Whether it's a date, a college buddy, or relatives bunking up with you for a wedding weekend, there are do's and don't's when it comes to hosting houseguests. Hosting is an art that is difficult to perfect, but can be easy and inexpensive to do really, really well with a little forethought. A little extra work can make your place feel like a true home away from home for your guests.
When at Home, Do as the Homans Do
One way to get an idea of how prepared you are for overnight guests is to spend the night in the space you plan to offer them. Whether a guest room or an air mattress on the living room floor, bunk out for a night with what you currently have available to get an idea what you’re lacking. It’s a great way to find quirks about the space you never would have otherwise.
Does the room get too hot or cold overnight? Make sure a fan and an extra blanket are available. Is street or other noise an issue? A white noise machine could make a big difference. Does obnoxiously bright morning sun shine directly in your face first thing in the morning? Might be a good idea to invest in some blackout curtains.
If your guest bed is a ratty old futon you wouldn’t sleep on in a million years, why would you expect your guests to? Luckily, inflatable mattresses have come a very long way in recent years. And top-of-the-line ones can be had for a reasonable price. A mattress pad is a cheap way to instantly upgrade it; and also helps a real bed that’s just plain uncomfortable . Chances are if you’re comfortable in the space, your guests will be too.
Don’t Over-plan, Don’t Under-plan
When some people have out of town visitors, they run themselves ragged attempting to be their city’s tourism director, restaurant critic and nightlife expert rolled into one. It’s great to have a list of fun activities available for when you have guests, but leave a little time for R&R. Remember—it’s their vacation too. Sometimes relaxing quietly with a book in new surroundings is all the vacation a person needs.
For planning purposes, have a mental list of some of your favorite spots to visit, but try not to force anything on them. If you live in or near a tourist hot spot, gauge their interest in doing “the tourist thing” when in town. They might not be as enamored with the world’s largest ball of twine as you are, but at least offering the chance to see it is a good host move. If they are, it gives you a chance to see part of your city you probably rarely visit as a super-cool jaded local.
Overstock Their Bathroom
The last thing a guest wants to do is sheepishly ask their host for a plunger or an extra roll of toilet paper. Save them that awkwardness by making sure the guest bathroom is prepared for any and all contingencies. Plan for half a roll of toilet paper per-guest, per-day, kept in plain sight, ideally with even more rolls under the sink.
At the minimum the bathroom should be equipped with a new soap and a bottle of shampoo. Hotels offer a bevy of opportunities to stock up on goodies that are perfect for your guest bathroom at home, so don’t be shy about sweet talking the housekeeper out of a few extra fancy soaps. Guests should also be given clean, nice towels that are held on reserve specifically for guests. You may not mind drying off with a ratty old towel, but it makes you look like a slob to guests.
Eat Drink and Be Merry
Are your visitors beer drinkers? Wine drinkers? Teetotalers? Are they vegetarian? Do they like coffee or tea? Do they have any food allergies? Ask your guests about their food preferences before they visit, and make sure you pick up a few items with them in mind on your next trip to the grocery store. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way in making your guests feel at home. You don’t necessarily have to abstain from meat if you have guests that don’t eat it, but there should at least be something in the house that caters to their dietary preferences. Presumably if you like these people enough to have them stay with you overnight you like them enough to cater slightly to their dietary preferences or restrictions.
Stocking up on breakfast items is always a good idea, too. Making a big breakfast at home for (or even with) your guests is a nice social lubricant, and usually cheaper than going out. Grab everyone’s favorites and throw together a breakfast feast to remember. At the very least you should pick up some fruit, bagels or muffins, and juice.
It’s a great way to start the day before heading out for fun.
Don’t Skimp on Little Touches
A few small things can make your guests’ stay a bit more homey. An inexpensive bouquet of flowers (roughly $4 at any supermarket) in a small vase in the guest room is a warm and inviting touch that instantly adds a sense of vibrancy to a guest room. In fact, fresh flowers will add a similar effect pretty much anywhere you put them around the house.
As a concession to our always-on society, jotting down the Wi-Fi network and password on a piece of paper in the guest room ensures your guests unfettered access to all of their TwitterFaces and SpaceBooks. If it’s an extended visit, loan them a spare set of house keys so they can come and go as they please, even for a walk.
A plug-in or other air freshener in the guest bathroom is always a welcome touch, and it’s clutch as hell busting out a spare toothbrush when a guest forgets theirs, so have a few extra on hand just in case.
Lend a Helping Hand
When your guests arrive, make them feel welcome by grabbing a heavy suitcase or two out of their car. Show your guests where they’ll be sleeping, and what space is available to them in any closet or drawers for their clothes should they need it. Give them a tour of your place and show where they can find anything they might need (extra blanket, extra towels, etc.).
Unless they’re frequent visitors who are already comfortable in your home, the majority of guests will feel uncomfortable openly going into your fridge or cabinets for a snack. You can alleviate this right away by letting them know they are free to graze at will. It goes a long way towards making the guests feel at home. Also, give a quick kitchen tour where you open the cabinets and show where the dishes, plates, silverware, etc. are kept.
Have a plate of something to munch on (cheese and crackers, chips and guacamole, etc.) laid out nicely when they arrive and some chilled beverages, too. We’re all occasionally guilty of it, so no shame, but make sure to throw out any expired food items you may have lingering around in your fridge. That way your guests don’t inadvertently chow down on some bleu cheese that’s actually just old mozzarella.
Don’t Forget About You
Remember, in spite of all this preparation and planning, you’re not running a bed and breakfast. Nowhere is it written that a host is supposed to be at their guests’ beck and call for every whim they may have. You shouldn’t put on airs or pretend to be someone you’re not, nor should you ignore breaking house rules you hold sacred to avoid feeling like a scold. If you aren’t gourmet cooks, don’t feel obligated to make a 7-course meal from scratch. If your guests like wine, you don’t have to buy a budget-busting bottle to impress them. If you don’t feed the dog table scraps and a guest gives him some, politely speak up. If you want a guest to smoke outside, say so. People sometimes get embarrassed about this sort of thing, but guests won’t have any less of a good time by following the rules of your house, and you won’t spend their visit slowly growing to hate them.
Having guests does require a little bit of work, but it’s a true labor of love and pays huge dividends. People remember good times spent in someone else’s home, and are much more likely to return the favor one day.
Before they arrive, be sure you’ve covered all the basics.
- Wash all guest bedding and neatly make guest bed/air mattress/couch
- Thoroughly clean and vacuum guest area
- Scrub guest bathroom – toilet (inside and out), sink and faucet, mirror and tub.
- Clean all common areas the same way (kitchen, too.)
- Have space for them for their luggage and to put away their clothing
- Stock up on essential bathroom items (Soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, plunger, toilet brush.)
- Pick up a few ‘just in case’ extras (extra toothbrushes, razors, aspirin and antacid tablets.)
- Alcoholic beverages you know your guests enjoy
- Snacks, food and drinks
- Meal ingredients for planned meals during visit
- Coffee, tea, breakfast items (fruit, bagels, OJ, bacon, etc.)
- Create Wi-Fi cheat sheet
- List of potential restaurants
- List of potential activities