Have Houseguests? How to Be the Host With the Most

by Mikey Rox on 19 May 2011 1 comment
Photo: imagetwo

Throughout the year we host lots of tourists, thanks to our side hustle on Airbnb and Roomorama, the how-tos of which I’ve written about a couple times on Wise Bread.

In hosting these strangers, there comes a responsibility to provide them with a certain type of experience — clean accommodations, local intel, and general knowledge on how to get from A to B. That’s all they’re looking for, really; if they wanted four-star service they would have booked a hotel. (See also: Negotiate Your Own Hotel Deal)

Hosting friends and family, however, is a different dynamic. They require more of your time and effort — and secretly want a higher level of hospitality. I’m happy to provide it, of course, but the situation can go south rather quickly if you’re not on top of your game.

To help you maintain your sanity — and send your guests off with smiles on their faces — here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way.

1. Provide Fresh Linens, Toiletries, and Other Grooming Products

When hosting guests, I recommend offering everything a hotel has in terms of linens and grooming products — within reason. Fresh linens and towels are a given (although I’ve stayed with friends who are stingy with their towels — you know who you are), but a lot of hosts forget that travelers sometimes overlook the small stuff when packing — shampoo, conditioner, toothbrushes, razors, etc. For this reason, I keep a small stash of these items in the pantry. They were all free or low cost, too; I take a few extra on my way out of the hotel, or I pick up bulk packs for about a dollar each at local outdoor markets.

Be mindful, too, that some people are a little more high-maintenance when traveling. Many ladies require a hair dryer — and after several requests, we bought one for our guests, to their delight — while other folks, both male and female (myself included), must have access to an iron when away from home. We’ve got our guests covered there, too. I know what it’s like to have to go to a nice restaurant in a wrinkled shirt while on vacation — something I would never do at home. Having these products and accessories on hand will not only help your guests relax and have a better time, but they’ll appreciate your attention to detail and thoughtfulness.

2. Have Healthy Snacks and Fresh Fruits Within Reach

When guests are on vacation, they want to sleep in. Doing so, however, could mean that they’ll miss breakfast around the corner. To make sure they’re fed and ready for their day, I always have cereal, bagels, fresh fruit and/or yogurt available. It’s great to grab and go, and these items also give your guests something to snack on later in the day, which helps them avoid spending a ton of money on unhealthy in-between meals. Don’t forget to put it in plain view, too. Your guests may feel uneasy about rummaging through your fridge or cupboard to find the goodies. When it’s out in common areas — the counter! — that usually indicates that it’s fair game. Of course, you can also tell them to help themselves as well.

3. Stay Current on Local Establishments, Deals, and Events

One of the first things people ask when they arrive at our place is "where are the good bars and restaurants?" Luckily, we have several just around the corner (we live in NYC). If you live further away from highly populated areas, consider collecting local take-out menus (with coupons, if possible) to create a mini directory of the places you personally recommend. In that directory, also keep a log of each establishment’s happy hour specials and hours; everybody enjoys a little R&R, especially when it’s half off. In addition, I also visit the tourism bureau a couple times a year to pick up maps, deals, and event listings so I’m always tuned in to what’s going on when my guests arrive. For instance, I know that the MoMA is free on Fridays from 4 to 7 p.m. Thus, I will give my guests that info when they arrive, so they don’t inadvertently pay for something that they could have gotten for free.

4. Direct Your Guests to a Nearby Market to Buy Their Own Food

Even though I suggested that you provide breakfast and snack items, I highly recommend that you kindly inform your guests where the nearest market is so they can buy any other sustenance they require. If you fail to do this, you could be eaten out of house and home. Most people get the hint, but if you’re afraid some guests may not be so adept, try this approach. When you get to the kitchen during the requisite tour, stop at the fridge. Tell your guests that they’re welcome to anything you have, but you’d prefer it if they’d purchase their own juice and milk, since you tend to consume a lot of those particular beverages and they’re rather expensive. Guests will absolutely do this, and while they’re at the supermarket they’ll pick up other items they want to eat during their stay. It’s a brilliant strategy — you still come off looking generous and your guests have more of the snacks they love.

5. Explain General Rules of House Etiquette

We once hosted two girls who were an absolute nightmare. Every time they left the bathroom it looked like a bomb went off at the Maybelline factory — water, hair, and makeup everywhere. Since then, I tell every guest that stays the night in our home that the sink is off limits as a storage space; they’re welcome to keep necessary toiletry items in the shower area, but the sink must stay clean of hairbrushes, toothbrushes, cosmetics and other grooming products. The other thing that really bugs me is crumbs on the kitchen counter. After a particularly messy couple stayed with us and left a trail of food everywhere they went, I put my foot down. During the initial tour, I politely explain to my guests that they can either wash their dishes themselves or put them in the dishwasher and that a quick pass with a paper towel on the counter will get rid of the crumbs in flash. Haven’t had a problem since.

6. Suck It Up When It Comes to Climate Control

A home can never be too cold for me, but it can definitely be too hot. I can’t sleep if it’s too warm — and too warm for me is 65 degrees — so staying more than one night with hosts who are climate misers is dreadful. Because I’m particularly sensitive to this issue, I’m keen to ensure that my guests are comfortable when sleeping at all times. If they need more warmth, I’ve got many blankets at the ready. If they need it cooler, they can blast their own private window unit until their noses freeze and fall off. The minimal increase in the electricity bill during their stay is worth the satisfaction of knowing that my guests are comfortable — and not complaining that I’m a cheapo.

7. Make and Offer Meals When You Have Time

Are you making brunch on a Sunday morning? Invite your guests. Making dinner for two but have enough food for six? Invite your guests. Preparing a homemade dish and offering it to your guests will not only save them money and feed them better, but you’ll get to spend quality time with the ones you love over delicious food and rousing conversation. And if they’re professional houseguests, they’ll know how to thank you — by supplying the booze. Always a treat.

8. Keep Video and Board Games for Rainy Days

You can’t predict the weather, and you’ve got to be prepared for poor conditions during your guests’ stay. When it’s rainy, snowy, sleety, or slushy, I inform my guests that hidden in the credenza are many popular one and multiplayer board and video games. They’re already bummed out because of the weather — and I don’t need them moping around my house, bringing me down — so I want my guests to be entertained until the storm passes. If they’re lucky, they’ll get to witness me kill my husband at Mario Kart.

9. Avoid Smothering Your Guests With Attention

Your friends and family came to visit you, yes. But that doesn’t mean they want to spend every waking minute in your company. Back up a little and let them breathe. Suggest a few activities they can do on their own while you run a few errands — anything to get them out of the house and staying active without feeling like you’re blowing them off. It’s better for both parties if there are a few hours of down time, especially during longer stays; a weekend isn’t so bad, but a week can work your nerves. A TV in the guest room helps as well. If your guests are tired or just need a quick nap, they can close the door, turn on the tube and unwind. At the same time, so can you.

What tips do you have for entertaining houseguests? What are some things that hosts should avoid? Let me know in the comments section.

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Meg Favreau's picture

From a houseguest perspective, I'm always super-appreciative whenever someone I'm staying with invites me to join them for their meals. Not only does it save money, but it's a welcome break from the constant eating out that can come with a trip.