Southern hospitality is more than just the welcoming smile from a friendly neighbor or the tasty smell of a homemade pie. It’s a lifestyle that encompasses a sense of community solidarity, ranging from sharing food with neighbors to supporting local families in need.
Anthony Szczesiul explores how and why this social habit became a defining trait of the Southern United States.
1. Indulge in the Region’s Distinctive Cuisine
Tall cold glasses of sweet tea, tangy barbecue, spicy Tex-Mex, small towns and family values are the first things that come to mind when many think of Southern cuisine. But Southern charm is about more than just rocking chairs and front porches, fried chicken and cookies. Southern food is a culinary art, influenced by a potpourri of cultural influences that are frozen in time by antebellum competitive hospitality and necessity, and the region’s distinct cuisine is a big part of what defines Southern culture.
It’s easy to see why southerners are known for their generous hospitality — they love to welcome friends and neighbors to their tables with hearty, home-cooked meals. The South’s rich food tradition includes comfort foods like jambalaya, collard greens with ham and bacon, pork chops, cornbread and banana pudding.
Southerners also like to make a meal out of leftovers, with dishes like cheesy pimento cheese (a classic from the days when kitchen equipment was limited) and she-crab soup (another leftovers dish, made by simmering cream of shrimp or fish broth with shellfish, garnished with the coral-colored roe of female she-crabs).
A lot of Southern meals are low in meat (though salt pork is still very common in cooking), and vegetable-based dishes like beans and greens (pinto beans stewed with diced turnip and fatback) are typical. And, of course, there are lots of sweet treats, including fried biscuits and chicken and waffles, beignets and fried pickles. But Southern cuisine also can be fatty, with many of the region’s most beloved dishes fried or cooked in high-fat lard and oils, which can contribute to health problems like obesity and heart disease. That’s why it’s important to balance these comfort foods with exercise and a healthy diet.
2. Practice Your Manners
When people think of the South, certain imagery immediately comes to mind—warm summer days and sweet iced tea, finger-lickin’ barbecue and spicy Tex-Mex, Sunday church and sit-down family meals. But what really characterizes Southern hospitality? According to a recent survey, politeness is the most prevalent attribute of the region, with five states—Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina—claiming this to be their defining trait.
The South is all about making people feel special. Whether it’s with home-cooked food, a curated cocktail menu, or a thoughtful gift, a true Southerner goes out of their way to make people feel valued. This is why Southern manners are so important—they go beyond saying “please” and “thank you.” They’re a way of life, from greeting your guests warmly to making sure everyone feels included.
Hospitality is also about giving back to the community, which explains why you’ll find so many volunteer programs and nonprofit organizations in the area. This is an important part of the regional culture, and it plays a big role in why many businesses choose to invest in the South.
Practicing Southern hospitality isn’t just for those who live in the South, but it’s something everyone can embrace and adopt into their daily lives. Whether you’re hosting your neighbors for dinner or you want to be a more polite person in the workplace, these tips can help. So, what are you waiting for? Start practicing your Southern hospitality today! Bravo’s fan-favorite reality show, Southern Hospitality, is back for season 2, premiering Thursday, Dec. 7, on Bravo and streaming the next day on Peacock. Watch the trailer here.
3. Take a Road Trip
In the South, it’s easy to find plenty of fun activities to keep you entertained. From iconic music to unique cuisine, the South is a diverse region that has something for everyone. Taking a road trip around the South can be a great way to experience everything this part of America has to offer.
One of the best ways to get acquainted with the Southern spirit is by visiting its many historic and cultural sites. Whether you want to learn more about Native American history or Civil Rights history, the US South has something for everyone.
Another great way to experience the charm of the Southern states is by exploring its natural beauty. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a stunning drive through mountains, valleys, and forests. During the fall, the colors of the leaves make for an especially picturesque scenery.
Lastly, you can also soak up the atmosphere of the South by visiting its lively cities. From Tampa’s vibrant beach culture to Jacksonville’s chill vibe, the Southern states are home to some of the country’s most thriving cities.
If you’re interested in learning more about the region’s history, consider visiting a historic home like the Hermitage or St. Mary’s Church. Alternatively, you could also explore the local museums and galleries in these cities.
Whether you’re looking for a place to catch a live music show or to try some Mexican food, the city of San Antonio is the perfect place to experience the culture of the Southwest. Located near the Padre Island National Seashore, this city is a fantastic place to unwind and relax. While in San Antonio, don’t miss out on visiting the Natural Bridge Caverns or the Myriad Botanical Gardens.
4. Celebrate Local Culture
When people think of Southern hospitality, they may envision rocking chairs on front porches, tall glasses of iced tea sweetened with sugar, tangy barbecue, spicy Tex-Mex, small towns, and family values. And they probably imagine an attitude of genuine warmth and generosity that welcomes anyone with open arms.
The reality is that the roots of this famous tradition have a more rural flavor than most assume. The word itself probably has biblical origins and grew to be linked with religious ideals of neighborly goodness in the antebellum South, when planters would lavishly greet guests who came to their houses.
It also likely has a more agrarian flavor when it comes to modern times, when a farmwife might stop by her neighbors’ house after a day in the garden and drop off a basket of zucchini or an extra jar of pickles as a gesture of thanks and friendship. And it could also be a way of showing your appreciation to a friend who’s been through a difficult time.
A true display of Southern hospitality is also evident when you’re visiting a region and want to make a good impression. The best way to do this is by treating locals with the respect they deserve. It’s a simple act that goes a long way. For example, a simple gesture of placing flowers by your guest’s bed will show that you truly value their presence and are grateful for their company. And a fresh linen spray with a subtle fragrance, such as eucalyptus or lavender, will help your guests feel completely pampered during their stay.
A genuine display of Southern hospitality is essential to any business. That’s why we offer our Southern Hospitality & Etiquette Training programs to teach employees all the proper ways to greet customers and treat them with courtesy and respect. Our program covers everything from first impressions and telephone etiquette to dealing with challenging personalities and time management.
5. Make New Friends
Tall glasses of sweet tea, tangy barbecue and spicy Tex-Mex — if these are the first things that come to mind when you think about Southern hospitality, then you’re in good company. The region is renowned for its warm and welcoming culture, which has been celebrated in Hollywood by the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey. The region’s relaxed lifestyle and friendly demeanor are coveted worldwide, and it’s something that even those who don’t live in the South can incorporate into their lives.
Southerners pride themselves on being able to turn strangers into friends. When you move to a new city, a quick conversation with a local can help you discover your new home’s best hiking trails and scenic views, or favorite local restaurants. They can also introduce you to their coworkers and help you make connections in your new industry. And, of course, a Southern friend can always teach you about the region’s signature cuisine and music!
While the Southern hospitality stereotype is often associated with rocking chairs and front porches, it extends to all aspects of life. From planning a party to throwing an impromptu dinner, the Southern hostess places company before convenience. Her pantry is stocked with staples for whipping up signature hors d’oeuvres and desserts, and her freezer is full of ready-made favorites. Her heart is overflowing, and she’s at ease saying to her guests, “Pull up a chair and stay awhile.”
This is the true essence of Southern hospitality, and it can be a great way to get to know new people. By being polite and welcoming, you can start conversations that may lead to some lasting friendships.