How to Be a Good Host: It’s the Kind & Welcoming Thing to Do
Are you the hostess with the mostess? Is your home, which may at times have so many visitors that it seems more like an inn, warm and welcoming, or frantic?
Both of us live in popular areas for visitors, and we tend to host many folks, which we enjoy doing (most of the time).
With fall in the air and Covid numbers down, family and friends are eager to travel. In some areas, such as Barbara's in New York's upstate Hudson Valley, fall is a gorgeous time and even better now with more available airline seats at better prices, fewer cars on the road, easier access to museums and restaurants, even reduced ticket prices for sporting, concert and theater events. This means more visitors.
We both like to be guests but more often, we are the hosts. And we're pretty good at this skill. We've learned from stays in hotels and resorts as well as from other family and friends what works best when we assume this role. Although we're not aiming for a Triple A rating or a fantastic review on Yelp, we do like to make our guests feel comfortable and relish our time together.
On the other hand, we know what not to do from those who haven't quite mastered the art of good hospitality. Yes, this is an art, as restaurateur and St. Louisan Danny Meyer (founder of Shake Shack) wrote in his first business book, Setting the Table. He trained staff right-to make all diners feel welcome and comfortable as if they are guests in a home.
We each have our own methods of what we like to do to make our guests feel valued. We want them to think as soon as they cross the threshold, We're so glad you came! Here are our playbooks.
Before guests arrive, ask their timetable--when they may arrive, what time and when they expect to leave so it doesn't alter your schedule.
With food tastes and allergies rampant, Barbara starts before they come by asking what they will and won't eat. No judgments at all, just making people feel comfortable. Breakfast is very key in her book since they almost always eat that meal together in her house.
Recently, a family of four said yogurt, something Barbara doesn't eat. She asked what brand and flavors they preferred. They replied, "Don't fuss over us but blueberry is good." Her reply, "I like to fuss so share." When they said only blueberry, she asked her favorite dairy guy at her supermarket what brand he recommended.
She also checks that she has nibbles from nuts to cheeses and fruits and always makes a cake or pie or something sweet even if they're not eating meals at her home. Who can say no to homemade? Recently, her choice was to make a zucchini bread she loves from cookbook, Silver Palate, and a peach pie from one of Ina Garten's many books. She always has some ice cream and sorbets in her freezer and for that visit, tried a new ice cream based on New York's iconic black and white cookies. She also always has a bottle of wine chilling or in her rack.
Part of this stems from her mother's fully stocked larder and the joke in her family that her mom could feed an army if it arrived. It also stemmed from visiting one couple at their vacation home who had zero on their refrigerator shelves except the drink Snapple. Not very considerate. Who wants to feel as a guest that you will have to sneak out to the local convenience store for something, anything?
Barbara checks that she has a stack of fresh towels in her linen closet, has made the guest bedroom beds with fresh sheets and pillowcases, put out a luggage rack, and looks to see the closet is filled with hangers and has empty space. She also stacks her newest magazines on coffee tables. Her bookshelves are already lined with interesting reading material and several jigsaw puzzles. And if her garden is popping with fresh flowers. she tries to find time to pick some for a vase or two on the dining room table or in the bedrooms.
Also important to her is to do some thinking about what a visitor might like to do. She checks her local movie theater and concert venues and prints out performances. She lists area sights from museum shows to the historic houses in her hood. She thinks about restaurants they might enjoy and may make a reservation or two, being careful to consider their palates and pocketbooks. She might even buy tickets or make reservations ahead of time.
If she knows they're staying home for dinner, sometimes she might invite a local friend or two to enliven the group but she's careful of whom she mixes and matches. Barbara knows too that some simply want down time in her home and yard with no plans scheduled or others around. She politely picks up on cues or what they share.
Guests like to go to bed and get up at different times. Although Barbara is an early riser, she allows her guests to set their own times to rise and shine.
At the end of a stay, some guests might ask if they can strip the sheets. Rather than say, "Don't bother," she'll say "Sure." It makes guests feel good to help. Some also like to help prep meals at her home or fill the dishwasher, and again she generally says "Great!" When they leave, she always offers to send them on their way with some fruit or cookies. Most say, "We'd love that, thanks."
Margaret used to live in a large condo in St. Louis and had guests in and out all the time. Now, in her 800-plus square foot New York City apartment, having guests is a trickier and more complicated process. There is only one bedroom, which she always offers her guests, and little closet space. If they decline the offer to sleep in her bedroom, there's the living room pull out sofa bed, which is a really good one she purchased just for guests. It's easier if guests sleep in the living room since then they can stay out as late as they wish and not bother Margaret when they arrive back.
Before they arrive, Margaret always asks what foods, kinds of coffee and beverages they'd like her to stock in the fridge or snacks in the pantry.
She always has lots of cookies, candies and salty junk food choices. "Help yourselves," she'll say. If there are guests with food preferences or allergies, she researches places for vegans and vegetarians. If lactose intolerant, she'll have almond or oat milk on hand or special cheeses and gluten-free bagels and bread.
In preparation for guests' arrival, she will make the sofa bed, put out extra pillows, leave out a luggage rack and move furniture around to make more room. She then puts her freshest fluffiest bath sheets on different hooks (she can only accommodate two guests) in her one bathroom.
When they arrive, she always asks what they'd like to do for meals and their schedules. Usually, if it's her kids or even her friends from St. Louis, they are in New York for business or a special event. They arrange to spend time together and where to go. Margaret usually has a list of suggestions.
However, there is no expectation that all time must be spent together.
Having one bathroom makes hosting guests a bit of a squeeze. Since Margaret is an early riser, she uses the bathroom first while her guests are still asleep in the living room, and then works in her room until her guests are up. Once they are, she'll offer them breakfast and always say they can take anything or cook anything. The clutter when she has guests because the space is so small can be disconcerting, but Margaret turns a blind eye. She reasons: It can always be cleaned after they leave. Why make anyone who is a guest in her home feel uncomfortable?
Before any guest leaves, they usually ask if they should strip the bed. Margaret would prefer they not do so because she has a routine. Since the space is small, there is nowhere to put the sheets before she washes them.
She likes to do all the cleanup herself, including dirty pans and dishes. If the guests have anything they'd like to take with them, especially if they drove and can take it in the car, she's very generous with any food or flowers.
As much as she loves having guests, it is a challenge in a small space but worth it every time.
If you want to book a stay in either of our homes, let us know way in advance to save you the room and get preparations ready!
Tom and I love hosting guests! I like the idea of letting guests strip the bedding if they offer to do so.
I have no doubt that Barbara would treat her guests like royalty
Barbara is the best hostess imaginable— so lucky to enjoy her generous hospitality!
I’m coming for a visit!