How to be a Good Hostess
If you’re lucky, you might be able to play hostess to your loved ones this season. For me, hosting friends and family is one of my absolute favorite things. Nick and I moved to a new state after we graduated college and got married. We knew absolutely no one and it used to get boring before we made friends. So I always got super excited when friends and family were in town. I would get so excited when someone would say they were coming to visit and I still do. Sure, it can be a little stressful at times, but there’s just something so special about sharing your home with the people you love.
Even when we first bought our house and had no furniture and everyone slept on air mattresses, I would still do my best to make our guests as comfortable as possible. I am by no means an expert hostess, but I have learned a thing or two over the years that help your guests (and you) have a wonderful and relaxing time. This post is a long one, so feel free to skip to the tips that are most relevant to you.
Set the Date
Pick a date for your guests’ stay and make sure you’re upfront about any conflicts. If you have an exercise class every evening that you paid extra to join and you don’t plan to miss it or you have a work project that’s requiring long hours, go ahead and let them know you won’t be around at those times. If they know your conflicts and choose to visit anyway, at least they’ll know what to expect.
At the same time, don’t make commitments you’re not comfortable with. If you invite a guest to come for a weekend and they say “Sure! How about we stay for two weeks?” or you’ve got lots of projects going on that will suffer if you have guests, don’t say “yes” if it’s really not okay with you. You’ll resent your guest for it, even if unintentionally. If it’s fine with you, then, of course, go for it.
Get a Head Count
When you’re talking to friends or family about a visit, make sure when you say “you guys,” you’re referring to the same people. When our family says “we’re coming to visit” I always ask “who all will be joining you?” A working teen or a college student often have really strict schedules so it’s worth asking if they’ll be joining. Similarly, if Grandma sometimes joins your parents in their travels, just go ahead and ask. You’ll be thankful you asked instead of assumed. Plans might change, though, so see the “Be Flexible” section below for more.
Make a Plan
You don’t have to have a 10-page itinerary unless that’s your style. But it’s still a great idea to have a list of things you can do. Around the holidays, it can be fun to go see Christmas lights or go to a play. Just keep in mind that if you need to have tickets for anything, you’ll want to get them ahead of time. So check with your guests in advance to see if they are interested in an event or if they have any specific things they want to do during their visit. Otherwise, just have a list of your favorite restaurants, shops, and activities so you’re ready to go.
I usually create a tentative itinerary for any visit and while we never stick to it perfectly, it is always really helpful to have an idea of what is going to happen when. While I wouldn’t recommend a really strict itinerary, definitely share a copy with your guests to give them a guideline. Include meals and any planned events so everyone knows what to expect.
This is one that I’m admittedly working on. Sometimes we have guests who want us to just have a plan ready and take them to do all the things. Sometimes we have guests who want to do nothing and just sit at the house and read a book, watch tv, or play games. Still, other times we have guests who already have a full itinerary planned for their time. These are all fine with me, but I HATE making plans for other people because I feel personally responsible if they don’t have a good time.
I don’t know if this is overboard or not, but it works for me. I like to make a general meal plan anytime we have guests visiting for a planned stay. Otherwise, we end up going out to eat for every meal. I don’t want to make our guests spend a lot of money when they have already come so far to visit, so I’ll try to plan to cook at least a couple meals, depending on the length of stay.
While it’s good to have a plan when you have guests, it’s also important to be flexible. Some guests will come with a full list of things they want to do and see and others come with no ideas and just want to do “whatever you want to do.” Both are fine. Have a plan, but be prepared for things to not go as planned.
I always have extra sheets and an air mattress ready in case unexpected guests tag along. I learned this the hard way, though. One time we had family coming to visit and they called the day before to let us know that a friend would be coming and staying one night because she needed a ride to visit some friends in the area. We didn’t know this person well and were not ready at all. We didn’t have enough beds for everyone and I panicked. I was a stressed out wreck and it showed. I felt awful for weeks for making our unexpected guest feel uncomfortable. A little flexibility and willingness to roll with the punches would have gone a long way. A little grace for myself and my guests would have been great, too. More on that below.
Make Your Guests Comfortable
It might go without saying, but do all the little things to make your guests feel welcome. Make the bed, set out fresh towels, clean the house. Most guests are understanding that you live in your space and don’t expect perfection. But from a hostess standpoint, you’ll also be much more comfortable if you take the time to get your house tidy so you won’t have to worry about guests seeing your mess. Do little things like providing extra toiletries for your guests. I like to put fresh flowers and candles (don’t forget lighters or matches and strikers) in the guest rooms and leave a cute notepad and pen on the nightstand.
I used to leave bottled water, a little water heater for tea, and mugs in our guest rooms so that guests could have morning tea in their room if they weren’t ready to be seen yet. NO ONE ever touched it – not even the bottled water. I found that my guests would rather join me for coffee in the morning than sit in their room. So I nixed that. Now I just let guests know where to find coffee, mugs, glasses, whatever, in case I’m not up when they get up (though that never happens).
Give Your Guests Space
If you have the room, give your guests a space and don’t go in that space while they visit. When we have company, we don’t go in the guest rooms at all. Nick and I usually shower and get ready in our guest bathroom because our shower is tiny. When we have guests, however, we clear out the guest bathroom of all of our stuff and use the shower in our bathroom.
Because Nick and I don’t have children, all of the closets and dressers in the house are ours and are filled with our stuff. I, personally, don’t bother to clear everything out but a better person would. What I do, though, is at least make sure there is space for guests. In the closets, I leave a large space for them to hang their things and leave extra hangers. I do nothing with the dressers but I do try to keep them organized. Don’t make your guests feel like they have to tiptoe around your stuff. But also, they get it that you live there. Do you go to someone else’s house and feel offended that they have clothes or extra sheets in the dresser? I hope not.
Reserve Quiet Time for Yourself
I think this is a little less necessary for a one- or two-night stay. If I have guests for this amount of time, I usually just want to spend every minute with them. But if your guests are staying a while, make sure you reserve a space for yourself. For me, this is usually my bedroom/office. Take a few moments in the morning or before bed to just have some quiet time. Listen to an audiobook, do some yoga, or watch a Youtube video on your phone to just create some headspace. I also am an early riser so I’m pretty much always up before my guests. This allows me to get up, take care of the dogs, have a cup of coffee, and straighten up the kitchen and living areas before guests awake. It helps me to start my day off at peace and makes me a better host to my friends.
Let Your Guests Know the House Rules
If you’re super laid back and literally don’t care about anything and nothing your guests could ever do will annoy you, skip this step and just let your guests be themselves. This isn’t for you. Also, I envy you. Most people have little pet peeves that guests do, though. If you have certain house rules that you want guests to know or adhere to, tell them. It’s the only way they’ll know. If you have house rules and you don’t care if they are broken, then just don’t worry about it. But if you’re going to harbor resentment for shoes on the carpet, let your guests know.
That’s not a thing for me. I want new carpet, so please track in all the mud. I do, however, recycle. And it would make me a little sad if you threw away your water bottles and cans. I’ve found that most guests ask about this anyway, but I try to remember to tell guests that we recycle and that they can just leave recyclables on the counter and we’ll take care of them later.
I also let guests know that we don’t have cable or satellite and that we only use Chromecast. I usually tell guests they are welcome to download the app and take over casting anytime. Most people don’t, but at least they know. I also try to remind guests that we have a really weird refrigerator. Pretty much everyone who has every visited has splashed water everywhere because of how our water dispenser is set up. I try to tell them or, even better, show them how it works beforehand so they don’t end up with water splashed all down their Sunday best.
Give Yourself and Your Guests Some Grace
Finally, and I think most importantly, chill the eff out. Sometimes I’m really hard on myself when I have guests. Regarding the making a plan note above, if I plan a hiking trip because Nick and I love hiking, but one of our guests complains of being tired and sore afterward, I fret over whether or not I did the wrong thing. If you’re like this, give yourself a break. More than likely, your guests enjoyed doing something with you. If your guests don’t enjoy an activity, they probably don’t hold you personally responsible, and they probably still enjoyed your company.
If you’re dealing with moody teens (or, ahem, moody adults), just give yourself and them all the grace. Sometimes people just get in bad moods and it’s okay. You’ll all love each other again very soon. Just be as kind as you can be and don’t take anything too personally. (Speaking to myself here.)
Similarly, don’t expect your guests to behave in a certain way. Gratitude is always nice, but don’t expect your guests to express thanks for every little thing you do. Of course you’ve gone out of your way for them, but there’s no way they can possibly notice everything. On that note, you can express gratitude as well. Make sure your guests know how happy you are to see them and thank them for making time to visit you. Finally, don’t expect guests to treat your home and your things exactly as you do. Outlining the rules if you have them will help, but different people have different habits and that’s a-okay. Just chill out and enjoy the people you love. You can wash the dishes later.
I am not actually hosting Christmas this year, but I did host some family last year and this is essentially the tablescape we had. I didn’t buy anything new this year except for the plates and chargers. Last year, we just used some basic white plates and silver chargers. I had really been wanting these plates and chargers since then, though, so I bought them during a sale with a gift card, figuring I could build my collection and use them next time we host.
You can see below for a full list of the items in this post. You can see a little glimpse of our living area in this post, but I didn’t link anything. I’ll share living room details in a different post. Also, there’s a story behind the random dining chair, but we’ll talk about that a different day.
Shop the Post
Decor + Furniture
Hope you found a helpful tip or two or maybe found a product you could use for your next dinner party. As always, thanks for visiting!
Are you hosting guests this season? What tips do you have to make your guests’ stay the best!