scruffy hospitality - valuing connection over perfection

Scruffy Hospitality – Connection Over Perfection

My favorite way to spend an evening is dinner with friends…in their home or mine.  It’s not because of impeccable interiors or the scrumptious home-cooked meal.  And it’s certainly not because I love to cook.   My most heartfelt conversations and biggest laughs have been sitting around a crowded table with dirty dishes and empty bottles, relaxing with friends – listening and sharing.  Scruffy hospitality at its best – valuing connection over perfection.  So why don’t I entertain anymore?

It’s All Too Much

I could blame it on Covid.  But, if I’m honest, I stopped having people over regularly years ago.  Why?  I simply make it too difficult.  A typical dinner party for me means hours of preparation.  The menu – easy to prep but complex and delicious.  The table – elegant yet functional.  And God forbid there is any clutter or dust bunnies!  I work tirelessly to make it seem effortless.  The question I ask myself is, “What am I trying to prove?”  I’ve lost sight of what really brings joy when inviting people into my home – the connection with friends.

What Is ‘Scruffy Hospitality?’

“Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes.”

– Jack King

The idea of scruffy hospitality originated in a sermon given by Jack King, an Anglican Priest.  But, Oliver Burkeman is the author that recently brought the concept to my attention in one of his newsletter articles.  Once again, his knack for writing about straightforward ideas in a thought-provoking way has caused me to pause and rethink.

We Used to Do Scruffy

When my partner and I were just starting our life together, we did scruffy all the time.  At first, we couldn’t afford restaurants.  Then, when the kids were little, we didn’t want to sit through the torture of a stress-filled meal trying to contain the children’s energy.  We regularly gathered with our friends at each other’s homes: taking turns hosting, doing a potluck, or even ordering pizza.  Whatever was easiest for all.    

Somewhere along the way, things became complicated.  Perhaps our tastes became more refined or the incessant pressure of comparison with the dawning of social media is to blame.  It doesn’t matter.  The fact is, my need to impress is getting in the way of friendship and connection.  My daughter pointed it out to me once as I was frantically vacuuming the last minutes before our guests were set to arrive.  She looked at me and said, “Mom, everything doesn’t have to be perfect.” 

The Perfect Example

I recently made a new friend, Sarah.  We met over email through our children’s school, and I safely suggested meeting up for coffee at a neutrally located café.  But before we had even met in person, Sarah invited our family over for brunch.  We went to their place the following weekend.  Yes, the food was tasty, and of course, it was interesting visiting a home in a different area of Manhattan.  But the parts I valued most were discussing hot sauce and travel and creating a new connection for us and our children.

Sarah was the perfect example I needed.  It doesn’t have to be hard.   When people come over, they’re not coming for the food or the ambience.  They’re coming for me and my family, for friendship.

Scruffy Hospitality in the Works

In my post, 4000 Weeks: Make Time for Kindness Now, I quote Burkeman: “Cultivate instantaneous generosity.” His idea is simple yet impactful. When you think of a kindness, do it. This aligns perfectly with scruffy hospitality. Your kid just won her soccer game: keep the celebration going and invite everyone over for pizza. You had a great time with colleagues at happy hour: have them over for take-out. Your friend seemed a little sad after your morning walk: invite him up for coffee.

I am proud to announce that I’ve taken the plunge.  I have three dinner parties on the calendar – two this weekend! It’s Wednesday, and I have yet had time to think about what we’re going to eat or drink. But that’s ok. It might be scruffy, but no one will go hungry. Most importantly, I’m making an effort to be authentic and connect.     

Friendship isn’t about always being ‘excellent’ with one another. Friendship is about preparing a space for authentic conversation. And sometimes authenticity happens when everything is a bit scruffy.
- Jack King


  • Jami Murphy says:

    My neighbors, Andy and Emmie are the best with entertaining. We have had so many good times at their home. They have taught me so much about enjoying life! I may have even worn pajamas to have coffee on their deck. LOL!!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *