the amount of funds allocated for business meals. I once worked with a group of six senior executives at a $75 million-a-year business. They were frustrated that the CEO, in order to save money, eliminated their budget for business meals, which saved the company a whopping $24k a year. I suspect that poor decision cost the company ten times as much in lost revenue.

It engenders good will

Treat someone to a $15 lunch and they’ll be your friend forever. Well, that’s an exaggeration; but it is true that even a small amount of money and time will generate a lot of relational capital.

A weekly family meal can become a wonderful family tradition

I enjoy watching the sitcom, Bluebloods (on CBS). It follows the lives of three generations of New York City police officers. In every episode, there’s a scene showing their weekly, Sunday afternoon family meal in which they gather around the dinner table to talk, argue, laugh, and pass the potatoes. Every family would benefit from this tradition. [Note to my family: Are you reading this post?]

I double-dog-dare you: initiate and host meals and enjoy the sobremesa.

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12 thoughts on “Enjoy the benefits of hospitality

  1. My spouse and I have always believed in family sitting down to dinner together, and we always did so when our kids were home. I’ve gotten away from it since our kids have gone out on their own now, and I believe I have been making a mistake. It would be a good time for my hubby and I to talk about our day and just BE together. Must not miss any opportunity to make life better. I will get back to this again. It’s always a joy to have our adult kids over to sit down to a meal together. It’s no less joyous to share the same with my favorite fellow. Thanks for the article.

    • Ellen, thanks for taking the time to write. It’s easy to escape the habit of sharing meals together, but it’s an invaluable time to connect with others. Don

  2. This is so very true!

    However, I suspect Martha Washington did not work outside the home and may well have had servants. Sharing a meal with friends in a restaurant works just as well. Here in the UK, we are always receiving emails from restaurant chains that substantially reduce the cost.

    One friend had become so lonely last year, that we had to ensure that when we finished one dinner date, we always set the next one. It’s so easy for our invites to become “You must come and see us some time.” Which translates into “sometime never”.

    I wonder how many of your readers have friends on their Christmas card list who haven’t eaten a meal with them in over two years? I have to raise my hand and say “guilty”.

    Best wishes
    Angela Willson

    • Angela, thanks for yet another thoughtful response. You’re probably right. Martha had help; but every night for 20 years is extreme.
      Meaningful meals with friends are a stout antidote for loneliness. Don

  3. Don, as a single adult (not by choice but due to the death of my wife), I would not live as a single adult just to avoid having a meal (dinner) at home with someone or several guests to interact with them.

    • Hi Jim, thanks for writing. My statement was meant to be humorous. That is, if I insisted on entertaining every night for 20 years, it would put a strain on my marriage. Don

  4. There have been many $MM deals made over a simple meal. Ive been apart of several.
    It’s a privilege and a honor to break bread with old and new friends. Life is too short to miss out on the many blessing you receive when friends get together.
    You and Mary will have to come do that with us in the very near future.
    Enjoy your articles.

    • Mike, thanks for taking the time to write. I imagine that you have seen a lot of large deals come to fruition or go down in flames because of social graces such as a nice meal or a considerate phone call. Thanks for being my friend. Don

  5. Having guests for dinner is A LOT of extra work: cleaning the house, planning the meal, cooking, washing dishes. Hoping it all works out well and we find pleasant things to talk about creates anxiety for me. By the time that bit of hospitality is over, I am exhausted and collapse in a heap. Are YOU taking on that burden, or does your spouse do all the work and you just show up and enjoy the dinner conversation?

    • Ethel, you bring up a good point. When we host dinner guests, Mary and I share responsibilities for preparation, cooking, and clean-up. It’s something we enjoy doing together. Don