Monday, March 16, 2009

How to be a good Host

I was reading Gala Darling's great post on how to the best houseguest and it got me to thinking about how to be a great host.

image from qoqillie via Flickr

This is actually something I think about a lot. Both sides of the equation actually, but I put more focus on the hosting aspect. My family has been involved in the high-end hospitality industry for my entire life including cruise lines, hotels, travel destinations, so I've traveled a fair amount. I've stayed in everything from 5 diamond hotels to cute bed & breakfasts and have seen great service and horrible horrible places. There are many places that stand out as perfect stays.

And they all had one thing in common... thoughtfulness.

I'm not talking about being waited on hand and foot, rather considerate touches throughout that made it clear that the person or company acting as the host had thought about my needs and how I would be living in the space while I was there.

These are the things I look for when I'm traveling and the things I try to provide for my guests:

1. Empty closet and drawer space

Hey, I know we all have a lot of stuff. Frankly, I think we have too much stuff. (Seriously, if you need a POD or a storage unit and you aren't in some kind a transition, you have too much crap... get rid of it.) At the very least you should be able to carve out a half a closet worth of space and a drawer so that when someone comes to stay they can at least hang up some of their clothes and put a few things away. This may be hard in extreme situations like studio apartments in New York City but generally try and find a little space somewhere. Even a hook over a door or closet door would help.

The same holds true for a bit of space in the bathroom, especially if you don't have 2 bathrooms - a shelf, an area on the counter - something, anything!

2. Decent sheets and pillows

I know we don't usually buy a brand new mattress when setting up a guest room. Yeah, it's usually the hand-me-down mattress from when we upgraded for ourself. But there are a few things we can do to make it seem nicer and be more comfy and plush. Get some crisp new sheets in the best thread-count you can afford and add a "feather" bed mattress topper. I like this option because it doesn't contain down or feathers so not only is it cruelty free but also hypo-allergenic.

Then have at least 2 pillows per person. I'd go new here. No one wants to sleep on your million year old squashed flat pillow. Bonus points if you have different options so people can choose which one they use. Also, have an extra blanket out or available. Your guest could get chilly in the middle of the night and have no way of knowing where to get a blanket. The poor things will be there suffering all night long because the don't want to wake you.

Another caveat - if your guest room mattress is over 20 years, please consider getting a new one. Heck, it's better to get a decent Aerobed than keeping this torture device! Plus, um... gross!

3. For the Bath

It's always nice to have a basket of new little soaps and bath gels, a shower cap and some of those things that everyone forgets, like toothbrushes, toothpaste and maybe a sewing kit. You can buy a few extras to have on hand or pick them up and save them as you travel.

I also like to have two indulgences for guests. The first are bath sheets. No skimpy towels in our house. We want to be wrapped up and covered. The second are robes. We keep two terry robes in the guest room closet, fresh, clean and ready for guests. Personally, I'd live in my robe if I could. I like to lounge around, get ready and then get dressed in my outfit. A robe is comforting and allows your guest to feel more secure when moving around your house or apartment.

4. Suitcase holder

I keep two suitcase holders tucked away until guests come. This is as much for me as it is for them. Not only can your guests get to their luggage easier but this makes sure they don't put their case, bound to be dirty from traveling, on my sheets, furniture, etc. These are easy to find in all kinds of colors, materials and price points, and they can be tucked away easily when not in use.

5. In the Bedroom

It's not just important to have a place for your guests to sleep. It's also nice to make sure the room is comfortable too. Don't have a lot of knicknacks or breakables around. It can be nerve wracking to have furniture covered with things that as a guest you are afraid to move, knock over or break. In this case, simpler and less decorated is better.

Have a table to use as a nightstand and add a small light for reading, an alarm clock and a water carafe with a glass. I also like to add in a small flashlight, a list of the cable channels (if there is a tv in the room), a pen and an alarm clock. Not everyone will use them but it's nice to know they are there.

If you have room for small table or writing desk and a chair, I'm sure your guests would appreciate it when they are putting on make-up, getting dressed and putting on their shoes. I also like to add in a mirror, either hanging on the wall near the door or above the desk. Or you can get one of those inexpensive mirrors that go on the back of the door so people can check themselves before they leave the room.

6. Extra touches

Last but not least, go the extra mile by adding some in-room snacks just in case they are starving. People can feel bad about bugging you between meals, so adding a few savory and sweet snacks can be a quick pick me up. I also like to add a travel candle and a lighter, some magazines and books as well. I also like to give the sheets a quick spritz with lavender linen spray before my guests arrive.

If you know your guests like flowers and don't have any allergies, go for a small vase or cup in an out of the way place. They don't need to be a big deal, even a single bloom is nice.

My best advice, however is the simplest... take the time to sleep where and how your guests will. Nothing makes it more apparent what works and what doesn't when you experience it for yourself. Does the sun hit your eyes at the crack of dawn? Is there weird lump right under your back? Is the light switch 2 inches out of reach? Live it and then fix it.

You don't need to have a fancy overly decorated room or spend a lot of money to outfit it. Simple but thoughtful goes a lot farther in creating a temporary haven for the people you care enough about to welcome into your home.

Extra reading:
Domino Magazine - Guest and Host Etiquette Guide


daddylikeyblog said...

Great post, Poochie! I learned a lot! :)

LightStealer said...

Very useful post :)
I'm glad you didn't forget about the full mirror...It's THE most important thing to me! I'm always surprised to see how many 4 stars places fail to provide a "proper" mirror at the right height..! We're ladies after all! ;)

Samantha Darko said...

Wow! I don't think Martha could have done a better article (even with all her minions). You deffinately hit all the things that people generally forget to think of. When I have space for a guest room I will be using this (soon to be printed and add to the host "bible" I keep) article as the guidelines.

jennine said...

wwow, i need to read more stuff like this. actually i'm a terrible host. i don't even know how to host myself.

lisa said...

This is a fantastic post! Such practical you have me wanting to stay at your home. :-)