Becoming the “perfect houseguest or gracious hostess” takes years of OTJ (on-the-job-training). Seldom do I spend a weekend in someone else’s environment that I do not come away with a detail that I want to add to my repertoire (or perhaps a caution that deserves a second thought).
Preparing for the first set of Newport summer season houseguests this week has given me a chance to re-visit this topic. Here are my top thirteen sound bytes from my perch, circa 2016…interspersed with images to include fellow hosts and hostesses who have so graciously included us in their house parties.
6 Tips for the Gracious Hostess:
1. Carefully orchestrate the guest list
The Goal? To ensure harmony and synergism, while avoiding any entangling alliances that could derail the weekend. As a humorously delivered observation notes, “To offer hospitality, or to accept it, is but an instinct which man has acquired in the long course of his self-development. Lions do not ask one another into their lairs, nor do birds keep open nest” (Max Beerbohm).
2. Provide “house notes” ahead of time
My husband, Jonathan, is a master wordsmith and a big believer in clarity. For this week, with the tennis set under our roof, his list includes destination address and phone numbers; suggestions on travel logistics and transportation referrals; room assignments; technology notes; exercise room details…and some specifics:
Access: “Rather than struggle with 5 keys, the side door…will usually be unlocked, but as a fall-back…”
Animal Planet: “We have two cats who are family and an active coyote populations, so…”
Dinners: “Everyone has relationships to be nurtured schedules are fluid so you are on your own for nourishment and entertainment with these hopeful exceptions…”
Breakfast/Lunch/Bar: “Self-service at your convenience…please consider the refrigerator and bar as community property — if you can find it and have a taste for it, please do not hesitate.”
3. Help guests feel “at home”
-Personalize their room with a few framed pictures of all of you at past gatherings.
-Slip-in some postcards of your town for them to send or take home.
-House stationery for writing a note.
-Have a well-stocked “care basket” under their bathroom sink (as well as a toilet plunger). Guests will be embarrassed if they forgot some necessity.
4. Have an “activity book” at the ready.
-Both guests and host need breaks in their “togetherness;” there’s also a lot to do in i.e. Newport, just a sampling:
-Complementary tickets to the mansions
-Walking tours (i.e. Trees of Newport; the historic “point” area)
-Interesting tidbits and tips about Cliff Walk
-Seal Spotting boat trips
-Rainy day to-dos
5. Plan a party…
-A party in someone’s honor is a compliment and a good beginning for a weekend for guests start right in on a festive note, having FUN.
-The inevitable planning and preparation doesn’t interrupt the weekend, with host having to take time away from guests.
-And the host has the entire weekend free to be with guests.
-Guests won’t feel obligated to work; the host won’t have to keep declining.
-It sets the stage for party guests to invite hosts and houseguests to other pre-planned weekend events or otherwise help hosts entertain houseguests — “come by for drinks,” “join us at the club for lunch,” “_______ is in town and I think you might like to meet him.”
6. Be Realistic
-Don’t overschedule. Guests come to the country/beach/mountains predominantly to be with friends and eat and drink and take a nap or swim. Don’t treat the weekend like a stay at Club Med, where guests are over-programmed to exhaustion. As one houseguest was heard to comment: “I came to rest, not have a breakdown.”
7 Tips for the Perfect Houseguest
1. Come with gift in hand
-Unless there are certain extenuating circumstances (i.e. it’s edible and needs to be delivered by an overnight service).
2. Be prepared to entertain yourself
–Your hosts might be excited to see the Breakers for the twentieth time, but they also have a life that may include working during the day.
3. Double check about dress codes
-Both for events as well as preferences around the house or property, like whether you should take your shoes off (for most weekends, I’ll note “bathrobe breakfasts” for guests).
4. Avoid one of the Seven Deadly Sins of a Houseguest
-Don’t accept an invitation, no matter how tempting, that doesn’t include your host. And do clear that new invitation with the hostess first, as she may already have made plans for her houseguests for that date and time.
The “we love them, but…” award: The talented but riotous artist who drops the large economy-size bottle of olive oil in the middle of the kitchen tile floor as you’re dishing up dinner for sixteen.
5. Be a “low impact” camper
-Leave your room as clean as possible when you go.
-Ask the hostess if she wants you to strip the bed and if so, where to put the sheets and towels.
-Before you depart, triple-check the bedroom and bathroom for your belongings; few things are more annoying to a host than having to pack and ship something left behind.
-Return any items to their place, like a book your took off the bookshelf.
-Clear with the host that they do, or do not, want a tip left for staff (present, or coming in after you’ve left). And if so, some dollar guidelines (over tipping can almost present as a big problem as not tipping at all).
7. Give Thanks
-Thank your host three times: When you arrive, when you’re standing in the foyer ready to leave and once more after you’ve gone with a thank you note.
-Make it a handwritten note — here, email will just not do. Throw in a detail about the fun you had and finish with an offer to open up your own place later on. For an optional but memorable thank you, pick up a fresh bouquet of flowers and leave them in a vase on the kitchen counter.