Ten Rules for Being a Good Host

Posted on
Feb 16, 2010

I figured I couldn’t take the piss out of my brother yesterday without taking a few moments to talk about what it means to be a gracious host. Because yes, opening up your home to someone is a wonderful and generous thing to do, but if you leave them so emotionally scarred that the cost of future therapy sessions will far outweigh what they would have spent on a hotel, it’s not at all worth it.

Here are my ten rules for making sure that your guests have a lovely vacation (and if it isn’t lovely, these rules will make sure they can’t blame you):

  1. Give them clean sheets. Not everyone has a spare bed (or spare bedroom). But even if someone has to sleep on the couch, a nice pristine sheet can make all the difference. Our host’s once graciously gave up their own bed for us, but after we climbed in, we realized the sheets had not been changed. I spent 2 hours the next day trying to wash someone else’s B.O. out of my hair. (Shudder).
  2. Clean up communal areas. While no one expects your house to be spotless (it’s where you live, after all), take some care in cleaning up a bit before your guests arrive. Remove embarassing ointments and fungal creams from the dining room table. Secure whips and chains in the hall closet. Kindly ask your husband to put on pants. You know, that sort of thing.
  3. Watch out for your guests. Travel is kind of a hectic thing. So when you’re in a strange city, it’s always nice to have someone looking out for you. I’ll never forget the time we stayed with our friends Todd and Lauren, and, since their dryer was broken, I had hung my clean underwear from the curtain rod to dry.

    One night, they had some friends come over, and were giving them a tour of their place.

    Lauren grabbed me and said, “Hey, just so you know, your underwear is still out drying, in case you want to move it.”

    And then, she looked at me earnestly and said, “But you don’t have to. I don’t care if you don’t.”

    I will always love her for that.
  4. Play tour guide. That doesn’t mean that you have to escort them on every outing they take, or provide them with an annotated tour of every inch of your city (in fact, that would probably be very, very lame). But free up some time to show your guests around (at least a little), help them get oriented, and tell them what they absolutely can and can’t miss.

    Dad and Margit took us to a few German villages. Clearly, Dad had an AWESOME time. Hence the ear-to-ear grin on his face. /sarcasm

    Dad and Margit took us to a few German villages, which were all quite lovely. Clearly, Dad had an AWESOME time. Hence the ear-to-ear grin on his face. </sarcasm>

  5. Feed them. Again, you don’t have to have a four-course meal waiting for them each night after they’re done traveling, nor do you have to take them out to the 2-star Michelin restaurant across town. But do make sure that your fridge isn’t barren: some snacks, treats, breakfast items, and something to snack on in event of a hangover would all be appreciated.

    If you do choose to take them out, it doesnt have to be expensive. Just memorable.

    If you do choose to take them out, it doesn't have to be expensive. Just memorable.

  6. Let them in on your schedule. There’s nothing worse than waking up in a friend’s home to find it empty and dead-quiet, and realizing you don’t know if everyone was suddenly raptured, had to leave town under duress, is sleeping in, or is already at work. Let your guests know your schedule so they won’t worry – and make sure they realize it’s your schedule, and not something they have to adhere to.
  7. Get them back to the airport. Even if you can’t give them a ride, help them find bus routes, a shuttle, or offer to call a cab on their behalf. Don’t forget to advise them on traffic situations to and from your local airport (e.g., “You’ll need to be there during rush-hour. In Seattle, that means leaving 4 hours early.”)
  8. Give them alone time. Don’t hover over your friends every waking moment. They’re adults – they know how to take care of themselves. Suss out how much time they want to spend with you (and how much alone time they need) and try to provide them with it. It is their vacation, after all.
  9. Don’t ignore them. While being your friends substitute shadow isn’t pleasant, being completely AWOL ain’t that great, either. Don’t disappear without letting your friends know where you’re going. Even if you aren’t a morning person (or an evening person) be sure to say “Good morning” and “Good night”. And try to be cheerful – your guests are on vacation, and if you’re grumpy or brush them off, it could ruin their entire trip.
  10. Offer them a spare. Whether it’s a pair of house keys, a car you aren’t using, or even just an umbrella, offer your guest a spare whenever you can. Not only will they appreciate it, but it will make things easier on you, too – they’ll have more freedom, and you won’t have to worry about them as much.

    I really, REALLY should have thought to lend Giselle my spare hiking boots. Sorry, babe. Next time, I promise.

    I really, REALLY should have thought to lend Giselle my spare hiking boots. Sorry, babe. Next time, I promise.

Of course, there are some things no one can control. Until my weather control machine is complete (right now we’re looking a launch date of May, 2011), there’s still nothing you can do about rain or foul weather. But if you try your damnest to be pleasant, and your guest is open to it (and hell, they should be) then odds are you can both end up having a great time.

That last line is also a good rule for sex. But that’s another post.

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