Set the mood with your specific style of music, lighting or candles. When in doubt, ask your guests to bring their favorite music.

I’m going to keep this simple, so move aside Martha! Seriously, Setting the Mood is where entertaining can get scary or intimidating to people, or go bad! We think we have to meet some standard that is way beyond our reach.

Setting the mood is different for each of us, but we all have 5 senses to experience the world! So it only makes “sense” to talk about them in an entertaining fashion. I will tell you about the Coughlin household.

SEE: I love to look through my tablecloths that hang in my coat closet. Many times I choose my starched “white” one, but I have an array of many, from garage sales, gifts, or special ones I have purchased. I mix and match napkins and fresh flowers and candles, which I consider a must. I often determine the theme of the table by which flowers are blooming in my yard! Like when my peonies or my dahlias are in bloom. Oh, and lighting! We always dim the lights if we are using candles. Not only are they pleasing to the eye, but they evoke pleasurable aromas (but take note: don’t use highly-scented flowers or candles, lest you cover up the inviting aroma of the meal!). If we are eating outside, we will turn on our fairy lights or light the torch candles. We’ve even lit floating candles in our pool!

Whether you are hosting a casual or a formal affair, the table can instantly set the mood for your dinner guests.
And keep in mind, you don’t even need to know what a charger is, or you don’t need to own separate salad, dinner, fish and dessert forks. You don’t have to spend a lot of money–just a little time and effort, using what you have!

HEAR: Ok, I’ll admit it. My husband has great taste in music. He is the music maestro around our home, so before guests arrive I ask him (very nicely) if he’ll line up the music. I can always trust his choice of music for the evening, be it Nora Jones, or Garrison Keillor and the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, or Dave Brubeck, or Marta Gomez. Music builds memory, it connects people, and of course it helps set or create the mood. It helps build camaraderie and can be very motivational in our conversations! One trick is to play music a degree or two louder than you think you should. It actually creates more spirited conversations because it causes people to speak more loudly than they normally do. Paul learned this trick while working in restaurants during his college years. We use a variety of up-tempo music, followed by a slower piece of music. Music should create some kind of pleasant tension, and then release. Similar to some of our fondest memories of meals we have had that hold some tension, sweetness and then savoriness does the trick in the case of food.

Or take it a step further. What do the guests hear in the background when they walk into your home? Bitterness, hostility, a stressed-out host or hostess? Or comforting words, interest, and stimulating conversations?

SMELL: It’s easy to close our eyes and block out a sight. We can cover our ears and block out sound. But it’s virtually impossible to shut down your olfactory system. Everything has a scent. I think back to when I was a little girl, walking into our house after church on Sunday and smelling the yummy roast. Or smelling chocolate chip cookies, or homemade bread, or a hot apple pie. Even the smell of fresh-cut grass on a warm summer day where the BBQ is heating up brings a sense of warmth. When it’s dinnertime, it usually smells good wherever you are!

FEEL: We consider attending a great evening party the same as time in a spa. You come out relaxed and having experienced rejuvenation. That is our goal when folks leave our house. Good food, conversation, relaxing, healing. We think back to an evening where a couple was going through a rough patch in marriage, in life in general. During the meal we saw them both relaxing together, but it wasn’t until we started clearing the dinner dishes, leaving the 2 alone in our backyard, did we see them hold hands and smile and laugh together. They left far happier and with much more harmony than when they first came to our home. In our small but significant way, we literally helped put their marriage back together.

TASTE: We have 5 senses to experience the world! So it only makes “sense” to talk about them in an entertaining fashion. After all, cooking is a sensual experience. Food looks beautiful; our emotions are triggered by color. Food feels good in our mouths; we love the texture and comfort it brings us. Food smells delicious; our mouth waters when we smell these inviting fragrances. Food even sounds enticing as we hear the sizzling or oil popping in the kitchen. Then we get to indulge in the taste of food, the best of all.

Some basics to remember when cooking: Cooking does not have to be impressive or complicated to be good. Sometimes the best food is the simplest. However, it should be prepared well and with care, and attractively presented and served at the proper time. Serve the food hot (don’t let it sit), toss the salad just before serving, and call out that, Dinner’s Ready!”

If you’re hesitant to host guests in your home, keep these 5 senses in mind and see if it comes easier to you. You can even make a checklist!

I try to remember: A sign of a good time and tasty meal is a tablecloth with a spot or two!

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