The ornaments of your house will be the guests who frequent it.
– Author Unknown
This holiday season, many of us are likely to either play the role of host, guest, or both at some given time. As it has been a while since my previous post on etiquette, I thought now would be a great time to revisit the subject, review some of my books on etiquette and share a few thoughts regarding the art of the visit.
My friends and family know that I love to entertain guests in my home. Ever since I was a young girl, I would often think of ways I’d host friends and family to make their stay special. As a hostess I love the challenge of finding new and creative ways to make my home a haven where guests feel welcome, comfortable, happy, special, well cared for and loved. Admittedly, it’s not always possible to hit the nail on the head on all of those aspirations. However, I do my best to create a welcoming environment and believe my efforts, even with imperfections, are appreciated. With each visit I learn and grow and remain thankful there are people in my life who want to spend time with my family and me. I consider it a privilege and opportunity to provide them with a warm and welcoming home and am always interested in ways I can hone my hosting skills.
So when I recently came across a little book titled, The Art of the Visit by Kathy Bertone, it was only natural for me to decide to add it to my little collection of books on etiquette. Although much of the information in the book is not new to me and may not be to you either, I still thought I’d share as I found it enjoyable to review a few ground rules for ensuring successful visits. The book focuses on two topics—being the perfect host and becoming the perfect guest—and outlines for each topic a list of seven simple steps to ensure a smooth visit and a list of twelve essential qualities every successful host or guest possesses. Each step and quality deserves it’s own post, but for now I’ll just briefly list steps and essential qualities. In this post I will focus on being the perfect host. In my next post, I’ll list steps and qualities for becoming the perfect guest.
Whether you’ll be a host or guest, or both this holiday season, find ways to make these steps and qualities your own. I hope these tips help you successfully navigate holiday visits with grace, poise and decorum.
Seven Simple Steps to a Smooth Visit
- Plan events and activities. Plan trips, outings and entertainment for guests but also be flexible. Activities don’t have to be elaborate, simple things like cooking together at home or a walk around the neighborhood can be fun if appropriate. However, if a guest is not interested in doing something, don’t force them.
- Let your guests know what to expect. Inform guests at least a week in advance if you’ve made any plans or arrangements that might affect their stay. Consider it your responsibility to help inform guests so that they may be as prepared as possible.
- Ask the right questions before they arrive. It makes life easier for you as host and can, at times, save you time and money. A few questions I like to ask are if they have and dietary restrictions, if there are any foods they like or dislike, and if their children have any particular needs.
- Avoid the run-around—have what you need. Being prepared makes hosting life so much easier and the visit more enjoyable. Check bedroom and bathroom for basics (sheets, blankets, pillows, hangers, towels, toilet paper, tissue, soap, etc.), and ensure you have enough food and drink.
- Plan to make meals (or reservations) ahead. I don’t always make meals in advance but I usually like to plan them out so I don’t have to run out to the grocery store to get supplies before every meal. Of course I allow for some flexibility but for me, it’s easier if I have a general idea of how many meals I’ll be preparing and what I’ll be cooking.
- Ensure a smooth arrival. Communicate in advance about any airport pickups, rental cars, or the need for taxis. If necessary, provide detailed directions to your home in advance. Don’t assume guests will use GPS or don’t make them rely on it.
- Create a lasting impression. Although you may be busy doing a million things at once, take time to really enjoy your guests. The hours in a day can easily be consumed with host chores that can leave you drained. You can change that, make time to just sit and visit. For many weeks or months afterwards, your guests may remember the meals and events you planned, but they’ll remember the personal time you spent for much longer.
The Twelve Essential Qualities of a Great Host
A Great Host is…
- Welcoming. As a host, the most important thing you must do is to make your guests feel welcome and comfortable as soon as they enter your home. However, the art of welcoming your guests starts well before they enter your front door. When guests arrive for dinner or a soirée (small evening party) at my home, I like to set the stage in advance with appropriate music, candles, flowers, and/or scents (usually of food). If guests will be staying for an extended period of time, the bedroom and bathroom are prepared in advance–-bed sheets are laundered, fresh flowers are placed in the rooms, space is made available in the closet for clothes, etc.
- Gracious. Graciousness is something that should be aspired to, and can be achieved with a little effort. Grace requires patience, empathy and kindness to your guests.
- A Master Planner. A good host should think in advance when it comes to managing your guests’ stay. Where will everyone sleep? Any special meal or dietary restrictions? What must you do if you won’t be home when your guests arrive? (there are many things you can do to make guests feel welcome, even if you cannot be there to greet them).
- The Picture of Restraint. This is a learned skill and does not come natural for many. If you see someone do something that gets on your nerves, forget about it. Unless it will do serious harm or injury to you or someone else, take a deep breath and let it go. This quality also requires a little wisdom and discernment to know when it’s necessary to speak and when it’s best to remain silent.
- Self-Caring. For me, this is the hardest to live by. It’s important for a great host to remember to plan alone time. Things will get done and handled even if you go read, take a nap, or schedule a relaxing activity to give yourself a break.
- A Great Communicator. Don’t be afraid to communicate with your guests. Let them know if you have certain issues or concerns. For example, if certain rooms are off-limits, if you’d prefer that they remove their shoes before entering the house, or other issues of concern, you must let them know. Try not to be overly picky and be sure to communicate your concerns in a polite manner.
- In the Moment. Plan and arrange meals so you actually enjoy them. So many times I’ve missed out on great conversation because I was too busy trying to be perfect, too busy keeping everything in order, too busy cleaning…. Chores will always be there, your guests won’t. I think it’s also worth mentioning that even if you enjoy talking to your neighbor or best friend for hours, don’t do it while guests are visiting. It can make them feel as if they are of secondary importance and the pleasure of their company is not what is most important to you. Fully enjoy the moment you have with your guests. As we are more connected these days, we’re often tempted to multi task, even when it comes to sharing our time. Talking on the phone for a long period of time while in the company of another is something that I believe is in very poor taste. Try to avoid it, always!
- A Skilled Ringleader. Sometimes, if you’re hosting several people at once you may have to juggle quite a few things to ensure everything is going smoothly. You may have to suggest activities, entertainment, or options for any challenging situations that may arise.
- Flexible. Of all the attributes you can have as a host, flexibility is key and probably one of the most important.
- Cool Under Pressure. The reality of hosting family or friends—especially for an extended period of time—can sometimes be challenging at best. Remain calm, smile and keep your cool. Adding drama usually does not solve anything; adding kindness, respect, and grace often does.
- A Diplomat. If any conflicts arise, you must calmly step in. As a host, you set the tone and example by which your guests will conduct themselves. This is another reason why it’s imperative that you are gracious, flexible, a good communicator, and cool under pressure!
- Able to Ensure a Happy Departure. No matter how pleasant the visit, you may be eagerly anticipating the hour your guests will be saying goodbyes. You owe it to your guests—and yourself—to treat them just as lovely upon their departure as you did upon arrival.
The perfect host exudes a wonderful blend of charm, empathy, kindness, generosity and poise. Whether you’ll be hosting guests for dinner or for an extended stay, take a deep breath and enjoy. Know that you are not alone and you will be a great host. When your guests are walking out the door after dinner or on the last day of their stay, the one important thing you will want is the ability to honestly say that you put your guest’s comfort before your own and did everything you could to ensure a pleasant time together. If you can do that, then the impression they carry away is one in which you can take pride for a job well done and time well spent. Remember, successful visits are not made by the foods you painstakingly prepare, the entertainment you provide, nor by the size or décor of your home. Instead, it’s your ability to remain calm, flexible, adaptable and respectful of your guests. What counts is making your guests feel at home, welcome and well cared for while you smile and make it all seem effortless.
Happy Holidays and Happy Entertaining!