Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Be My Guest: How to Have Company

When you move to an awesome city, the first big difference you’ll see is that people will come out of the woodwork to visit you. Like someone flipped a switch, you’ll start to hear from people you worked with 20 years ago, your kids’ former math tutors whose first names you don’t even know, and distant relatives you no longer want to know. Because you’re a kind and generous soul, you’ll welcome them and invite them to stay in your guest room.

Guest rooms are almost a required amenity in San Francisco, a popular destination for conferences, conventions and vacations.  In a little over a year of living here, we’ve had almost 50 people come into town and want to see us. Half of those people stayed with us, even though we had barely had a chance to settle in to the house ourselves. Our first overnight guest arrived just a week after we moved into our house. I quickly put together our guest room and it's been in regular use since then.

I've lived in a lot of interesting cities, so I've hosted a lot of people over the years. While I've hosted every kind of guest, there's one kind of host I've tried to be: One that makes her guests feel comfortable and at home.

Here are some things to keep in mind when having company, starting with spending a night pretending you're a guest in your own home!

Be a guest in your own house

Sleep in your guest bed one night, take a shower in your guest bathroom, and put your makeup on in the mirror. Is the bed comfortable enough? Is the bedding warm enough? How is the soap and shampoo? Is the bedside light bright enough to read? How’s the wireless signal? Does that streetlight shine right onto the bed at night?

Do all the things your company does in your guest quarters and ask yourself: How would I like this, if I were staying here?

You’re not obligated to provide over-the-top luxury accommodations - after all, you’re not a five star hotel - but you should know how your guest room makes your guests feel.

Let your guests make their mark

When I lived in Florida, I had my guests sign and date a seashell and leave it in a tray in our guest room. Now that I live away from the beach, I set up an old manual typewriter in my guest room, and guests leave a message. My college friend had her guests sign their names inside the guest closet. There are lots of ideas for taking a guest book to the next, creative level, like this globe, marking all of the places your guests have arrived from. Any wedding guest book idea can be adapted for your guest room. Have fun finding what works for you and your home. Your guests will love you for it!

Be a brunch goddess

I used to count making breakfast as my least favorite thing to do when I had company. I would happily plan  dinners, stock the frig with great sandwich fixings, prep the guest room, and provide maps and  tourist info. Then the first morning would arrive and I would think, “Aw, geez, I don’t have anything to feed these people.” We’re not big breakfast eaters, so I sometimes don’t have more than three eggs in the house, and bacon rarely makes it in the front door.

So I made it a mission to master the art of brunch. My favorite brunch recipes are the ones I can put together the night before and then pop in the oven first thing in the morning.  My friend Barb’s Sausage Egg Strata became my go-to breakfast recipe for company. The day before my company arrived, I would cook the sausage and assemble the casserole, clean up the mess well in advance, and then pop the whole thing in the refrigerator. Served with cut-up fruit, it was the perfect no-fuss breakfast or brunch.

Put together your own set of brunch recipes, and be sure to have vegetarian and gluten-free versions for guests with dietary restrictions. Look on Pinterest and check out these 75 Amazing Brunch Recipes from Chef in Training.

Copy your favorite hosts

Do you have that one friend who, every time you stay with her, does an amazing job hosting? Her home is warm and inviting, you fall asleep to lavender scented pillow cases and wake to the smell of coffee and cinnamon rolls. You can be her! Take notes and be a copycat. She won’t mind. Mimicry is the highest form of flattery.

Copy your favorite hotels

While you’re taking notes on how your favorite hosts do it, jot down some things you love and hate about the hotels you’ve stayed in. I made some changes in our guest room after I was staying at a top hotel that didn’t have an electrical outlet next to the bed  for me to charge my phone nearby at night. So I went home and freed up the outlet next to the bed.

Take a tip from Airbnb

Today's Airbnb is like a cross between a hotel, a B&B, and staying with a friend. Airbnb hosts don't have access to the hospitality industry's products and services. As someone who is hosting friends overnight in your home, you can do everything that an Airbnb host does. Check out their website for ideas.

Don’t overdo it

Having company should be as much fun for you as it is for your guests. Yes, your guest room bed sheets should be clean. Yes, there should be clean towels, too. But short of that, guests don’t expect your home to be spotless. They don’t mind if the guest closet is full of your suitcases and the exercise bike that no one uses anymore (which is exactly what is filling up my guest room closet and I haven't heard a single complaint).

Your company also won't expect you to wait on them hand and foot, fix gourmet meals for them at every turn, and they shouldn't mind if you point them to the bus stop instead of chauffeuring  them on sightseeing.  So put down the dust rag, relax and have some fun!

Help your guests help themselves

If there’s room, set up a single-serve coffee maker where your guests can fix themselves that first cup in the morning. A nice bonus is a mini-frig with coffee creamer, bottled water, and canned soda. A bottle of wine and a couple glasses is always a nice touch. (Don’t forget the corkscrew!)

When your company arrives, show them where all the necessities are and tell them to help themselves. You can sleep in the morning, knowing that if your company rises before you, they’ll be fine.

Be prepared for - ahem! . . . issues

Be sure there is a plunger in every bathroom your guests will use. Also, extra toilet paper in a place that makes sense. And be sure your bathroom trash can has a few extra liners in the bottom. If something comes up, make it easy for your guests to handle it themselves, without an embarrassing plea for help.

Just do it!

Don't let yourself turn away house-guests because your house isn't perfect. Or because you don't feel you're equipped. Guests don’t care if your silverware matches, or if they have to eat at a folding table, or sleep on a couch. If they're visiting, it's likely that they want to spend time with you. Don't let yourself believe that you have to impress your guests.

More on how to have company

Prepping for Houseguests, Martha Stewart

Twelve Items Every Guest Room Needs, Organizing Junkie


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

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