Entertaining for a party or a meal is one thing, but having overnight guests is a whole experience in itself. Family members may come and go, but it is our true friends whom we invite to stay with us who put us to the test. Having a family member over repeatedly becomes a simple, routine affair: they quickly make themselves comfortable and soon take over your remote control and your refrigerator. You love them anyway. Family members are usually expected to fend for themselves to a degree, but what are the rules of etiquette when it comes to other overnight guests? If they are not regular visitors, then you should treat them differently. Over the years, I have come to enjoy the opportunity to welcome my guests for an overnight experience. Here in CT, we have wonderful seasonal weather that provides an excuse for bringing distant friends together. A visit to see the fall foliage, a winter skating weekend, or a summer weekend at the beach can all be welcomed mini-vacations for your city dwelling friends.
My first tip: Only extend an invitation if you really mean it. You might be surprised (or perhaps you have been!) by how someone will remember your vague offer from 5 years ago. Invitations should be well thought out and planned. Extend an invitation for a specific weekend and mention the time frame, i.e. Friday night to Sunday afternoon. Be sure you want to be with these guests. Inviting out of a sense of obligation can create a stressful situation if you end up disliking each other. Don’t invite business clients unless you really adore them. Use your intuition.
Be prepared. Have the guest area picture-perfect hours before your guests arrive. Spruce up the rest of the house with flowers and other elegant touches such as candles and fresh flowers. Do as much grocery shopping as possible before guests arrive and have a well-stocked refrigerator. Have a full bar, plenty of wine and other beverages along with lots of hors d’oeuvres. Always ask in advance about the dietary limitations of your guests — today it is considered polite and caring to do so.
Don’t get exhausted. Your guests want to have fun with you! Should a Saturday night dinner approach and you just don’t feel like cooking, then go out to dinner. Most of my polite guests in the past have offered to treat me to a dinner as thanks for the weekend. Take advantage of it. Remember, you’ll be making Sunday brunch the next morning.
Indeed, there are polite guests and problem guests. Most guests will jump up to make drinks, help with the cooking, attempt to help you clean up and otherwise be the life of the party. Other guests simply lie about, complain, criticize the food, don’t lift a finger and treat you like a waiter. This might be your family! (If that’s the case, come stay with me and you’ll see how it should be!) There are only three things you can do when these nightmare weekend guests want to invite themselves again: feign sickness, kill off an imaginary relative, or just grin and muddle through. Your personal tolerance level will dictate.
Here is a list of things I like to include in the guest bathroom and have in full view: fresh flowers (a nosegay will do), clean towels (bath towel, hand towel and washcloth for each guest), tissues, Q-tips in a glass container, room spray (don’t forget this one!), hand soap, a water tumbler, and a candle and matches.
No soap on a rope! There is nothing worse than recycling soap guest after guest. If you give your guests their own soap, which I strongly recommend, make it part of their “care package” that you give them when they arrive. Include a small zip lock bag on which is written, “Please enjoy this special soap at home.” My favorite soap is organic and natural and I love to share it with my guests. Other items can be kept in a drawer or cabinet. These include extra toilet paper, extra soap, paper cups, new toothbrushes, dental floss, tooth paste, disposable razors, shaving cream, body and face lotion and a small hand mirror.
In the shower I like to keep shampoo, conditioner, face and body scrub and bath and shower gel.
The guest bedroom should be very inviting, starting with a beautifully made bed. Include at least two plump down pillows. I also like to keep a few down-alternative pillows for folks that are allergic to down or who prefer firm support. I put an extra blanket in the closet along with two one-size-fits-all fluffy terry robes plus slippers to match. On the nightstand is bottled water or a pitcher with tumblers. There is at least one chair in the room and a wooden luggage rack, which I store in the closet when the guests leave. A beautiful bouquet of flowers can be found on the dresser or night table along with a candle and matches. Reading lamps are easily accessible.
One of the most challenging aspects of having guests is what activities to engage in. Will they want to go antiquing or shopping? Will they want to play sports or go to the gym? Are they card players? Do they love movies and want to see one with you? Just ask them in advance. Ostensibly, they’ve come to spend time with you, but be flexible. Offer your guests as many options as possible and go with the democratic consensus.
Fill a bookcase in your guest room with unique and fascinating books, and put a basket of recent magazines near the bedside. When I visit someone’s house, I love to look through his or her collection of books. I also love a breakfast tray in the guest room. It is quite functional as it offers a workspace for a computer when a desk is not available.
With these extra personal touches, you and your guests will have forged a more solid friendship and you will be recognized as the host or hostess with the most-ess! I encourage you to notify your guests that morning coffee in your pajamas is perfectly acceptable. However, an oversized t-shirt and underwear doesn’t qualify as pajamas (on your guests or you!) unless you’re entertaining one-on-one!
And there you have it!