Hospitality conjures up images of warm welcomes, gracious gestures, and open doors, so it might seem contradictory to suggest that saying “no” is an important part of hospitality. After all, isn’t hospitality about graciously accommodating every request? While the inclination to say “yes” is certainly a cornerstone of hospitality, the true essence lies in saying both “yes” and “no” with wisdom and care.
Hospitality, as we’ve been discussing in this blog series and as our readers have articulated, entails creating a welcoming environment where others are received with respect and care. It’s about anticipating needs, going the extra mile to find ways to meet those needs, and fostering genuine connections. Saying “yes” plays a pivotal role in all this, a willingness to accommodate, assist, and enrich others’ lives. Whether it’s fulfilling special requests, providing personalized services, or extending a friendly greeting, saying “yes” embodies the spirit of hospitality.
However, hospitality also requires clarity and courage to say “no” when necessary. I can think of multiple occasions when we have said “no” to requests from guests at Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center: when someone asked if they could take home some of their favorite fallen trees from one of our trails; when a group wanted soda and candy for every person during their meetings; when groups asked to bring in their own food or cook meals on their own; or, when individuals ask us to leave the pool unlocked for the duration of their stay.
In each of these cases, we said “no” in order to say “yes.” No to the tree removal and yes to the stewardship of the natural resources on our land. No to more soda and candy and yes to healthy and nutritious food that contributes to well-being (also each meal has its own dessert). No to bringing in your own meals and yes to complying with state laws that uphold the health of guests. No to the unlocked pool door and yes to the safety of our youngest and most vulnerable retreatants.
While it may seem counterintuitive, saying “no” is an important aspect of caring and sustainable hospitality. Often saying “no” to one person or group enables us to say “yes” to a larger set of persons and groups whom we serve annually. Moreover, saying “no” can foster trust and respect between us and our guests. When boundaries are clearly communicated and upheld, guests are more likely to appreciate honesty and transparency, even if it means their requests cannot be fulfilled. By prioritizing the long-term well-being of both guests and staff in this way, our wide welcome has integrity and care.
Furthermore, saying “no” allows those of us offering hospitality to avoid burnout and to live in congruence with what we offer to others – e.g., by creating time away for staff or by retreating where we are. Constantly saying “yes” to every request can lead to stress, resentment, and ultimately, diminished quality of service. By learning to say “no” when necessary, we value our own well-being while still contributing to that of others.
In essence, hospitality involves a dynamic interplay between saying “yes” and “no,” guided by empathy, integrity, and practicality. While saying “yes” embodies the spirit of accommodation and generosity, saying “no” reflects a commitment to boundaries, communal values, and long-term sustainability. When we are clear that embedded within every “no” is a larger “yes,” we can diminish our tendencies to overextend ourselves or promise more than we can offer. Grounded in our most cherished values, we can help create truly enriching and memorable experiences for others while also caring for ourselves.
How do you say “yes” and “no” when practicing hospitality in your homes, neighborhoods, or places of work? What makes it hard to say “no?” When do you wish you had said “no” in order to say “yes” to yourself or others?
We look forward to your feedback and continued engagement with our topic of hospitality!