How To Be a Great Host: 13 Tips

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Between high school and college I went to school in England and stayed often with a family in London. The parents, Tim and Caroline Gladstone, were the kindest and best hosts I've ever encountered. Whenever I rang their doorbell, Caroline would greet me, welcome me right in the door with my dirty backpack from the train station or airport, and ask me whether I wanted to eat first or wash up. While this seemed like an odd question the first time I showed up at their door, I soon realized that it was the BEST one and accurately captured the two greatest areas of need or discomfort I could possibly have upon any arrival. For the record, I usually took the bath.

Caroline would then proceed to set me up with the further instructions that Tim and she would meet me afterwards in the dining room to hear about everything I'd done, at which time, they'd also give me their complete schedule for the next few days.

Within that very first hour of every visit (of which there were many) I was made perfectly comfortable, given the run of the house and yet also given a clear idea of my boundaries during my stay. If they were having old friends to dinner that evening, Caroline told me whether or not I was invited right away, and if they were leaving very early in a morning, I also knew that I wouldn't see them and would fix breakfast myself.

To this day I remember their warm heartedness, graciousness, curiosity, intelligence and humor, and it made their home truly feel like home to me. It is therefore to them that I dedicate this list. :)

10 Ways To Be A Great Host

The basic genius of this list is in the understanding that guests don't need or want to be pampered; it's that being a guest is, at its root, a deeply uncomfortable experience, and being a great host is about removing all of these discomforts so that your guest can relax and you can both enjoy sharing your home together. In addition, if you want to have frequent guests (or friends simply come to stay often) and not exhaust yourself, the more you can structure the experience the better off you all will be. Guests, like children, appreciate a clear orientation as well as a few good choices, as opposed a totally open situation.

And finally, there are really two kinds of guests in the world: those that have come to visit with you personally, and those that need a place to stay. While we may sometimes mix the two, it is this second category into which most guesting/hosting falls. It is helpful to remember this and pay attention to tip #4!

1. Eat or Wash: Upon arrival, always ask your guest whether they'd like to eat something or wash up first. This takes care of their most immediate needs, removes discomfort and gives them something to do right away.

2. Get Settled: Next, show them to their room and leave them to get settled and rejoin you after they wash up or need something to eat. Having a little alone time immediately after arrival is very comforting and useful.

3. Connect: After getting settled it's important to THEN sit down, share a drink, connect and go over the evening and days ahead. This is the true and proper time for greeting, and best done AFTER the first two steps. Do this too soon and you've got overload.

Take fifteen to thirty minutes to find out where your guest is coming from, what they're hoping to do during their stay and share with them what your plans are as well - even if they're your parents! This is not necessarily the time to launch into hours of conversation (unless you're both ready for that), but the time to get a good download, orient your guest and know exactly what the shape of the whole visit will look like.

4. Start With The End In Sight: Ironically, the most uncomfortable part of hosting/guesting is knowing the endpoint. Be sure to bring this up right away so that you are both comfortable about how long the visit will be and if your guest needs any help with his or her departure. Many guests worry about how to get back to the airport or train station right at their arrival, so it's good to bring this up now.

5. Be Consistent: If you always offer your guests the same treatment and the same orientation it's very comforting, and particularly welcome after a disorganized day of travel. I have friends in Chicago who always put me up in the same spare room and greet me in the same way, and I love it and feel like I know just what to expect.

6. Mi Casa Es Su Casa: The best feeling you can give your guest is truly that your home is their home, so make sure they know everything they need to know and don't need to trouble you too often. The next few tips speak to this.

7. Towel, Water, Bed, Bathroom: These are the basic needs of any weary guest. Make sure they have a towel on their bed, water by its side and a clear path to the bathroom you'd like them to use.

8. Kitchen Orientation: It's really nice to tell your guests to help themselves to whatever they need in your fridge, but also let them know how to take care of their dishes while you're at it. :)

9. Flowers: It's an extra touch, but placing fresh flowers in the room or by the bed where your guests are staying is super nice and spreads the message that you really honor your guest and their place in your home. It will also signal to them to join you in taking care of your home.

10. Allergies: These can be a real problem for some people, so - if you have pets - do let your guests know AHEAD OF TIME and give the room they're staying in an extra vacuum with the windows open. Extra care in cleaning can make a big difference, but bringing extra allergy medication may be necessary too.

11. Privacy & The Air Mattress: Even if you don't have an extra bed or bedroom, do what you can to give your guest a private space and a good air mattress (or sleeper sofa). I've slept on many floors with an air mattress in rooms with a little privacy from the main room and been totally happy, especially with really soft, comfy sheets!

12. Know Your Personal Goal: With every guest that comes into your home, be sure to know what you'd like to do with them personally before they leave and then schedule it with them. Visits can get rushed and busy, and it is super important to have a real quality connection with friends and/or family staying in your home. You'll both be really happy that you do.

13. Fold Them Into Your Life: With everything you do while you have guests, try to run your life as you always would and fold them into it. It's a great sign of trust that you can do this with them, and it will make both of your visits more enjoyable and more often to happen again soon if you feel like having guests enlarges your life instead of taking wind out of your sails.

(Image credits: Shutterstock/Shutterstock)

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Maxwell left teaching in 2001 to start Apartment Therapy as a design business helping people to make their homes more beautiful, organized AND healthy. The website started up in 2004 with the help of his brother, Oliver.