Sandy Coughlin created the website, Reluctant Entertainer—but she’s an enthusiastic entertainer herself. When she was growing her mother entertained often, and Sandy loves cooking, inviting friends and family, and hosting large, exuberant meals. For Coughlin, hospitality is about much more than the food, it’s about creating connections and building community. When she realized that many people miss out on this essential part of life, she decided to create Reluctant Entertainer. The website features recipes, home decorating and entertaining tips, and travel ideas.

Coughlin lives with her husband, Paul, in central Oregon. They moved there a year ago from southern Oregon, where Coughlin had lived for 53 years. They wanted to live a simpler life so they sold their home and many of their possessions and moved to the high desert region of the state, which they love. They bought a fixer-upper and renovated it, top to bottom. Coughlin and her husband, who started the anti-bullying non-profit, The Protectors, both work at home. Two of their three grown children are currently living with them and working nearby, and friends visit often, so hospitality is as big a part of their life as ever–and Coughlin wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sandy Cook

Have you always enjoyed entertaining?

Yes, hospitality was something I was raised with and it’s important to me. When we got married, my husband and I decided that entertaining was part of our mission. We decided we would reach out to others, and because of that we have a ton of friends. My husband was more reluctant than me. Entertaining scared him at first. He is more of an introvert, and introverts really have to push themselves when it comes to entertaining. When we first started entertaining together, he would write three questions on his hand, in case he ran out of things to say. But we both believe that learning to welcome people and carry on a conversation is one of the greatest gifts in life. And we’ve passed it on: our kids like entertaining, too, and when we have people over, they know how to carry on conversations, to ask other people about their lives and make them feel comfortable. I’m always surprised by how many adults haven’t learned those skills.

What do you mean when you say that entertaining was part of your mission?

The tagline on my site is, “Feast on Life.” Getting the most out of daily living, creating meals, asking people to come and be part of our world, engaging with people, enjoying food–these are all aspects of feasting on life. The beauty of entertaining is creating a space for people to gather to get to know each other. Our friends call us the connectors, we love bringing people together. If good food is involved, it completes the picture. When you welcome people and spend time together, you build a soul connection.  

Do you think there are a lot of reluctant entertainers out there?

I do. Many people are reluctant because they didn’t grow up with it, their families didn’t entertain so they don’t know how. Or they’re introverted and they find it scary. In many cases, reluctant entertainers are women who grew up with mothers who were  perfectionists: every thing had to be perfect. So they avoid entertaining altogether because it seems overwhelming.

That’s why I started my site: I knew so many people who had big homes and gorgeous kitchens, and they never invited anyone over. I realized that community and sharing food together were missing from so many people’s lives, and I wanted to share easy tips and recipes to show the long-term benefits of hospitality. My husband and I were talking about it in an elevator in Denver when he came up with the name for my blog: “Reluctant Entertainer.”

Can you sum up your message to reluctant entertainers?

Keep it simple, and don’t be a perfectionist. Reluctant entertainers are afraid their house won’t measure up, or they worry about their cooking skills. But you don’t have to have a fancy house or serve elaborate meals. In fact, if you don’t like to cook, don’t cook. You can go get a pre-cooked lasagne, make a salad, get some bread, and you’ve got a meal.  

My style of entertaining has always been to ask friends to bring something. I don’t wait to be asked. I ask one person to bring a green salad, someone else to bring bread and wine, and I make the main course. When you entertain like that—dividing the labor and the cost— it’s doable and it’s fun.

Hospitality is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. When you do it enough, it becomes old hat. You learn to plan. You think, “I have some time today so I am going to make dessert ahead of time.” If you have guests bringing salad, wine, and bread, you can check those items off your list. You do want to be organized. Things don’t have to be perfect, but you want to get things done ahead of time so you can enjoy your guests.

Can you describe the types of recipes you feature on your site?  

I basically do recipes that my family enjoys. There are a lot of salmon recipes on the site because we love salmon, we eat it once or twice a week. I look for family-friendly, easy-entertaining recipes. I always try to use fresh seasonal foods, too. I am not into complicated French dishes that take all day to make. Complicated recipes scare reluctant entertainers and I avoid those on the site.

Many reluctant entertainers believe they have to prepare a lot of dishes and they are afraid of running out of food. They make a lot of work for themselves, and then they burn out. If you make steak, or fish, and a green salad–that’s really all you need. Maybe bread, an appetizer, dessert.

I have a few favorite salads that are my go-to dishes. I make those along with barbecued salmon or steak. People are happy with a watermelon, a big green salad, and a steak. If you keep it simple, even a last-minute meal is easy to prepare.

Can you talk about yourself as an influencer?

Based on the feedback I get, I have a message people really want to hear. I get emails all the time. I have a folder labeled “amazing emails” and it’s full of letters from people thanking me for my approach, thanking me for making entertaining seem doable. Many of them never knew how to entertain, others were burnt out by entertaining, but they’d like to get back into it.

I think I’ve been successful because I’ve stayed true to my message for 10 years. I’ve  added in travel and brand work, too.  My readership has expanded steadily, and it’s a full-time job.

Your husband created the anti-bullying organization, The Protectors, and you volunteer for his organization. Can you talk about why this is an important cause for you and your husband?

Paul was bullied as a kid, and he’s become an expert on the subject. His anti-bullying curriculum is used in schools around the United States and overseas, and he’s a frequent speaker. He has a new book Deliver Us From Bullying, that will be published in 2018. 

I volunteer behind the scenes providing support, and I work hard so he can go out and make a difference in the world. That has been so cool for our kids to see: they have so much respect for what their dad does. He is taking the bad of what happened in his life and turning it to good. It’s about making the world a better place. Too many people just live for themselves; they get so caught up in their lifestyle and they don’t build connections with other people. Which brings us back to the goal of my website: people get busy and let the connecting side of their life slide. For Paul and for me, life is all about connecting.

Photo credit FoodieCrush.