Rolling out more than the welcome mat

It’s the little things that make guests feel at home.
Elevating the mood from "we're ready for you" to "we're so happy you're here" separates a good host from a great one.

I had already invited a few people to a dinner party in my recently post-college apartment one summer when a classic New York City heat wave descended. My finances being modest, I could only afford to have one air conditioner, and it was strategically located in the bedroom. I routinely abandoned the living room and kitchen when it was this hot, but I could hardly expect my guests to tolerate such conditions. 

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and so it was that night I decided to embrace the situation and host the entire party in my bedroom. One thing I realized then and it still holds true — if you decide something is going to be fabulous, it will be. I repositioned my large drafting table, moved it into the middle of the room, threw a tablecloth over it and, voilà — intimate dining for four. Adding atmosphere with music, wine and the dimmer switch, the space was transformed into a private lounge.  Although the cooking portion of the evening was practically stroke-inducing for me, my guests felt only cool comfort as they clinked their glasses in glee at the novelty of the experience. 

Entertaining and hospitality are all about intention. One of my favorite comedians, Sebastian Maniscalo, devotes a considerable portion of his routine to explaining why he never stays with friends — being relegated to sleeping on Star Wars sheets, “…is that C3PO??,” on an old single bed in a room with an unidentifiable smell and then being asked to squeegee the glass on the shower in the bathroom when he’s done, “…what, do I work here?” His hosts then give a long and winding discourse on the state of their wonky plumbing and instruct him not to use the sink or else the entire first floor will flood. 

I myself have been a guest at friends’ homes with little to no heat, no shades on the windows to keep the neighbors from becoming intimately acquainted with my bedtime routine and no (even instant) coffee in the morning. No one is saying you must redecorate, but please put some thought into it. Conversely, I will never forget my stay with one friend who put a bottle of water and a glass on a tray next to my bed along with a travel alarm clock and a tiny vase with one flower in it. Delight is in the details. 

My notes on this subject are pretty straightforward. Just a little effort goes a long way. Don’t make your friends forage for towels, soap, toothpaste or shampoo. Your bathroom needn’t be a spa, but a night light is an extremely considerate touch. Always give two pillows instead of one in addition to fresh sheets and towels. Offer your guests extra blankets and show them how to make the room warmer or cooler. A light next to the bed helps. Tidy up the house. Getting rid of clutter is the main thing. Make things easy to find and give your guests a little tour of the space so that they don’t feel that they need to disturb you for every little thing. When it comes to the kitchen, set out a designated mug along with instructions as to how to make coffee or tea in case you aren’t up yet. Always provide small snacks and beverages.

Elevating the mood from “we’re ready for you” to “we’re so happy you’re here” separates a good host from a great one. If you focus on how you’d like your guests to feel instead of simply what they need, I can pretty much guarantee the experience will be pleasurable for everyone. 

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