The holiday season often means houseguests. What does it mean to be a good host — or a good houseguest?
“Remember the spirit of the holidays. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting everything to be perfect. The point is to have fun, and whether you’re a guest or a host, flexibility and thoughtfulness go a long way,” says Leslie Yazel, editor in chief at Real Simple magazine.
Here are some tips from the pros to keep things running smoothly and minimize stress.
— Talk with guests before they arrive about any allergies, dietary restrictions or preferences, and get a sense of what they do and don’t want to do during their stay.
“Some people want to go to museums and shopping, and for others, just hanging out at home and relaxing is what they prefer,” Yazel says. “Checking in with guests before they arrive helps ensure that everyone’s on the same page.”
— Try to discuss morning schedules the night before, and set out a basket with some fruit, muffins or other snacks in case your guests get late-night munchies or turn out to be early risers.
The day they arrive, “it’s nice to give guests a set of spare keys, show them where the mugs and coffee are, and discuss morning schedules,” says Tanya Graff, style director at Martha Stewart Living magazine.
— Little touches make a big impact, Graff says. If guests are staying for the weekend, you can make their room more comfortable and welcoming with thoughtful details like fresh flowers, magazines, a water carafe, a suitcase rack, a waste bin, a bathrobe and quality sheets.
“Try sleeping where your guests will be staying for one night to ensure the space is comfortable and you haven’t overlooked something obvious … like bedside lighting for reading in bed or a shade to block the sun streaming through the windows in the morning,” Yazel says. “Play act through it. Is there a clock with a night light? A place to hang a wet towel? And leave a little card with your WiFi password. That’s always appreciated.”
Add a little color. Floral designer Ariella Chezar, author of the forthcoming book “Seasonal Flower Arranging” (Ten Speed Press), suggests picking up a few blossoms or branches at a farmer’s market, on a walk or even in a grocery store to lift the mood and look of a holiday home.
— Have a schedule in mind, but be flexible. “For something like Thanksgiving, you definitely don’t want to wing it. Have a timetable mapped out to make things easier on yourself. Enlist help from your guests if you want. Otherwise have the table set and ready, with extra chairs in place, before they arrive,” recommends Graff.
And if you’re making a big meal one evening, make sure you have something easy for the next morning that doesn’t require a lot of cleanup, like croissants you can pull out of the freezer, or simple egg sandwiches for the crowd, she says.
— Communicate with your host ahead of time about any allergies, dishes you’d like to contribute or things you’d like to do while there.
— Offer to help. Be ready to set the table, clear the table, do dishes, serve drinks, be a sous-chef — whatever you can do to pitch in, says Graff. “And before you leave, strip the beds and gather up the towels, to make clean up easier for your host.”
— Bring a gift, or breakfast. “It’s nice to bring something for breakfast as a gift if you’re spending the night,” Graff says. “Something thoughtful and practical, nothing that requires them to do anything — that’s much better than arriving with flowers that they’ll have to arrange in a vase on the spot.”
“If you’re coming from another part of the country, it’s great to bring a regional specialty from home,” Yazel says, like your favorite salsa from Texas. Or something like ready-to-bake breakfast pastries or home-baked cookies might be a welcome gift.
— Prepare to entertain yourself. Bring books, games or other things to keep you or your children busy so that your host isn’t burdened with non-stop entertaining, Yazel suggests.
— Compromise. That includes food and movie choices, and kids’ bedtimes. A helpful, cheerful disposition and plenty of flexibility are always welcome, Yazel says.