The Secrets of Southern Hospitality

A look at four signature components of this enduring tradition

For those who’ve ever been down south, Southerners know how to throw a fabulous party. Of course, a healthy dose of Southern hospitality helps. But many are still left wondering, how do they throw those unforgettable parties with such frequency — with fabulous food and flowing drinks — all while maintaining a relaxed and composed nature, and an air of joie de vivre, the whole time?

To learn more about the secrets of Southern hosts, we consulted one of the best: Mitchell Crosby, an event planner at JMC Charleston.

 

When to Entertain

According to Crosby, “Southerners do not need a lot of reason to entertain.” That love for tradition and entertaining — that warm Southern hospitality — is pulled from their European roots. “We’re social by nature, generous to share our homes, possessions, and family “receipts” or recipes,” Crosby says, hosting anything from two-hour lingerie bridal showers with some hors d’oeuvres and an open bar to large, colloquial, evening-long oyster roasts for during the winter months. So how can they do it so effortlessly? Being ready is key. “It’s easy,” Crosby adds, “when your grandmother’s linens are pressed, your great-grandmother’s cut crystal bowls are clean, and the silver is polished” — and you, the host, are at ease.

 

What to Serve

To understand the “Southern style” as we know it, Crosby explained to me, you have to go back to before the war, at least in Charleston. Typically 10-, 12-, even 15-course meals would be served, with heavy French influence and often quite late. After the war, when families didn’t have a lot of staff, dishes, and linens like they once did, the large party meals of yore went out the window and the focus turned to hors d’oeuvres. But not just any kind of hors d’oeuvres — one-bite snacks that could easily be picked up in one hand and instantly devoured, like deviled eggs. “At a party, you would dine and dash,” Crosby explains. “There would be no cocktail plates, as heaven forbid you have to put down your drink.” And if your dear friend Sally does want your signature crab dip “receipt” for her cocktail party, don’t fear that she is trying to one-up you — it’s one of the finest compliments she could make.

 

The Importance of Written Word

In the South, hosting a fabulous soiree is not just about cocktail-heavy gatherings with freely-flowing booze. The real artistry is more subtle, and it starts with the invitation. Sending something written by hand or snail mail is a must. Much thought should be put into what you say and be sure to mention exactly what the party entails. If you invite friends over for ‘Champagne in the Garden,’ your guests will know not to expect a glass of bourbon waiting for them.

The importance of sending written invitations and thank yous is established at a young age, with many children receiving their own set of stationary as soon as they are born. Yet, this once-commonplace act often goes forgotten in our increasingly digital world. Especially today, nothing is more thoughtful, considerate, and delightful to a host than promptly receiving a handwritten note, delivered by hand, the day after a party.

 

The Guest Matters Most

Lastly, the comfort of the guest is always at the top of a Southern host or hostess’s list. For example, one would never dream of planning a cocktail party without first checking the college football schedule. And even while there is plenty of alcohol to go around, there would always be a couple of wonderful non-alcoholic options for those who choose not to imbibe.

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