Here are the basics, my friends. Please let me know if you want to start your own, because I would love to help! If you are in the NYC area, I could show up in person! If not, let me know what information you are still missing after reading this little ragamuffin guide.
It doesn’t have to be a ton of space (I live in NYC, so forget even the thought of a “great room” for hosting). I’m just talking about an area that has room for a dining room table or a cluster of couches. This might be your dining room or living room or, in my case, those are the same room and it works perfectly. I have noticed that people are just glad someone is brave enough to invite them in at all. And, yes, it is nice to have this common area and your bathroom clean, but don’t panic if you have last week’s mail laying out or a corner full of moving boxes. Guests are surprisingly forgiving.
date / time
We (my roommate and I) had just moved to the city when we first started to think about this idea and every single day was different. I am a fan of routine and I wanted to make sure service was a part of my “regular” here in NYC, so we looked at our week, picked Monday and went with it. For you, it might be different. If you have lived in your area a long time, it might feel like every night of your week is taken with something super duper important. I would challenge you to look at your nights to see if your activities are primarily self-focused or others-focused… if three nights a week your calendar says “(insert favorite TV show) Night!” then it is worth replacing one of those cable crazy evenings.
Maybe your week is full of commitments outside your home and everything is others-focused. Cool, but I have another challenge for you: stay in more. Say no to activities that make you get in your car and drive across town. Say no to commitments that take you outside your neighborhood. Then, while you are staying in, invite people over! The nice thing about Pancake Mondays is that you invite people who live near you – so nobody is getting stuck on trains or in traffic.
So, choose one night in your week that you can dedicate to staying in. Pick a time that gives you a little wiggle room on either side (enough time after work to prepare and enough time after people leave to wind down for the day). And now write it in black sharpie on your calendar or highlight it in red on your Google calendar, marked recurring.
We chose Mondays from 7:30 – 10:00 pm and that has seemed to work out pretty fine.
From the very beginning, I felt pretty strongly about the handwritten notes. Nobody does that anymore. It’s all “facebook invite” to this and “mass text message” to that and “did you get that email”? Don’t feel like you have to follow my Leslie Knope fanatical tendencies with the handwritten bit, but do please consider putting your invitations on paper. It means so much to neighbors-strangers-friends to receive something they can post up on their fridge. My neighbors started returning their invitations every week because they feared I would get carpeltunnel. Recycled handwritten invitations work, too!
We posted invitations on our neighbors’ doors, handed them out to friends, and I generally just carried extra in my purse in case I ran into someone who might be interested. The nice thing about Pancake Mondays is that it is never an event that people “miss” because it happens on the regular. The invitation is good, well, forever.
This was tricky to figure out at first. Do I go cheap or go for broke? Do I plan for five or plan for 30? Do I make from a mix or make from scratch? It took a couple weeks to answer those questions, but here is what I do (feel free to change everything or nothing):
Pancakes from scratch, always. I’ll give you the recipes I improvise from, but seriously pancakes are hard to mess up. My brothers are some of the best pancake chefs I know and they’ve been doing it since high school.
Every simple pancake LOVES a good spread of toppings and we throw ours in fun little bowls. Marshmallows, chocolate chips, coconut, pecans, jams, and of course the standard maple syrup. After hearing about Pancake Mondays (and that I bought the cheap syrup), our pastor pulled out a 20 dollar bill and said, “Please, just tell me you’ll offer real maple.” So, we do.
Many of you will think this next part is overboard, so feel free to skip it. Every week, we choose a pancake to “feature” and it keeps things interesting. We’ve had toasted marshmallow pancakes, jamcakes, mexican cornmeal, and cinnamon roll. Inevitably, I forget to pick up an ingredient or I mix up the order of preparation, but it always makes for a good story. And I rarely have leftovers.
Also, we never ask people to bring anything. We want our neighbors-strangers-friends to be able to just show up and eat with us. Even so, sometimes they insist. They bring orange juice or sausage or bacon… and we’ve also had so many people contribute who don’t even live here. I have trouble keeping track of the folks who have sent supplies for Pancake Mondays in the form of maple syrup, coconut, caramel syrup, coffee, granola, and hand crafted bunting. For our wedding, we even received a set of children’s books about pancakes for inspiration!
It doesn’t matter if you decide to do Pancake Mondays once/week or once/month… what matters is that you are consistent.
You know how you love to watch the same TV show every week, maybe even with the same group of people? There is a bond that forms and it might seem silly, but it really does just have a lot to do with gathering together. I have my bias, but I prefer gathering for food and conversation.
People are surprised when something happens more than once… and mind blown when that something that keeps happening is free and food-related and fun. I have overheard one-time guests of Pancake Mondays telling the story to strangers and inviting people to come. So funny and so wonderful. But it would not be so wonderful if they were inviting people and mixing up the invitation because Pancake Mondays only happens every third full moon during the time of the horse on the Chinese calendar. Too confusing.
Simply: choose a date/time and then be consistent even when it is painful. Everyone will be glad you did.
For some, this is the toughest. It’s hard enough to find things to talk about with friends and family, but strangers? Really? Well, I’ve learned a few things about talking to strangers-neighbors-friends (yes, some embarrassing stories involving poor decisions in the city).
The hardest part is the awkward ask. One of the first Pancake Mondays, we knocked on neighbors’ doors and explained there was a breakfast-for-dinner scenario a few doors down. I was in my apron and the hallway smelled like bacon… the whole thing was silly and if our neighbors didn’t accept the invitation, they at least laughed. I consider that an “everybody wins.”
The second hardest part is the awkward talk once they walk inside our open door. Guess what, it’s not that bad. We don’t even offer any alcohol. It’s just plain, old-fashioned chatter about life in the city, weather, trains, and more and more frequently it is deeper talk of childhood, urban struggles, and future plans.
Yep, we do this quite often before/after and sometimes during. We depend on it, pretty much, to make the batter stretch and to make our attitudes right, and to make sure we remember the main thing. Hosting is not about getting popular among neighbors-strangers-friends. I mean, it’s nice to see familiar faces everywhere, but that’s not the goal.
The goal in hosting is to pattern our lives after the ultimate Host (Jesus), who sends an invitation out to everyone to join Him at the biggest party. We are praying more people say yes.