It's the small things that matter most when it comes to hospitality.
Holiday season means guest season. It's that time of year when guests descend and hosts feel pressure to prepare for the impending arrival. This isn't a bad thing – I love when people come to stay at my house – but there is a noticeable increase in the amount of work that needs to get done before guests show up. What follows are some tips for getting your home ready.
Remember, guests just want to feel welcome. They don't want to feel as though you've had to disrupt your life to accommodate them, but knowing you've put at least some effort into preparing for their arrival goes a long way.
1. Clean the important parts.
This comes down to two key spaces: the bathrooms and the guest room (or wherever the guest will be sleeping). Of course it would be great to clean the entire house, but if you have a wildly busy young family like mine, it's impossible to keep things in order. So I recommend focusing on the places that really matter. No one likes a dirty bathroom, and every guest deserves a spot to sleep that has been prepared in advance. In other words, don't be scooping armfuls of laundry off the bed while your guest stands awkwardly in the doorway.
2. Clean sheets and clean towels
Always change the sheets on the bed so they're crispy clean. I like to use my best sheets for guests to make the experience as hotel-like as possible. I alternate between Homestead's percale sheets and a gorgeous linen set from Restoration Hardware that I scored at a thrift store. Set a stack of clean towels at the foot of the bed, at least one big one per person.
3. Buy nice toilet paper and soap.
You don't have to buy it all the time, but having some quilted or 3-ply toilet paper on hand for guests makes a big difference. Nobody likes wiping with the cheap stuff that seems to dissolve in your hand. Set out a fresh bar of natural soap in the bathroom and shower – no lingering slivers of soggy communal family bars!
4. Air out the house in advance.
Everyone is accustomed to the smell of their own home, but to be sure that your guests don't encounter anything unpleasant – particularly if you own pets – make a point of freshening the air in the house ahead of time. Open windows, empty all garbage, compost, and recycling bins, clean out the fridge, and vacuum thoroughly.
5. Serve drinks immediately.
I like to have a drink in my guest's hand within 15 minutes of their arrival. Whether it's a glass of wine or a cup of tea, I view it as a small act of hospitality that relaxes the atmosphere, kickstarts the conversation, and gives you both something to do. And speaking of drinks, be sure to have coffee on hand, even if you don't drink it. There's nothing more disappointing for a coffee-drinking guest than to wake up in the morning and discover they can't get their daily cup.
6. Plan meals in advance.
Now is not the time for eating fridge leftovers. Do a full meal plan before your guest arrives. It doesn't have to be fancy, just an outline that takes away the guesswork. I like to make some things in advance, like bread for sandwiches and toast, granola for breakfast, cookies for snacking. If your guest is coming for several days, or it's a large group of people, there's nothing wrong with outsourcing some of the food prep. When they ask what they should bring, ask if they could provide breakfast or lunch one day.
7. Give enough space.
Visiting is pleasurable, but it's also tiring. Don't feel you have to entertain constantly (and if you do, then you'll know who not to invite next time!). You will both need a break from talking, so allow yourself some rest time. Take an afternoon nap, pull out your book, turn on a film, go for a walk in the guise of running an errand, or – if you're really desperate – schedule a massage in advance so you know you can get away for real.
8. Enjoy it.
The more relaxed you are as a host, the more enjoyable the visit will be. Don't stress about the house and food not being perfect. Most guests are just happy to be somewhere else, to have someone else looking after most of the details. Your life will return to its normal routine before you know it.